Feminizing Politics and Power in the UK: Voice, Access and Accountability

Lead Research Organisation: University of Bristol
Department Name: Politics

Abstract

The participation and representation of women in politics remains highly topical in UK politics, as it does globally, as women rarely achieve parity of presence or see women's issues and perspectives fully integrated into government policy-making. The next few years are critical as the UK faces a series of electoral moments: the Scottish Independence referendum, a General Election in 2015, and devolved elections in 2016. The nature and outcomes of these will be significant for the inclusion of women in elected politics, and for the substantive representation of women, that is, the inclusion of women's concerns and perspectives. The Seminars are organized under the headings of 'Voice', 'Access' and 'Accountability', and explore academic and practitioner views of representation.
Women remain out-numbered proportionately in all UK elected institutions, most especially in Stormont and Westminster. At 81 and 78% male the N. Ireland Assembly and the House of Commons, respectively, remain a long way from parity. The UK Parliament is currently mired in debate about women-unfriendly political culture, with critics demanding that women 'man up' in the face of sexual harassment and work/life (in)balance. In Scotland and Wales the decline in the number of AMs and MSPs since 1999 begs questions of the certainty of women's representation increasing over time. It might well be the case that the causes of women's under-representation are known: women have fewer of the resources conducive to party political participation (e.g. time, money and interest), and face party gate-keepers, who for the most part, reject the global evidence that supports sex quotas. Nevertheless, it remains necessary to examine UK political parties' arguments for their (in)action, and to empower those working for parity to campaign for party and parliamentary reform.
If women's access to politics is one part of the problem of the feminization of political power, the inclusion of women's voices is another. Women's issues and perspectives are frequently said to be marginalized or trumped in electoral politics: e.g. Scottish women's groups are currently mobilizing to re-gender the independence debate. Nationally, austerity politics has been decried, as bad for women, at least according to feminist and left-wing critics: the Coalition appears to regard gender equality as acceptable collateral damage, as women are disproportionately and negatively affected by cuts to services, benefits and public sector employment. Against this backdrop, elected representative claims 'for women', evaluation of governments' policies for women, and the state of gender (in)equality demand interrogation. Just how well are women in the UK represented substantively? And how will parties compete for the 'women's vote' in 2014-16? How will women and gender relations be depicted in their manifestos and campaigns? What will be constituted as 'women's interests'? What difference do differences between women, for example of race, class, sexuality or geography, make to their experiences and opportunities? Will there be a gender gap in the referendum, and 2015 and 2016 elections? Finally, given a contemporary feminist mobilization in the UK that is focused less on representative democracy and more on (social media) activism, it is important -for representational theory and practice - to explore links between elected and non-elected representatives. Such connections have not been systematically studied in the UK to-date. However, a more comprehensive assessment of the quality of women's substantive representation is possible only by examining the congruence between the attitudes of women and elected and non-elected representatives' claims and actions. In other words, if we want to know whether women in the UK are well represented through parliamentary politics, we need to know both women's mass attitudes and the concerns and perspectives of all representatives who claim to act for women.

Planned Impact

There are three main non-academic beneficiaries: (1) party/parliamentary actors; (2) civil society actors; and (3) the media. Involvement begins prior to the first seminar. Extant contacts, enhanced via snowballing, will help develop Seminar sub-themes. We are explicitly committed to ensuring that the content of our Seminars speak directly to the concerns of our non-academic participants. We want to know what they consider the key issues relating to women's representation in the UK are, and to make sure that academic presenters, as well as practitioner contributions, address them. Prior to individual seminars, participants will circulate draft papers. This enables paper-givers, discussants and/or round table participants to revise or extend their analysis to address practitioner concerns. Throughout the Series a dedicated website will act as an additional platform for dissemination, dialogue and deliberation between academic contributors (both the CIs and other participants) and practitioners. A closed section will allow us to exchange in a 'safe space' work in progress and 'think pieces' which are frequently beneficial to agenda-setting research. The website, alongside twitter feeds and blogs, will also maintain contact over time, in particular via notifications of publications and seminar summaries.
beneficiaries 1. Party and Parliamentary actors. Leading gender and equality activists within political parties in England, Scotland, Wales and N. Ireland will become familiar with cutting-edge academic research on women's political representation - the extent and determinants of women's access to elected politics; women's mass political attitudes and women activists' perspectives and activities - voice; and academic indicators of 'good' representation, for example, the kinds of relationships that might need to be established between representatives and those they claim to represent - what we term accountability. Enhanced knowledge, developed in a safe environment, should also permit robust discussion of the strategies that party/parliamentary actors might undertake to change politics in ways that are more conducive to the inclusion of women and women's perspectives. This will also be achieved via seminar briefings and 'best practice' briefings that will detail practical strategies for reform. More indirectly we expect to contribute to a transformed party political landscape in which women are more likely to be recruited into the UK's parliaments.
Beneficiaries 2. Civil Society actors will benefit directly from the engagement with academic and party politics actors, as outlined above, in terms of knowledge and the deepening of networks. And with all seminars also including non-parliamentary representatives of women, relations between these groups of representatives should be facilitated and enhanced. Civil society actors should consequently see their views given greater attention by parliamentary representatives, thereby improving the nature and quality of the debates and activities relating to gender and representation. The 'popular' book should, moreover, increase the range of women familiar with this issue, and this in turn may encourage more, and diverse, women to participate to a greater extent in politics, whether in campaigning or parliamentary politics.
Beneficiaries 3. The Media. By specifically including representatives from the political, and women's media, the Series seeks to improve the quality of media coverage, shifting it from an emphasis on numbers in parliaments to a more comprehensive consideration of the nature and quality of women's representation. By targeting the more popular women's media, and supported by our activities using twitter and blogs, we also aim to connect to more women in society - including those who are already active, but perhaps not in elected politics - transforming their knowledge of politics, and encouraging them to participate in political discussion

Publications

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Buckley F (2016) How Ireland Voted 2016

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Susan Milner (2019) Gender Pay Gap Reporting in British Politics

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Thompson, J (2019) Feminising politics, politicising feminism in British Politics

 
Description Women's under-representation in politics is ongoing and that diversity of women's representation requires additional study; political parties remain key gatekeepers to political office even as some parties remain resistant to the logic and evidence of quotas; women seeking recruitment by political parties share experiences of exclusion; presence is no guarantee of voice or accountability; too often party politics fails to substantively and symbolically represent women well.
Exploitation Route This seminar series fed into subsequent work undertaken by the PI in her Good Parliament Report and subsequent advising roles within Parliament; it is underpinning other applications to the ESRC in 2020 with CIs from this seminar series. In other words, it strengthened research relationships and deepened/extended research agendas.
Sectors Government, Democracy and Justice

 
Description We held a private session within the H of C with key actors involved with the selection of women candidates from the Conservative, Liberal Democrats, SNP, PC, Sinn Fein parties in January 2016. This was a Chatham House Plus event, ie there was to be no reporting of the discussions. This was to facilitate a frank discussion and lesson sharing across the parties. It was attended only by PI, CIs and key party actors. In 2018 wider plans by the PSA Women and Politics Group and the Centre for the Study of British Politics and Public Life, at Birkbeck are to hold a two day workshop in Parliament (May 2018); one session will bring together once again the CI's to report on developments in terms of women's political representation across the UK and to present these to an audience that will include MPs and House staff; there will also be academic sessions looking at the gender policy implications of Brexit; and we will be holding an evening roundtable with leading front bench MPs/minister/committee chair with women and equalities briefs. Sarah Childs is also liaising with Parliament regarding sessions that involve young women and women's civil society group actors and that will address how they might better interact with parliament. These activities have the potential not only to disseminate updated research to parliamentary and women's civil society audiences, but to inform the ways in which they subsequently act on these issues
Sector Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Societal

 
Description Sarah Childs Advisory Roles in parliament
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Participation in a advisory committee
Impact Advised Women and Equality Committee 2018; gave evidence to WEC inquiries into Women in Parliament; gave evidence to National Assembly For Wales Inquiry on AMs job share
 
Description engendering discussions with gender equality activists in two main UK political parties and in Parliament (the Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, for which Childs the PI is an adviser) regarding the ongoing importance of seeking party and especially legislative quotas; giving evidence (Childs and Campbell) to the Women and Equalities Committee;
Geographic Reach National 
Policy Influence Type Gave evidence to a government review
URL https://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201617/cmselect/cmwomeq/630/63002.htm
 
Description ESRC NWDTP doctoral training studentship
Amount £42,888 (GBP)
Funding ID unknown 
Organisation NorthWest ESRC Doctoral Training Centre 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 10/2016 
End 09/2019
 
Description Ongoing advising with key women in the Consv Party around women's reprsesentation and The Good Parliament (diversity reforms at the House of Commons) 
Organisation Conservative Party
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution I have maintained the relationships with key Consv women in Parliament - in Commons and Lords; providing advice on recruitment; and working with them to achieve support for recommendations int my ESRC funded The Good Parliament Report. By working with these actors, there has been wider Consv support, including the Govt's decision to make the WEC permanent; and to see senior consv women MPs on the new Commons Reference Group on Representation and Inclusion, est by Mr Speaker following my report's publication
Collaborator Contribution as above
Impact I'm an adviser to the new Commons Ref Group. The group has met as of March 2017, 3 times; a programme of action has been devised. Consv women MPs, being of the party of govt have been critical in taking the issue of WEC to the Leader of the House.
Start Year 2015
 
Description private session with MPs from all parties, including Sinn Fein 
Organisation Conservative Party
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution We held a private session with representatives from these parties at the House of Commons to discuss parties political recruitment processes and outcomes
Collaborator Contribution they shared with us their experiences of women's political recruitment in their parties in a completely private setting where partisan politics was put absolutely to one side
Impact none, as this was a purely private discussion that whilst it informed our understanding of political recruitment, was more about the parties being able to discuss in a completely safe space issues of women's representation knowing that their trust and confidentiality would be kept
Start Year 2015
 
Description private session with MPs from all parties, including Sinn Fein 
Organisation Liberal Democrat party
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Charity/Non Profit 
PI Contribution We held a private session with representatives from these parties at the House of Commons to discuss parties political recruitment processes and outcomes
Collaborator Contribution they shared with us their experiences of women's political recruitment in their parties in a completely private setting where partisan politics was put absolutely to one side
Impact none, as this was a purely private discussion that whilst it informed our understanding of political recruitment, was more about the parties being able to discuss in a completely safe space issues of women's representation knowing that their trust and confidentiality would be kept
Start Year 2015
 
Description private session with MPs from all parties, including Sinn Fein 
Organisation Sinn Fein
Country Ireland 
Sector Multiple 
PI Contribution We held a private session with representatives from these parties at the House of Commons to discuss parties political recruitment processes and outcomes
Collaborator Contribution they shared with us their experiences of women's political recruitment in their parties in a completely private setting where partisan politics was put absolutely to one side
Impact none, as this was a purely private discussion that whilst it informed our understanding of political recruitment, was more about the parties being able to discuss in a completely safe space issues of women's representation knowing that their trust and confidentiality would be kept
Start Year 2015
 
Description House of Commons Conference on Women's Representation 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Professional Practitioners
Results and Impact This was the 'showcase' end of ESRC seminar series, the second day, held in the Palace of Westminster, and hosted by the Inter-parliamentary union. A series of papers were presented to an audience of MPs, parliamentary Clerks, civil society actors and academics. The main purpose was to disseminate information and to deepen relationships with these various actors. please see link below.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
URL http://www.feminizingpolitics.ac.uk/seminars/seminar-7/
 
Description House of Commons Private evidence and discussion session with Key actors in political recruitment 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact This closed 'chatham house rules plus' seminar brought together the PI and CI from the seminar series with key politicians and party actors from Conservative Party, LIberal Democrats, SNP, Plaid Cymru and Sinn Fein to discuss sex and candidate selection at the 2015 GE. The Labour party representative was unable to attend at the last minute. These were not just MPs interested in sex and candidate selection but those within the party who played key roles in the implementation of the respective party rules/mechanisms to enhance the selection of women for the 2015 GE. This was the first time these women had been brought together in a room; this enabled a discussion of both individual party processes and outcomes but more importantly inter-party dialogue that identified shared obstacles and resistance practices. It also identified a clear consensus that sex quotas, either party or legislative were on the agenda of all the parties.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
 
Description right wing women conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact With Rosie Campbell presented paper on Conservative party and women at the 2015 General Election.
I was also a discussant for Baroness Anne Jenkin, who gave a talk that I (minimally) edited on the establishment and effect of Women2win the Consv ginger group seeking the selection of more women conservative candidates
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2015