Frances Scott is founder of 50:50 Parliament, a cross party campaign petitioning for debate and action for better gender balance, which envisions “A Parliament where men and women legislate the laws of our land together in roughly equal numbers”. Frances feels that in the House of Commons, where men outnumber women by more than 2:1, the resulting Parliamentary deliberations are missing a key component, the equal expression and consideration of the views and experiences of women. 50:50 Parliament sets out to change this by working collaboratively cross across all parties and genders.
“…Representation shapes attitudes and policies. Having more women at Westminster would ensure more informed policy-making on all issues…”
My career background
I had an international career in business and travelled widely throughout Europe and the Far East. I lived in Hong Kong for several years where I was employed as an operations analyst. I was the first women to be appointed in four of the roles I held.
After getting married and embarking on “project family” I changed direction and trained as an antenatal teacher. I set up and ran the Birth Education Network for 15 years and I now run antenatal courses for NCT (a national charity supporting parents, formerly known as the National Childbirth Trust). I’m proud to have supported thousands of parents during birth and the early years.
It was becoming a parent and supporting mothers and fathers during birth and early parenthood that motivated me to start campaigning for better gender balance in Parliament.
Founding 50:50 Parliament
I founded the 50:50 Parliament Campaign in November 2013 to petition Parliament to debate and take action to get better gender balance because I believe, like others, that when women participate in politics the effects ripple across society.
Over 50,600 people have now signed the petition with more than 6,000 writing comments explaining why they want better gender balance at Westminster.
At 50:50 we envision a Parliament where men and women legislate the laws of our land, together in roughly equal numbers. It came about after a huge sense of frustration and apparent lack of understanding or empathy concerning the lives of women and families over many successive Parliaments.
When my daughter was in primary school she was elected to her school council. When I asked if she was representing the class she said: “Oh no, there is always a boy and a girl from each class because our experiences are different,” and I thought, “Kerching kerching – they get it in school, so why can’t Parliament be like that?” Men and women should have equal representation and should not be competing with each other for seats at the table.
Some years later Professor Vernon Bogdanor from Oxford University, who had been David Cameron’s personal tutor, was saying similar things on the radio: “The life experience of women is bound to be different to that of men, not superior or inferior but different, and that needs to be represented in Parliament.”
Why better gender balance is needed
Of our 650 MPs, only 195 are women and 455 (70%) are men. Even though the current Prime Minister is a woman there are still more men in the Commons than there have ever been female MPs. The Lords has around 600 men and only 200 women. For gender balance in the Commons only 130 more female MPs are needed – from a population of 32 million UK women this should not be a big ask and would amount to overall representation of 1 in 100,000. Those women are out there, we just need to help them get “in there”!
In a nutshell, better gender balance is needed because balance is better for everyone and diversity leads to better decision making. This is a non-partisan issue, concerning the quality of governance and nature of democracy.
At #5050Parliament we put it down to the “4 Rs”: Resources, Representation, Responsibility and Respect:
We want Parliament to draw upon the widest possible pool of talent and experience, including the UK’s 32 million women, over 50% of the population. Women make a massive contribution to society with their paid and unpaid work and have a wealth of relevant experience and skills.
Women make up around 50% of graduates and 60% of law graduates. Diversity leads to better decision making and as Professor Ngaire Woods has said: “We know that when women are in parliament … it builds more resilient, responsive, better informed institutions.” If Parliament becomes more accessible to the majority that are women it may become more accessible to many others too.
Representation shapes the policies. When asked why there was a tax on tampons President Obama replied: “Because men were making the laws when those taxes were passed.” But this is the tip of the iceberg.
Take some other examples which have been in the news: Jeremy Hunt, Secretary of State for Health, recently stated that at 7 in 1000: “Our stillbirth rates are still amongst the highest in Western Europe.” He said the UK could learn best practice from countries like Sweden, which has halved its rate of avoidable birth injuries in recent years. Also, last year over 54,000 women in the UK experienced pregnancy discrimination, whilst again Sweden is doing much better.
These are issues about which the NCT has been campaigning since it was founded in 1955, but still much could be done to improve our maternity services and support for new parents. Surprise, surprise – Sweden’s Parliament includes proportionally more women. There are over 50 countries with better gender balance in their parliaments than the UK. Sweden, as it happens, is a world leader with 44% of their parliamentarians being women.
“Evidence from more balanced legislatures than ours shows that as membership of women increases so does the sensitivity of male MPs to the range of women’s concerns. So men can act for women, but they may be more likely to do so when there are more women around,” as observed by Joni Lovenduski, Professor of Politics, Birbeck College, University of London.
Representation shapes attitudes and policies. Having more women at Westminster would ensure more informed policy making on all issues and particularly those concerning family life, parenting, parental support, maternity care, children, childcare, elderly care, reproductive rights, domestic violence, sexism at work and equal pay. Having more women in Parliament has meant that some of these issues have risen higher up the political agenda.
It is a woman’s world too and women should be involved in running the country and planning the future. As Nancy Astor ( the first woman to take a seat in the Commons) said when asked why she wanted to be an MP: “I wanted the world to get better and I knew that it couldn’t get better if it was going to be ruled by men…alone.”
Parliament should be leading the way in promoting gender equality and respect for women, their lives, experience, talent and skills. If Parliament or politics is unattractive to women this is a problem and like any organisation that wants to attract talented individuals the organisation needs to examine the problems and address them. As a male contributor wrote on the 50:50 Parliament petition: “If the institution of Parliament discourages women to participate, it is the institution that needs to change.”
In our recent submission to the Women and Equalities Select Committee the we list numerous solutions and the many reasons why this issue should be addressed. There are many ways to achieve a more gender balanced 50:50 Parliament. These include:
- Retaining existing women MPs in the light of boundary changes
- Keep improving Parliament – culture and working conditions
- More respect, publicity and championing of women MPs at Westminster
- Funding and financial support for women candidates
- Creating a more parent friendly Parliament
- Reviewing technology that might allow for remote voting
- Developing returnship programmes
- Supporting inspirational educational programmes
- Targeted recruitment of women to Parliament e.g. #AskHerToStand
- More action within the parties
- Initiating a debate in the Commons to discuss this democratic issue
- Gender quotas for ‘vacant held’ and ‘target seats’
- Allowing MPs to job share
- Reviewing incumbency
- Considering proportional voting systems
- Considering constitutional change
The suggestions outlined above all address the accessiblity of politics and Parliament to a much broader range of people. It is vitally important that our House of Commons is exactly that – accessible to everyone. Tackling the issues that make participation difficult for women (the majority of the population) will make Parliament more inclusive generally. We have had support from a huge diverse range of men and women across the UK encompassing a wonderful variety of sexualities, ethnicities, religions, backgrounds and politics.
We run an Ambassador programme with over 100 Ambassadors throughout the UK who organise workshops and promote the campaign to encourage engagement with politics and inspire people, particularly women, to get involved.
We also mark the anniversary of the first woman MP taking her seat in the Commons by having having an event in Parliament around 1st December every year and we celebrate Emmeline Pankhurst‘s birthday each July with a #PankhurstPicnic outside Parliament. We also attend events such as the WOW Festival in London and One Billion Rising.
The response to the campaign has been fantastic! We have received great support from across the genders. The first MP to demonstrate support us by wearing our t-shirt was Ben P Bradshaw. Paloma Faith has supported us, along with Gemma Arterton and Carey Mulligan, the star of Suffragette. 50:50 Parliament has had the support of The Fawcett Society, NAWO (National Alliance of Women’s Organisations) and the Women’s Institute have been instrumental in helping raise awareness.
MPs and parliamentarians from across the political spectrum have also shown great support for the campaign from the early days. On 30th November 2016 Jess Phillips MP kindly hosted the launch of #AskHerToStand in Parliament, and we were delighted to receive the support Rt Hon Justine Greening MP, the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Secretary of State for Education, who also attended the event along with many other politicians from across the political spectrum.
— 50:50 Parliament (@5050Parliament) December 1, 2016
Since the campaign was launched in Nov 2013 the Improving Parliament Report has been produced in July 2014 which stated: “All political parties are united in their belief that gender parity is critical to having a modern, aspirational and representative Parliament,” and which led to the creation of the Women and Equalities Select Committee.
The 2015 General Election increased the number or women at Westminster from 147 to 191 and the Good Parliament Report has been released. The Women and Equalities Select committee has commenced an inquiry into Women in the House of Commons after 2020, and at the latest evidence session all the political parties agreed that Parliament would be better if it comprised of 50% women and 50% men.
Coming up next for the campaign in 2017
The first massive event that 50:50 Parliament supported in 2017 was the Women’s March on London on 21st January 2017 – 50:50 Parliament marched and spoke at this momentous event to demand political equality for all women, because balance is better for everyone.
50:50 Parliament will also be marking International Women’s Day and participating at the Women of the World Festival 2017, as well as making presentations throughout the year at schools, universities and many other organisations to help promote women’s participation in politics and Parliament.
Lack of female representation in Parliament is a persistent, historic problem and it needs sorting. I hope that you feel motivated to help. If you would like more information please email FrancesScott@5050Parliament.co.uk.
If you want to support the cause:
- Sign the peitition at change.org/5050Parliament – every signature counts
- Become a 50:50 Parliament Ambassador – sign up here
- Buy a t-shirt or tote – every purchase helps fund the campaign
- Consider standing or if you know a woman who would make a good MP #AskHerToStand – here’s how