April 2015 – Women and the Vote

Sunita Behl

Can one vote really change anything? As we lead up to the General Election on May 7th you have been sharing your political views. Find out what our contributors think about the benefits of having more women in parliament and why it is important that you vote.

Next month we want to hear about the relationships that have changed your life. Research shows a network of strong relationships can contribute to a longer, healthier and happier life. Do you agree? Do you think there’s nothing like having an amazing group of girlfriends or a supportive partner? Do your work colleagues feel like a second family? Please send us your views on ‘The relationships that change you’ to grit@womenempowered.co.uk before 20th April, 2015.

We look forward to hearing from you.

Why are only 23% of MPs women? – By Natasha Asghar, Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newport East, Wales

“Be the change you want to see in the world.”
– Mahatma Gandhi

There are approximately 1.2 million more women than men in the UK, and yet out of 650 Members of Parliament, only 148 are female. MPs are supposed to represent the people, but how can we begin to discuss making a brighter, better future for Britain, when more than half of the population is not fairly represented? How can we begin to truly tackle women’s issues when there are so few female voices in the halls of Westminster?

Discussions on gender equality began as early as the seventeenth century and womens’ rights have come a long way since the early Suffrage movement. Thankfully the archaic notion that women are biologically predisposed to an intellectual deficiency is dissipating, and we are moving further into the public sphere.

Today many women have made great strides in the workplace, building successful careers and smashing glass ceilings in their chosen fields from media and business, to science and technology. However, although more women are getting their foot in the door across multiple fields, the political arena still remains relatively untouched. So where are the women in politics?

Women have proved themselves more than capable to flourish in a myriad of professions – and politics should be no different. The inclusion of women in parliament brings a high level of diversity, which encourages and enhances the way problems are solved. This is critical for the positive development of the country.

Women no longer need to ‘act like men’ to succeed. Studies have shown that traditional ‘feminine’ attributes are actually advantageous. A study conducted by US-based company Caliper found that women in business are more empathetic and flexible, as well as stronger in interpersonal skills than their male counterparts. Women perceive things differently, but their perspective is not necessarily inferior. If this works so well in business, the same premise can be applied to politics. Considering their capability, and looking at the numbers, there is definitely a demand for a female influence in politics, so why don’t more women take up the opportunity?

The answer is Politics is tough. And it’s especially tough as a woman. The pressure many women feel to have the perfect work-life balance weighs particularly heavy. However, millions of women around the UK do this every day. And they do it well!

As a female Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Newport East, and the only female candidate from an ethnic minority from Wales standing in the general election, I am living and breathing proof that women can do it. And I believe women from all fields and backgrounds should get involved.

The idea that women have a say in running the country is no longer a laughable fantasy. Having an involvement in politics is not just restricted to becoming a Member of Parliament. We are fortunate to live in a democracy, where people are elected by the public, and female influence comes from the number of women voters too. The world is changing at a staggering rate. Government changes which affect us all cannot solely be left in the hands of one portion of the population.

Women have historically fought for the right to vote – the right to encourage the change they want to see – so why not make your voice heard? Women empowerment is an exciting step in the right direction for equality. Female inclusion in parliament is valuable and should be actively sought. With more female influence in the government – be it as MPs or voters – our country can change for the better.

Don’t be disillusioned by politics – By Suria Photay LLB (Hons), Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Wolverhampton South East

Many people across the country are disillusioned by politics. They believe their vote doesn’t count – I disagree. In the 2010 election in Hampstead and Kilburn there was a majority of just 42 votes. Over 52,000 people in that constituency voted five years ago, and if just 43 people had changed their mind by voting for a different party, or not voted at all, they would have had a different MP. This is why every single vote matters. And if you do not exercise your right to vote, how can you complain about the way this country, and your constituency, is run?

From speaking to people on the doorstep and over the telephone, it appears many believe all MPs are the same and are out for themselves. To a certain extent I can appreciate this but at the same time you cannot generalise all MPs. When you decide to vote look at the Party, their track record and their plans for the future, but also what your MP has done for you. Has your MP worked to promote the rights of constituents in your area? Has he, or she, improved your constituency at all? If you do not see growth and improvement in your everyday life then not enough is being done.

I was born and raised in Wolverhampton and over the years I have watched the city fall into a slow decline, irrespective of the Government in power. This made me look closer at the MPs we elected, what they have done for us and also how, if at all, they pushed our council to promote our city. I believe there is a lack of responsibility and accountability for the failures in my city. Rather than continue to complain about the lack of shops, employment and poor education results, I decided I wanted to be part of the change. That is why I am standing as a Parliamentary Candidate in the General Elections this year in my hometown. And I hope May 7th will be the day that marks a change in my constituency and a vote for continued stability in our country.

Some say we need more women in Parliament, or we need more people of a certain race. I believe what we need is a fair representation of our country’s population. Looking at recent statistics, roughly half of our MPs should be female but there are only 148 out of 650. So in this sense, I would say yes we do need more women in Parliament, in order to have an equal balance of representation.

At the same time, we should not project women into Parliamentary seats to fulfil a quota and I disagree with all women candidate lists. A woman should be selected on her merit, her passion and her own capability. She should not be made to feel that she has been selected for a seat just to tick a box. The problem we have faced in the past is that many women have not previously considered a career in politics or have found the path inaccessible. We only need to look at our country’s history to prove this point and note we have only ever had one female Prime Minister.

This time I am happy to see so many more female candidates standing for the 2015 General Election. Times are changing and I really hope more women are elected to Parliament because of their merit and the contribution they can give to our country.

Not just a cross in a box – By Lisa Rajan, Liberal Democrat councillor on Southwark Council and Children’s author

I believe it’s important to vote. Actually, I know it’s important to vote, because I’m one of the people who see how elections are run, and how you are at an advantage if you do vote. Electioneering is no longer just about a candidate with a rosette kissing babies; it’s a fine art and uses complex predictive algorithms, and if you engage with voting, the politicians you end up electing are more likely to engage with you.

Local political parties have finite resources, and spend the weeks and months before an election identifying the people who will vote for them so that they can remind them to go and vote on Election Day. They have very sophisticated computer programs that predict how you are likely to vote based on all kinds of parameters about you. They also have information on who voted last time. Because they have finite resources (both money and door-knocking volunteers), they only knock on the doors of the people they think are most likely to vote for them. So if you don’t vote or haven’t voted in the past, they won’t knock on your door. And if they don’t knock on your door, you won’t have an opportunity to let them know how you feel about the local A&E that’s about to close, the rundown local playground, the war in Syria or the quality of local schools.

So by not voting, you unwittingly leave yourself out of a whole load of conversations that will then influence policy, spending and decision making by those in power at every level.

I’ve stood and been elected in four local elections over 13 years, and been involved in three general election campaigns. I’ve seen how much more sophisticated electioneering is now compared with 15 years ago.

I’ve canvassed literally thousands of people about their voting intentions. I’ve seen how residents who engage during election times have influenced where money has been spent and how decisions have been taken once the political dust has settled. It’s not always the case that s/he who shouts the loudest receives disproportionately more attention, but it is definitely the case that s/he who says nothing at all is most likely to be ignored. If you don’t vote, you run the risk of things you would consider a political or social priority not making it onto the to-do lists of the people running the country or the council.

Turnout in the last two general elections has steadily declined, and the drop has been sharper in women than in men. More than 9 million women failed to vote in the 2010 general election, compared with 8 million men. If women don’t vote, they won’t engage with the political process. If they don’t engage, they won’t participate or influence. If they don’t participate, the people running the country won’t be representative of the country. If women aren’t involved at every level of this process, from giving their opinions on the doorstep to writing manifestos to holding ministerial portfolios, society is poorer and less progressive for it. And none of this involvement happens if women don’t vote.

So this is why I think everyone, especially women, should vote: because it’s not just a cross in a box on Election Day, it’s a voice and a say in things between elections, even if you don’t realise it at the time.

Countdown to the 7th May 2015 – By Jasvir Singh, Chair – City Sikhs Network

This date has been etched onto the minds of all UK political parties since the summer of 2010. The reason? For the first time in history, our current Parliament is the only one to ever have a fixed term, and as such, has its own pre-decided end in sight.

On this day, 47 million people across the country will have the opportunity to go to the Polling Stations and cast their votes. Those ballot papers will determine the future direction of the United Kingdom and tell us who should govern our nation for the next 5 years.

The right to vote is something that everyone in the UK over the age of 18 takes for granted. However, women have only been allowed to vote for around 100 years. Universal male voting came about as a result of the Reform Acts of 1832 and 1867 but women over the age of 30 were only given the right to vote in 1918. And it wasn’t until ten years later that the voting age for men and women was set at 21. It is often said, people died so that we could have the right to vote, and we should never forget that. Many other nations around the world do not have a fair and democratic system of elections, which is all the more reason why we should not be complacent and waste our right to vote.

Parliament is currently far from equal in its representation of men and women. The last General Election saw the largest number of female MPs in Parliament ever (148 MPs), but this only accounts for little over a fifth of MPs in total (23%). The strides that have been made to date are great. The Labour Party has All Women Shortlists and currently accounts for 57% of all female MPs. The Conservative Party has also worked hard in recent years to increase the number of female MPs and is also the only party to have given the United Kingdom a female Prime Minister. However, there is still much work to be done to ensure that Parliament is fully representative of the UK public.

So why is it important to have more women in Parliament? Much research has been carried out in recent years about female presence on Boards of Directors within the corporate world. This research has shown that the absence of women at the tops of companies can result in narrow decision making and frustrate equality elsewhere in the company’s structure. This is also true when it comes to Parliament and the way that it functions. Our Parliamentary system can only ever truly be equal when there are more women involved in the decision making, which means having many more female MPs. This should also be the case in respect of disabled MPs, ethnic minority MPs, and other such equality strands.

My hopes are that the new Parliament will see a further increase in female MPs, and that all of the political parties will take steps to ensure that even more female candidates stand for election in 2020. Who knows? One of you reading this article may well be an MP in the making. Let’s make the change and support each other for a better and more representative Parliament in 5 years time.

City Sikhs Network is the largest network of Sikh Professionals in the UK. Our mission is to create positive change within society and inspire people to be the best they can be. For more information visit: http://www.citysikhs.org.uk

9 million reasons women should vote – By Resham Kotecha, Economic Advisor & Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Dulwich & West Norwood

At the last election, 9 million women did not vote. That means that 9 million of us threw away an opportunity to determine how our country is run, what our money is spent on and how we interact with the rest of the world.

Women are currently greatly underrepresented in Parliament. The number of female MPs will increase after the General Election but we will still be well below the level required for proportional representation. We need more women to stand for parliament but we also need to ensure that we all vote.

Lots of women I speak to when canvassing and knocking on doorsteps tell me that they do not vote because they feel that no political party is really designing policies for them. I believe this is for two very simple reasons. Firstly, there are not enough women in Parliament to represent our needs. Our experiences are different to those of men – not inferior or superior but different. Without our experiences represented in Parliament, we will continue to struggle to see policies that appeal to us. Secondly, women do not vote in high enough numbers to warrant serious attention from politicians. Whilst this does not sound right or fair, we have to understand that when we become a group of people who can swing elections, politicians will be more likely to address our concerns. Voting and participating in political events also tells politicians what we are thinking, what we want and what we do not want.

As a candidate for the General Election, I have learned that it is actually rather difficult to get information from voters about what they actually want. Unless people tell me what policies they like and do not like or what they want me to do locally, it is very hard to represent people and their best interests.

When we vote, we are exercising our ability to determine how our country is run. Parties offer different views and policies on everything from the level of tax we pay to the schooling available to health services. Policies will influence house prices, transport and childcare. There is a huge amount at stake and we need to take responsibility by voting as actions now will affect the world that we and our children live in. It is by voting that we can determine what type of country we will live in and it is by voting that we can make our voices heard.

Polls will be open from 7am to 10pm on the 7th of May – please do use your vote!

Ladies….it’s up to you! – By Alex Watson

Imagine Claudia Winkleman throwing herself in front of the Queen’s chauffeur driven Bentley, cheered on by Tess Daley and the female cast of Strictly Come Dancing in protest at the failure of collective governments to tackle high profile paedophile scandals in Westminster! Surely that would make global news…and bring the debate front of centre?

A shocking analogy, I know…but that’s exactly what Emily Davison did when she threw herself in front of the King’s horse in order to secure women a stake in society and a right to vote! All of this after a long and sustained Women’s Suffrage campaign to highlight the plight of women in a society that viewed women as second class citizens. 1

Today there are myriad scandals such as tax avoidance, child abuse, police corruption, institutional racism, crisis in elderly care and child services that capture my attention and make me angry. They make me feel like those in power place little value on the things that are important to me. My attitude is we, the people, have the power to engender the types of societies in which we live. But only if we have the collective will to consistently advocate what we believe.

Thanks to Emily Davison, the Pankhurst sisters, Sojourner Truth, Nanny, Harriet Tubman, Mary Seacole and countless other women who tirelessly advocated in small or large ways on behalf of women, I have the vote. And throughout my life I have mostly exercised that right.

They say never talk about Sex, Politics or Religion…especially in Business. You never know who you will offend. This has led to a society where, unless behind closed doors, many people feel neutered. Impotent, unable to share an authentic voice and stifled in debate.

We find ourselves on the cusp of perhaps the most pivotal general election in modernity however the likes of David Cameron, George Osbourne and Boris Johnson epitomise everything that is wrong with our society at present. This is not a pervasive attack on the white male-dom. (Some of my best friends are white males!) This is because they project the fact that our economy is safe in their hands. They churn out a conveyor belt of repeated narrative about ‘hardworking families’ while they seem enamoured with oligarchs, hedge funds and bankers.

On closer scrutiny, if you dig a little deeper, or view society from a vantage point like mine, you see that these are half-truths. Like politicians of all persuasions, they play to their collective galleries…with a state-backed or mogul-owned media spinning an often skewed narrative. For women like me things have declined awfully in recent years. Our rights in the workplace have been eroded in favour of many greedy employers.

However, technology has changed the global game. Our voices can be heard, by one another. And it is evident, this time round, that many people are disengaged by stagnant, stuffy and out of touch politics. Corruption has been proven to be pervasive part of the fabric of our society. Some of these guys at the top tables are unbelievably disgraceful…if you choose to look.

So what about women? I don’t want to hear repeated clichés about nurturing and collaboration with a baby on one arm and smart phone on the other. It’s not about the warm, fuzzy stuff. Let’s make no bones. The issues that affect us are our children, our families and the society they will inherit. It’s not cute stuff. It’s deadly serious.

So what type of society do we want them to live in? What are we currently constructing? Frankenstein food? Surveillance state? Environmental catastrophe? Two-tier society? Winners and losers?

Your vote matters…even if you spoil the ballot. Stake your claim. Ladies…it’s up to you.

1. http://www.theguardian.com/world/video/2013/jun/01/suffragette-emily-davison-knocked-down-kings-horse-video

Your country needs you – By Simon Nayyar, Conservative Parliamentary Candidate for Feltham and Heston

In a few short weeks our country faces a decision of titanic proportions. The decision we make on Polling Day will shape the destiny for the next five years of our nation, but also the prospects and opportunities of our children and grandchildren for decades to come.

I am standing for Feltham and Heston in West London, a seat where my parents bought their first home. This constituency, like so many others around our country, is filled with hard working families who want to get on in life. For many, their most important desire is the reward of a meaningful job, a decent standard of living and access to good local public services.

Mums often talk to me about the need for local, affordable childcare, being able to balance the family budget, and whether education and job prospects for their children will be everything they hope for. They talk with insight and, invariably, passion. Their views are, of course, the views of every single one of us, but they bring that extra knowledge and understanding that only mothers can.

They remind me that, although we have more women in Parliament today than ever before, the House of Commons is still predominantly male. Given that more than 50% of the British population are women, there is so much more all political parties need to do to encourage more women to stand for Parliament with their remarkable insights, talents and skills.

A parliament with more women would better reflect our nation. A disturbing report by ASDA recently found that only 2% of mothers felt that they were represented in Parliament, despite the fact that 80% of mothers would vote. Hard working mums need to be better represented at the highest levels in our country.

In theory, at least, it shouldn’t be hard to deliver a more representative Parliament. In Sweden 45% of MPs are women. Even more impressive is Rwanda, where women were returned in 51 out of 80 seats in the 2013 parliamentary elections. It shows how inspirational a so-called developing nation can be to all of us and how the UK can learn lessons from countries in many different parts of the globe.

Whether it’s the economy that concerns you, the future of our public services or our place in the wider world do turn out and vote on 7th May. It’s a crucial part of our democratic process. And, if you think you might have a more hands-on role to offer our country, consider getting involved in local politics. Your country needs – and will benefit – from your insight, help and support.