Since then, over 5000 MPs have been elected – but only 552 of them have been women. In the corridors of power, men still outnumber women 2:1.
50:50 Parliament, the campaign for women to have equal seats and equal say in parliament, have found evidence that unlike men, women need to be asked three times before they will consider standing.
Boris Johnson releases message in support of 50:50 Parliament’s female MP drive
Now, alongside Boris Johnson and other senior political figures, 50:50 Parliament are calling on everyone to ask women to #SignUpToStand – where they will then receive a special network of support and mentoring.
Frances Scott, the founder and director of 50:50 Parliament, spoke about the need for more women in politics via the 4 R’s: representation, resources, responsibility and respect.
“If you’ve only got 20% women in the room, then the male opinion and the male view will dominate – take the tampon tax as an example”, Scott says.
“In terms of resources and responsibility, there are about 33 million women in the UK, and our parliament should draw upon the widest possible pool of talent, expertise and experience. It’s not just a man’s world, it’s a woman’s too, and we should be involved in all the major decision-making.
“We need to have an equal voice when it comes to economic policy, defence strategy, climate change, and more.
“And finally, respect. Parliament should be leading the way in showing respect for women, our life experiences and our opinions. It has to start at the top.”
So what are the main barriers still facing women getting into politics, or signing up to stand as an MP?
“The way women are socialised is fascinating”, says Dolly Theis, co-founder of the #AskHerToStand campaign. “It’s laced into our very language. You can be in a conversation with an incredible woman but never consider to ask them if they want to stand as an MP.
“We are so under-socialised to consider going into politics, which is why we want to make it part of a normal conversation.”
Another barrier is practicality. Often, MPs move between two areas frequently – their constituency and Westminster -, voting can place at random hours including late at night, and it was only recently that breastfeeding was allowed in the chamber. For women with children, these barriers can be substantial.
Scott also points out that even with a name as blatant as “50:50”, people forget they are campaigning for equality: “It literally means equal demographics. But people forget that it’s not just a women’s issue – lack of equality is an issue that impacts everybody and ripples through society.
“A more gender-balanced parliament would benefit men as well. We could move away from maternity leave and towards parenting leave, giving men as much time off as women – such as in Norway – equaling the gender balance in the home and allowing men to forge better relationships with their families.”
Theis says 50:50 Parliament research has also shown that female MPs who have had babies face a torrent of abuse for taking time off to look after their child. And it’s not just women with children – a number of high-profile women in politics have cited abuse as a factor in their decision either to step down from the role, or to deter them from running initially.
A small silver lining in a difficult year however, has been that the shift into online events and Zoom meetings has meant the campaign has got a step closer to breaking down the ‘Westminster bubble’.
“We used to organise events in parliament, in Westminster or London generally. We love those events, and it’s great being at Westminster and walking the halls – and showing women what it’s like to walk the halls”, says Scott.
“But the wonderful thing about online events has been we’re talking to women from Aberdeen to Plymouth, all at the same time. It has broadened our reach and it’s improving democracy. Frankly, I think parliament isn’t truly grasping this opportunity to modernise”.
The campaign’s aim of sustainable and successful leadership comes from diversifying the current parliament, with 50:50 taking an “intersectional approach”.
“Within the 50:50 we hope to have proper representation across all sorts of demographic types,” says Theis, “We absolutely cannot lump all women into one category together. We recognise that some women face greater barriers than other women.”
From working cross-party, to having ambassadors and task forces for different diversity groups, 50:50 take an outreach focused approach, also working with external organisations to better understand how they can communicate more effectively with communities such as ethnic minority women, disabled women, and women or non-binary people in the LGBTQ+ community.
“We know there’s a lot more work to do, but we recognise that people can hold multiple identities”, says Theis, “and we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. Our approach is listening and developing, deeds not just words”.
Scott adds that she is proud of 50:50’s welcoming and positive approach, which has “naturally” attracted diverse participants and employees.
Both have an overwhelmingly positive outlook on the future.
“Every time we expand, every new person that we reach out to, every time we develop the campaign, we’re attracting more women, women who may have never thought about standing before – and that gives me huge hope for the future”, says Theis.
“I am extremely positive,” says Scott, “Women are signing up every day. And we have the resources to support them.
“No one can tell us that women don’t want to do this job. We know they do”.