Gender equality in Parliament
We're a long way from gender equality in Parliament - but more women MPs is a step forward
Our advocate Abi, 18, tells us why she feels hopeful for the future of politics
Abi D’Souza, 18 Girlguiding advocate
"I have always been passionate about making a change but have often felt that it was impossible to do on my own! No matter how much I spoke out about issues I care about, I didn’t feel I was loud enough or making a real change. I want to use the Girlguiding Advocate panel as a platform to speak out, and to be heard."
The increase in women MPs is a step forward
First, Suffragettes fought for women to get the vote. Then, they fought to prove that they could stand as MPs. And then they stood.
In 2017 (before I could vote) more women than ever before were elected, and I was inspired. And now in 2019, as the number of women MPs has gone up to 220, (34%) I feel hopeful for the future. It was the first time I could vote and it’s amazing to be part of a historic moment for the representation of women.
There’s still much to be done. We’re a long way from a gender balanced parliament - but this is a step forward.
I tell my Brownies that their voice is valuable, that they can be bold - that they can do anything.
As a Girlguiding volunteer, I tell my Brownies that their voice is valuable, that they can be bold - that they can do anything. It often feels like the world is determined to undermine my message to the girls. But the increase in women MPs is a step forward. It sends a positive message to girls and young women: that politics is for us too. Before the election, that did not feel like the case.
Sexism in politics
Many former women MPs said the sexist abuse they suffered forced them to stand down. And many women faced abuse as they fought for their seats too. Jo Swinson was deemed “bossy” and “schoolmarmish” out on the campaign trail. And who can forget the infamous ‘Legsit’ headline from 2017?
In the 2018 Girls’ Attitudes Survey, 77% of girls and young women felt that female politicians being judged for what they wear
This relentless political misogyny is absorbed by girls and young women, soaked up like a sponge of sexism. It has negative effects. In the 2018 Girls’ Attitudes Survey, 77% of girls and young women felt that female politicians being judged for what they wear - rather than what they say - leads to girls and women being treated less fairly than boys. Over a third said that the way that female politicians are represented in the media puts them off a career politics. There is no way a woman MP could have gone jogging in an outfit like Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s ‘surfer meets tea cosy chic’ in 2017 without being hounded over it.
Hope for the future
But this election has made me feel hope for the future. More women MPs means girls will have more role models in politics and are more likely to see it as a space for them. With more female MPs, I hope the issues that affect women and girls – half the population! – will be given more attention. This male-dominated domain is steadily becoming more balanced. We must celebrate the courageous women who dare to take up space within it.
Girlguiding is on our side
Because we girls and young women refuse to be seen and not heard. And Girlguiding is on our side. 76,000 girls told them about the issues that matter the most for Future Girl – the biggest ever girl-led manifesto for change. We know the changes we want and what we want the new government to take action on.
We want a youth-friendly deposit return scheme, so children and young people can do more to protect the environment. We want better coverage of women’s sport; 82% of girls said that more coverage of women’s sport on TV would encourage girls to get active.
We want social media companies to do more to protect its young users against gendered abuse - including sexism-fuelled hate. We want girls to be inspired by what they could do for a job through free, quality work experience in different industries, free from gender stereotypes.
But most of all, we need the government to listen to young people more. We want all government departments to start youth panels. We want the voting age to be 16, and better political education for all.
We have brilliant ideas. Imagine a world where the value of the idea stood alone, and it didn’t matter what we looked like when we offered it up.
See? We have brilliant ideas. Imagine a world where the value of the idea stood alone, and it didn’t matter what we looked like when we offered it up.
Girlguiding works hard to offset the misogyny that puts girls off politics, and to show girls and young women that politics is for them. We take part in Parliament Week and give girls the chance to do badges such as Speaking Out and Voting. The Media Critic badge encourages girls to question the truth of the media. We help girls to try new things to build their confidence; my Brownies have just tried DIY. Girls as young as five are taught to know the value of their voice.
34% of girls feel that if the media focussed less on what women looked like and more on what they thought and said, it would encourage more girls to go into politics. Let’s start there. Let’s make sure that all the women MPs we do have today – the most ever! - are not judged on their looks, but on their policies.
Because if we aren’t careful, we will lose momentum and women will be erased from public life again - because it’s not just the easier option, but the option that is safe.
In 2017, I thought that if I wanted to be an MP, I could. In 2019, on the cusp of a new decade, I am sure that I can be. And I thank all the women who have shown me that it’s possible.