Nicola Thorp, 27, began a petition after she was sent home from her temp job when she refused to wear shoes with a ‘2in to 4in heel’. The investigation - launched by the petitions committee - will look at what the problem is, what the law says and what could be done to make the law better, the government said.
UK MP Angela Eagle discusses the steps towards greater involvement of women in the UK parliament and laments the fact that politics remains stuck in a masculine paradigm in language and male culture:
The past 30 years have seen steady and significant progress in women’s representation. When I was first elected to parliament in 1992, I was one of only 60 women out of 650. This doubled following Labour’s victory in 1997 and has crept up to 191 today – 10 times more than in Barbara Castle’s heyday.
The early progress was driven by the Labour party. But the Tories have started to up their game, returning 68 female MPs at the last general election. There is a long way to go – particularly in the Tory party – but we are seeing progress.
This has undoubtedly had an impact on the way politics is conducted, both in the Commons and elsewhere. While sexism is alive and well – take David Cameron’s instruction to me to “calm down dear” during prime minister’s questions in the last parliament, one of his least edifying moments. But some of the more blatant misogyny, the obscene gestures and insults that faced female MPs in previous years, have gone.
However, there is a paradox. Looking at the coverage of the current referendum campaign, you would be forgiven for thinking that little had changed. It is overwhelmingly dominated by men. Cameron and George Osborne on one side; Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage on the other. It is coming across more like an Eton playground spat than a serious debate about the future of our country.
This week, Harriet Harman, Seema Malhotra, Kate Green and I held a press conference in an attempt to redress the balance – to highlight the missing voices of women and the importance of the vote on EU membership for women at work. Needless to say, much of the coverage focused on a question about a comment Harman made about Kim Kardashian. That says it all, really. Women are not taken seriously.
Even the language of election campaigns can be unmistakably masculine. The talk is all of civil war; of the big guns being rolled out; of the big beasts battling away. The problem is, all these beasts are blokes.
The unwritten assumptions about what constitutes “strong leadership” are male too. A study by Loughborough University released this week found that just one in six politicians appearing on television to discuss the Europe question were women. In the press, it was one in 10. Of the top 10 politicians covered, all were male.
This is all sadly familiar. In a quarter of a century in politics, I’ve seen it time, and time and time again. Even when women are in the top team, they rarely find themselves at the forefront of election campaigns. Even those inside the top team can end up feeling like outsiders – marginalised, disregarded and invisible.
Whatever progress women make, the pattern seems set. Whenever an election is called it’s like a trapdoor opens up beneath the chairs of every female politician and we simply disappear from the scene. As soon as the campaign kicks off, our politics regresses to a bygone, men-only era.
In an online article A woman’s place? The British House of Commons CHÉ RAMSDEN on 29 March 2016 speaks of everyday sexism experienced in the UK parliament and the extraordinarily unrepresentative nature of its membership.
On representation - more male MPs in the current Parliament than female MPs ever elected in the entire history of parliament:
There are currently more male MPs in office (459 – of whom 436 are white) than the number of women MPs in UK history (450). A 100:0 ratio of men to women in the House of Commons was accepted for most of the institution's history; today, the ratio is 71:29. Yet aiming for the opposite - a 29:71 or 0:100 men to women ratio - seems inconceivable. Only under patriarchy will we pay lip service to ‘equality’ while seeking to cap women’s representation at 50%.
Gender redress - where parliament would be predominantly female seems unlikely in current circumstances.
50:50 is more achievable and a better fit with representative democracy now.
Historical redress to match the history of gender representation in the House of Representatives in Australia we guess (we have not done the sums) would require more than half a century of all-female representation.
On everyday sexism - bullying, mockery and unprofessional behaviour accepted as 'banter':
Despite women having voting parity with men since 1928 when over-21s were enfranchised, women’s experiences in the House of Commons show that this is not a space designed for or inclusive of women. The report for the Administration Committee on women’s experiences in Parliament, published in August 2015, highlights that women MPs and MPs from minority backgrounds are made to feel unwelcome by a ‘public-school boy ethos’. This is a culture which accepts bullying, mockery and other unprofessional behaviour as ‘banter’.
Perhaps standards of parliamentary behaviour should also be similarly reviewed in Australia?
On whether woman politicians in a male system necessarily ‘do good for women’ - in a male dominated system not every woman is a champion of women's interests:
That is not to say that simply being a woman in Parliament means you will do better for women, inside or outside Parliament – Margaret Thatcher’s tenure as Prime Minister is a case in point. But equally it is hard to imagine a party dominated by women proposing such a ludicrous policy as domestic violence support services having to bid for funding from the spoils of a tax which considers sanitary products ‘luxury items’. We have also seen how governments like Sweden’s, which are willing to identify as feminist, approach all policy formulation – not just ‘women’s issues’ – with a different framework.
The problem of women not necessarily being 'good for women' is documented in Australia by Anne Summers in her book The end of equality 2003. That is why a system of dual male and female electoral representation may allow more women into parliament who are not bound to moribund male-dominated party agendas.
On how to get elected - focusing on party systems for candidate selection:
At the ‘How to get elected’ panel, Women’s Equality Party representative Hannah Peaker described how, as a new party, they were able to review the entire system of candidate selection from scratch. Their findings are lessons in inclusivity: that application forms were long and unwieldy, and required too much irrelevant personal history; that candidates need childcare while they are campaigning; and that if you want a pool of diverse, representative candidates then you need a diverse membership.
These are not radical solutions, but it is surprising that political institutions, including parties, have not yet adopted them.
If not even the least radical solutions can be accepted by the parties in the current system - why not change the system?
It is reported that a Westminster MP referred to a female journalist as a 'totty' - meaning a girl or woman, especially one regarded as sexually desirable. This article explains that sexist language is all too common.