‘DIFFERENT FACES FOR EQUAL PLACES IN PARLIAMENT’
“Sexism isn’t a one-size-fits-all phenomenon. It doesn’t happen to black and white women the same way.” – Crenshaw (2016)
Women’s March 2017
It is important to understand that each and every citizen has the right to engage in politics, ensuring that there are many equal opportunities for everyone. Though this is true in principle, one may question it’s practicality. Evidence suggests that there are still gender and racial inequalities in political engagement, specifically under-representation in parliament today. There are political inequalities that affect not only women, but specifically women of colour. It has been an on-going battle for the rights of women to take affect in it’s just form through practice, but what about in the cases of intersectionality? Whose experiences are we considering?
History to Women’s Vote UK
Getting to the root of the issue, women were previously exempt from political engagement. Women in the UK saw this as unjust and thus was born the famous British Suffragette Movement in 1987, founded by Millicent Fawcett (Trueman, 2015). After multiple failed attempts, vigorous protests, arrests and hunger strikes, it was not until 1918 that women could vote (Parliament UK, 2015).
Annie Kenney and Christabel Pankhurst (1918)
So now that women are able to vote, become members of parliament and even run for Prime Minister, what sort of barriers are women still facing in political engagement today?
Gender and Politics Today
Figure 1. Female MP’s Elected at General Elections (Parliament UK, 2019)
As shown in figure 1, there has been progress in elections of female candidates in general elections within the UK each year forward.
In fact, since 1918, 491 women have been elected to the House of Commons; 58% were first elected as Labour MPs and 29% as Conservatives. There are 206 female Peers – 26% of the Members of the House of Lords. Five of the current members of the Cabinet (22%) are also women, including the Prime Minister, Teresa May (Parliament UK, 2019).
But is this improvement enough?
Many women, myself included, still believe there needs to be more female representation in parliament. In fact, Labour Shadow Minister, Gloria De Piero, states that “there are still more male MPs in the House of Commons than there are women who have ever been elected!’ “(5050 Parliament, 2013). In addition, a survey by Mumsnet, revealed that when asked which characteristics would be advantageous in politics, 92% claimed social connections, 84% said being well-off, and 78% said being male.
There is no secret that women are underrepresented in parliament but, why? Well there are already barriers set in place to get into the House of Commons. Seemingly, those who are wealthy, white and male have a higher chance of working but obtaining high positions in parliament. Unfortunately, gender and class are not the only factors in which decrease the chances of political engagement in this fashion.
So where does intersectionality come in?
The term was coined by Kimberlé Crenshaw (2016) and has been trending all over social media, referring to the understanding of multiple forums that inequality and disadvantage can compound themselves in (TedWomen, 2016). It is the idea that multiple aspects can create even bigger forms of oppression within oppression. For example, gender inequality in political engagement may affect women but this greatly affects minority women in a different and relatively worse way. Therefore, not all women have the same experience of political inequality.
Topping (2018) explains that women are at disadvantage in political and respected positions as we are often underrepresented. However, figures from the Fawcett Society show that Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women are further excluded from decision-making positions. In fact, BAME women are 7% of the UK population, but just 4% of MPs (The Guardian, 2018).
In the name of feminism, what women are we focusing on and what women are supposedly invisible?
This is not to denigrate struggles of white women. This issue is not a matter or race vs gender but rather a feminist issue. Despite minor improvements, we still have a long to go. Cases of racism and sexism are still a commonality in parliament, taking the famous example, as Oppenheim (2016) reveals MP, Dawn Butler’s continuous victimisation of derogatory remarks, such as being referred to as a “cleaner” and consistently having her position questioned (The Guardian, 2016).
Race as a Taboo
The discussion of race has been dismissed continuously despite it’s apparent resurfaces in political endeavors. Political concerns such as Brexit reflect back to the topic of race. Specifically, the racial tension that has resulted from the U.K.’s recently welcoming in record numbers of immigrants. Allegedly, not all those who voted leave are racist but all racists outwardly voted leave, despite the outcome leading to political and economical disruption (Donnella, 2016). As a woman of colour myself, I have personally had to face oppression within oppression, racism and sexism, presented in unfair limitations of opportunities both institutionally and socially.
Although having quotas would largely contribute to an increase in women of colour, it would be counterproductive to the notion of equality and would negate democracy (Gender Quota Database). I therefore believe there is a need to provide all women, with more opportunities to engage in parliament. Though there are barriers to entering parliament, there are many more hurdles put in place for ethnic minority women, this need to be abolished.
Is there still unfinished business? Tell us your thoughts in the comment section below!
Parliament UK, (2015) Women Get The Vote, [Online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/womenvote/overview/thevote/ [Accessed: 07/04/19]
Parliament UK, (2015) Lowering The Voting Age? [Online] Available at: https://www.parliament.uk/about/living-heritage/transformingsociety/electionsvoting/chartists/contemporarycontext/votingage/ [Accessed:07/04/19]
Parliamen UK, (2019) Women in Parliament and Government, [Online] Available at: https://researchbriefings.parliament.uk/ResearchBriefing/Summary/SN01250#fullreport%20-%20women%20in%20parliment [Accessed: 09/04/19]
5050 Parliament (2013) [Online] Available at: https://www5050parliament.co.uk/parliament-is-sexist-masculine-and-out-of-date-say-british-women-guardian/ [Accessed: 10/04/19]
Topping, A. (2018) The Guardian: “Britain Needs Gender Equality Quotas Now, Fawcett Society Says,” [Online] Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2018/apr/23/gender-equality-quotas-fawcett-society-britain [Accessed: 08/04/19]
Oppenheim, M, The Independent (2016) “Black MP Dawn Butler reveals she was victim of racism in Parliament after fellow MP assumed she was a cleaner”, [Online] Available at: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/black-mp-dawn-butler-reveals-she-was-victim-of-racism-in-parliament-after-fellow-mp-assumed-she-was-a6901261.html [Accessed: 20/04/19]
Donnella, L. (2016) Brexit: What’s Race Got To Do With It, [Online] Available at: https://www.npr.org/sections/codeswitch/2016/06/25/483362200/brexit-whats-race-got-to-do-with-it?t=1554208709042 [Accessed: 20/04/19]
GENDER QUOTAS DATABASE, [Online] Available at: https://www.idea.int/data-tools/data/gender-quotas/quotas#what [Accessed: 20/04/19]
Kimberlé Crenshaw, TedWomen (2016) The Urgency of Intersectionality, [Video] Available at: https://www.ted.com/talks/kimberle_crenshaw_the_urgency_of_intersectionality [Accessed: 22/04/19]