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Have you joined the conversation? Why YOUR VOICE matters and how you can make it heard. @parliament_week

Or have you left the conversation? Sorry, I don’t do politics

Whenever you have an opinion on something – like where or what people are allowed to smoke, or where a new hospital is going to be put in your area – you’re already ‘doing politics’. In the UK we all have a say. We can do some or all of the things on this list: vote when there is a local or national election contact our local councillor, MP, MEP or member of the House of Lords sign a petition online or on paper send in our views when local or national politicians ask for them join a political party or group stand as a candidate in a local or national election Most of us don’t do all of these things – but if we’re not doing ANY of them it means just a few people are making all the decisions...

because we’ve left the conversation. This booklet aims to encourage everyone, especially women, to think about doing all of these things - including standing for Parliament.


Why do we need more women to join the conversation? Just look at this.....

In the



OVER HALF the adult population in the UK are

Nearly 80% of MPs and members of the House of Lords are men.

Nearly 70% of Local Councillors are men.

Over 80% of Government Ministers in the Cabinet are men.


* Commons Library Standard Note: Women in Parliament and Government

That’s shocking! But does it matter? YES!


What can women bring to the conversation? Women and men are not the same and usually have different experiences in life. Women and men can have different perspectives when dealing with the same problem. Political decisions affect us all, but they are usually best when the people making them: know how their decision will affect people have heard a range of different viewpoints take different people’s needs into account If we want the best possible decisions to be made, we need men and women to take an equal part in making them.

You can look at the world of politics or business, and if you don’t see anyone that’s at all like you it can feel like you aren’t welcome and that you couldn’t do it. Jo Swinson MP


So why don’t more women ‘do politics’? These are some of the reasons...

I don’t have time for politics!

How politics is ‘done’ is starting to change. The internet has made it more possible to take part when and where you choose to. It’s never been easier to find out when important decisions are being made. You can now contact your local councillors or your MP or a member of the House of Lords by email or social media to let them know what you think too. Some of the most effective campaigns in the last few years have started with online petitions and campaigns.

The internet allows you to find such strong support,... and it’s proving useful to policymakers. I’m proud that women’s real experiences are being heard. Laura Bates, founder of the Everyday Sexism Project – a women’s campaigning website

We’re showing people petitions can work. The opportunity to make a difference is bigger than ever before, with technology making everyone much more connected. Brie Rogers Lowery, UK campaigns director of, an e-petitions website


Politics is for older people. Young people aren’t listened to. Young people are just as likely to be affected by political decisions as anyone else so why shouldn’t they have a say in them?

In some ways being young and female helped me. It meant I could relate to people that other candidates could not. The truth is, in most cases political organisations are crying out for talented young women, and will be delighted to hear from you. Charlotte Henry was 24 when she stood as a candidate in the May 2012

London Assembly election

Did you know...?

Bernadette Devlin was just

when she was first elected as an Independent Unity MP in Mid-Ulster in 1969. She became active in politics as a student and is the youngest woman MP to have ever been elected within the last century. At the last General Election, Pamela Nash MP was the youngest MP to be elected, aged


Chloe Smith MP was

28 when she was appointed as a Government Whip and in 2011 became the youngest woman minister at She hopes that her story will show other young women who are interested in the world around them that they can make a difference – it can be done. Before that, Pamela had been a member of the Scottish Youth Parliament. Youth Parliaments can be a great way to get involved if you’re 18 or younger – and they’re run by young people.


The UK Youth Parliament The UK Youth Parliament is elected by young people aged 11-18. Young people are using UKYP campaigns and online forums in creative ways to bring about social change. Why not join the conversation today at:


Niamh Spurle and Charity Mhende were Members of the UK Youth Parliament until 2010.

Don’t be scared to voice what you think. There might be people there who seem much more experienced but don’t let it put you off – they were new once as well. You could have the best point of all, so don’t let your fear stop you from sharing. Niamh Spurle

I have definitely grown in confidence and I think I have learnt the art of networking because communication is key if you want to get something done. Charity Mhende


What if I have a disability? It’s important that disabled people join the conversation because they have needs that non-disabled people may not be aware of. Did you know...? A fund has been set up to help disabled people to become MPs, local councillors and some other posts. It covers any extra costs you may face in standing for election because of your disability. You can find out more about the fund at: Anne Begg MP was the first

Once I had decided to stand as a candidate, I realised that there were lots of disabled people in my party and I made connections. Never assume that your impairment will be an issue, and never worry that your contribution will not be valued. Do it! Marie Pye, Disabled Councillor

– Waltham Forest


full-time wheelchair user to be elected to the House of Commons in 1997. She now chairs the Commons Work and Pensions Committee that can question the Government’s decisions on jobs and benefits for disabled people.

Following her success as a paralympian athlete, Baroness Grey-Thompson became a member of the House of Lords in 2010 and draws on her wide ranging experience in debates.

I’ve never studied politics...

You don’t need any educational qualifications to vote or stand in an election in the UK, or to be appointed to the House of Lords. Whatever your background, your voice can add to the conversation.

Anne Milton MP trained as a nurse and worked in the NHS for 25 years before becoming an MP in 2005; she was appointed as a party spokesperson on Health from 2007-2010.

Gwyneth Dunwoody left school at 16. After getting married and having three children, she was elected to Parliament in 1966 and was still an MP when she died in 2008, making her one of the longestserving women MPs!

Most politicians have not studied politics at a university. Among today’s MPs and members of the House of Lords are women who have been charity workers, accountants, nurses, social workers, business people and teachers, as well as lawyers and doctors.



Dr Ethel Bentham was the oldest woman to be elected to Parliament for the first time in 1929; she was

The average age of members of the House of Lords is

It’s not too late! Samuel Young (aged 70) was


the oldest man to be elected to Parliament for the first time in 1892, until his death on 18 April 1918, aged


When I see politicians on TV they just shout at each other! TV news programmes often focus on the noisy, ’entertaining’ things that happen in politics – like Prime Minister’s Question Time – when some MPs have to shout to be heard. In fact, politicians say they spend most of their time: listening to people writing letters talking about things in small groups (committees) advocating on behalf of constituents

Women can change the conversation! Having women involved in the discussions and debates not only changes what we talk about but also how we talk about it; it’s far less likely to turn into a shouting match. Natascha Engel MP, chair of the Backbench Business Committee in the Commons 8

Parliamentary copyright images are reproduced with the permission of Parliament

But why me? Why NOT you? A lot of women in politics say they only thought about getting involved after someone else suggested it to them. See what it’s like! One of the best ways of finding out just what it’s like to take part in politics is to learn from women who are already doing it. The Women’s Institute are one of many groups that run special mentoring schemes for women, where you can ‘shadow’ a politician to see first-hand what’s involved.

Doing the role shadowing (with the Women’s Institute) has helped me progress. I’ve picked up my confidence and there’s no stopping me now.

In 1998, I was a parent governor at a local primary school. A friend from the Town Council asked if I’d ever considered standing in the local elections, so that sparked my interest... I enjoy being able to help people sort issues out by providing them with the information they require, making sure that their views are heard, and that the Council are fully aware of local feeling. Mum of four, Ruth O’Keefe became a local Town

Councillor in 1999 and has since been elected to both the District and County Council in Lewes.

The mentoring set up by the Fabian Women’s Network was an amazing experience.. incredibly helpful and informative. Suzy Stride, mentee, has since been selected as a candidate for Harlow at the next general election.

Bhunesh Napal, Voluntary worker.

See page 11 for more groups who run mentoring or training schemes for women 9

What are you waiting for? Be Inspired! Find out more about the women who’ve been making a difference at Parliament for almost 100 years –

Use Your Vote and don’t lose your vote. Find out how and why it’s important to get on the electoral roll at:

Get involved locally: The ‘Be A Councillor’ website is packed with information about how to get started in local politics:

Get in touch with your local and national representatives to let them know your views. FIND YOUR MP at: contact a member of the Lords at or contact your local councillors, devolved parliament or assembly members and MEPs through the WRITE TO THEM website:

Campaigning online can be a good way to find like-minded people or drum up interest in a topic you feel strongly about. See our ‘Next Steps’ page for advice on improving your skills at: Get to know your Parliament: The Houses of Parliament’s Outreach Service delivers free training courses throughout the country, throughout the year. 10

Get a Mentor Many organisations offer mentoring or training specifically for women: Parliamentary Outreach: outreachprogrammeforwomen Women’s Institute: women-making-a-difference 50 Foot Women:

Fabian Women’s Network: fabian-women-mentoring-scheme Conservative Women’s Organisation: Labour Women’s Network: Women Liberal Democrats:

Whatever you do – don’t be left out! 11

The gender gap Did you know....?

Since 1918, there have been 369 women MPs in total– that’s fewer than the number of men who sit in the House of Commons today. There have been 266 women members of the House of Lords since 1958, when they were first allowed to sit. In August 2013, the government announced that a further twelve women were to become members of the House of Lords.



In 1918, when the vote was extended to all men over 21, only about 40% of women were given the vote because of age and property restrictions. The government did not want women to be the majority of the electorate, which would otherwise have been the case as women outnumbered men after the war. Women were first allowed to be elected to county and borough councils in 1907. It was not until 1928 that women finally achieved the same voting rights as men. Baroness Young was the first woman Cabinet minister in the House of Lords, and the first woman Leader of the House of Lords (1981-82). The highest percentage of women MPs appointed as Government ministers was in 1966-70 (38%), closely followed by 2005-10 (37%). Baroness Scotland of Asthal was appointed the first woman Attorney General in 2007, a position she held until 2010.

Women making a difference

Did you know....?


It was only after women could vote that the law was changed to allow women to enter professions such as law and accountancy and to equalize property inheritance. Since then women have gained equal rights in education and employment, including the right to maternity leave. The first law ever introduced by a woman MP was to make it illegal for anyone under the age of 18 to buy or serve alcohol. It was introduced in 1923 by Lady Astor who was the first woman to sit in the Commons. Former Transport Minister, Barbara Castle made new rules that made cars safer, including putting seatbelts in all cars, breathalysers for drink-driving and the 70 mph speed limit. The first

black and minority ethnic (BME) woman in the Commons was Diane Abbott MP, first elected in 1987. Margaret Thatcher was the first woman leader of a major political party in 1975 and became the first female Prime Minister in 1979. She was PM for 11 years and 209 days, winning three General Elections. Betty Boothroyd became the first woman Speaker of the House of Commons in 1992. She was appointed to the House of Lords in 2001. By contrast, the Speaker in the House of Lords has always been a woman. Baroness Hayman became the first Lord Speaker in 2006.She handed over to Baroness D’Souza in 2011. The only pair of sisters to be elected to the House of Commons were twins Angela Eagle MP and Maria Eagle MP, first elected in 1997. Angela was also the first openly lesbian MP.

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Who do you know?

Can you think of a woman you know who would make a good local councillor, or MP or member of the Lords – maybe a friend or family member?

Please pass this booklet on to them and make a difference!

The work of an MP is so interesting and I don’t think people realise how varied it is.

Go for it! Find someone who is already doing what you want to do. Find out about their knock-backs – and the things they’ve enjoyed - and go on that journey yourself.

Natascha Engel MP

Esther McVey MP

Politics can be hugely rewarding because you get to pursue the things that you really care about. Jo Swinson MP

Have a question about getting involved in local, regional or national politics? Electoral Commission: House of Commons Information Office: House of Lords Appointments Commission: Local Government Information: National Assembly for Wales Information: Scottish Parliament Information: Northern Ireland Assembly Information: European Parliament Information Office in the UK: eplondon@europarl.europa House of Lords Information Office:


Women in democracy  

Parliament Week 2013