A recent study by the Fawcett Society has revealed that women face a bias when venturing through the election process.
My heart sunk when I read the headline of yesterday’s Financial Times article- “Women seeking selection to be MPs face bias, finds study“. Delving into the report from the Fawcett Society, it became clear that in today’s society women are still facing gender discrimination when going through the candidate selection process.
Not only is there difficulty with the selection process, but the report shows that many female candidates are also facing abuse from the ‘media, the public and members of their own party‘. I think we can agree that this is unsurprising and becoming far too common. We all know that running for parliament can be a lengthy and costly process, and most of the time it is still all about who you know, and how far your connections can get you. It is still ‘who you know, not what you know’.
The report shows that abuse and bias, despite our best efforts, is shamefully still present. In the selection process, women are often asked questions about their marital status and children. Questions that men of equal age or education simply are not asked. And this is not ok.
“Numerous interviewees have had to deal with suspicion- if they’re younger, they suspicion that they will have children on the campaign trail and/or in office; if they’re older, the sucpision that their children will prove a distraction. Or, if they don’t have children, the suspicion that this in tur will play badly with voters.”
Women are facing bias based on their gender. This is not opinion, but fact. Too often you find, most typically men, arguing that this simply does not happen, but it does. It is too often the case that women are questioned, ‘how will your husband cope with the children?‘. Just as well as their mother would is the obvious answer, and yet some still struggle to comprehend this. Upon selection, one Conservative candidate was told by a member of the local association that “all the female candidates had great legs“. This is unsurprising to me, because not only have I witnessed these kinds of comments first hand, I was once told I am just a pretty face for pictures. We have seen it with high profile politicians, like the Prime Minister and the Scottish First Minister, who were accompanied on the front page of the Daily Mail with the headline “Never mind Brexit, who won Legs-it!”.
“This report reveals how much further we need to go in order to open up politics and tear down the barriers that have discouraged so many women from standing” – Dawn Butler
This bias is found on both sides of the house, a female Labour candidate was asked by party members how she would be able to do the job if she “met someone and decided to have children“. It is absurd that something I thought to be a thing of the past, still occurs today. Women make up around half of the U.K population, we are a diverse nation, but our parliament is not.
In an attempt to ensure more representation is seen in the house, the Conservative party announced plans in August with a target to make the candidate lists a 50/50 split. However, it is not the party itself that needs to change, but the members within it. I may sound like a broken record when I say that women are just as capable as men in work, whether in an office, classroom or even Parliament, women do not struggle to maintain their capabilities in work, but I will continue to say this until I know the message has sunk in.
If we do not improve the selection process, then we will not get the vital representation needed in parliament to best correspond to the needs of every gender, creed and colour in the U.K.