A (well) hung Parliament – but where are the women?

Dr Rainbow Murray, of the Department of Politics, at Queen Mary, University of London writes of her concern at the lack of female representation in the General Election:

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Dr Rainbow Murray
Dr Rainbow Murray

A casual observer of this election would be forgiven for thinking that only men were eligible for election.  Women have been conspicuously absent from the campaign coverage.  Although this is not a new phenomenon, there have been two factors that have made the “male, stale, pale” focus more problematic.  Firstly, the emphasis on the party leaders has been enhanced in this election, due in part to the televised debates.  Secondly, the proportion of women candidates has actually gone up, so their virtual absence from campaign coverage is all the more remarkable.

The focus on party leaders has resulted in the marginalisation of women politicians.  The most visible politicians other than the leaders have been the chancellors (also all men), alongside a few key figures such as Lord Mandelson. Important women, including Harriet Harman (deputy leader of the Labour party) and Theresa May (shadow work and pensions secretary), have been surprisingly low profile.  That is not to say that no women have featured in this campaign.  The leaders’ wives have  been very high profile; for example, the London Metro newspaper featured a double page spread commenting on the importance of the fashion choices made by Sarah Brown, “Sam Cam” and Miriam González Durántez for their husbands’ fate.  This approach is typical of this election campaign, yet it is highly problematic.  Women’s media role is reduced to that of unelected spouse, based on physical allure and the ability to support a man.  Yet the number of women in parliament, while still far too low, has actually reached a record high following this election – a fact that has escaped public comment.  The high political turnover has opened opportunities for women candidates in newly vacated seats.

Women comprise a majority of voters, and they have a key stake in this election.  Women have been affected disproportionately by the effects of the recession.  Women are the primary consumers of the public services which stand to be cut after the election.  The party manifestos have done little to acknowledge the gendered impact of their policies.  The media and the parties ignored women in this election – we can only hope that they do not continue to do so over the next parliamentary term.

Dr. Rainbow Murray

Department of Politics

Queen Mary, University of London