In a year in politics, 2014 has been one where much focus has been placed on the role of women.
The subject was the focus of many political events of the year. From the ongoing debate at Westminster ahead of the general election as MPs called for more action to increase the number of women in Parliament, with pressure on Prime Minister David Cameron to include more women in the cabinet, to the events of 19 November in Edinburgh, where Nicola Sturgeon was sworn in as the First Minister of Scotland, the first woman ever to hold the post.
As she spoke in the Scottish Parliament, Sturgeon said her election sent a message to women everywhere, that she hoped greater opportunities would be available.
“I hope my election does indeed open the gate to greater opportunity for all women.” Sturgeon said as reported in The Guardian. “I hope it sends a strong, positive message to all girls and young women across our land: there should be no limit to your ambition for what you can achieve, if you are good enough and you work hard enough, the sky is the limit to what you can achieve, and no glass ceiling should ever stop you from achieving your dreams.”
Big day. I promise that I will give it my all and serve everyone in our country to the very best of my ability.
— Nicola Sturgeon (@NicolaSturgeon) November 19, 2014
A woman gets her picture on the official wall of First Minister photos. Good day for Scotland whatever your politics pic.twitter.com/DAZL7iBjFY
— sarah smith (@BBCsarahsmith) November 19, 2014
‘It’s important we change the culture’
In the lead up to Sturgeon’s election, back in London, a similar debate was being held on how the number of women MPs can be increased in Parliament.
In July, a cross party committee tasked to investigate why there was a lack of women in Parliament, released a report that looked into main issues, from the behaviour and attitude in the Commons towards women, to the lack of information on how to become an MP. For female MPs currently serving, the biggest challenges include a lack of support and perceptions in the media.
The report came as a number of female Conservative MPs said they would be exiting the Commons and not stand for election in May.
Only 22.6% of MPs are women, according to a report from the Daily Telegraph.
In an interview with the Telegraph, Conservative MP Mary Macleod, who chaired the committee, said the behaviour in the Commons was off putting for most women.
“It’s not that we can’t hack it – but we don’t want to put up with it,” Macleod said. “It’s often that people don’t think about what they say. Or it’s that they’ve always done it that way and been working in a male-dominated environment for so long. Some of it is subtle. If we want to encourage women from all backgrounds [to enter politics], it’s important we change the culture and make it more professional.”
A cost of talent
Macleod added that most women would think they weren’t wanted as an MP.
“There’s very little information available on how to become an MP. Most women will think, ‘I’m not wanted’. It’s typically always been a male dominated world. A few people responded saying ‘Parliament isn’t a place for people like me.’”
Generally speaking, Macleod said it was essential there was a change put in place to the culture of the Commons.
“We want to keep the best of what we have got [in Parliament] and get rid of the worst to make it more professional,” Macleod said. “[It’s time to] educate more women to think of it as something they can contribute to.”
— Mary Macleod (@MaryMacleodMP) November 19, 2014
Earlier in the year, Commons Speaker John Bercow said Parliament was losing “far too many outstanding members and far too many outstanding female members,” according to a report in The Guardian.
As focus turns away from Parliamentary activities and turn to the General Election and possible final outcomes, the debate on women in politics is likely to remain a constant. Whether the debate on women in politics conducted this year will be considered when voters go to the polls is uncertain, but there could be new ideas and attitudes from the Commons when the election is over.
For now though, in spite of all these events, this debate is to be continued.
What do you think? What needs to change to allow more women to enter politics? Have your say in the comments section below.