2018 marks the centenary of The Representation of the People Act and The Parliament (Qualification of Women) Act, both of which marked major advances for women's political participation and empowerment.
To commemorate this historical moment, the British Council commissioned some research to reflect upon the advances that have been made for women's political participation, power and leadership in the four nations of the UK, and to highlight the persistent challenges and priorities and consider the perspectives of other countries.
The definition of women’s political participation, power and leadership goes beyond the representation of women in parliament, also focusing on the influence of women within power and decision-making structures and processes, how women in different spheres of life are participating and engaging in politics.
The report presents an opportunity to build upon findings and recommendations of the British Council’s recent report and forms a basis for developing international discussion and dialogue about these vital issues and generating opportunities to do even more to support women’s political participation.
This is in furtherance of Sustainable Development Goal 5.5 – ‘Women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life’ and supports the British Council role of creating opportunities, building connections and engendering trust as the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities.
Six thematic chapters explore the key enables and barriers to women's progress as shared by participants:
- Participants were clear on the fundamental importance of the role of women’s activism and sisterhood over the last 100 years in progressing women’s access to power and politics, women’s influence on the political agenda and the way politics is conducted.
- While participants celebrated many of the momentous legal changes over the last 100 years that have supported women to progress in politics they also reflected on the continued need for changes to the rules operating across the political system and how these are implemented by gatekeepers.
- Consideration of the culture, norms and practices of the political workplace brought focus to the ways in which political institutions can welcome or act as a barrier to women entering politics.
- The growing number and importance of women in leadership roles within politics across the UK, and their power and influence was a key discussion for participants.
- Participants spoke consistently about the visible results that have flowed from women’s increasing political power and participation over the last century and the extent to which this has shaped the lives of women and girls in the UK, and internationally.
- All of the progress for women in politics and the impact this has had on women’s lives was seen by participants as inextricably influenced by wider sweeping changes witnessed in the UK and internationally over the last 100 years. A changing world? reflects discussion by participants on how wider changes have enabled important advances, but also have acted as new barriers.
The research engaged a range of participants from the UK as a whole, the nations of Wales, Northern Ireland and Scotland, and internationally through 40 individual interviews; six roundtables with 77 stakeholders and over 60 talking head short films to reflect many different experiences and a range of expertise.
Some of the examples and stories shared by participants from Wales include:
- Welsh women’s participation in the labour force and the impact of the miner’s strike as a political education that was an inspiration to women MPs and Welsh Assembly Members. Our children and grandchildren are more politically active.
- The opportunities offered by devolved political powers to design women in to political workplaces and systems and the role of women’s activism within this
- The Welsh government-funded Women’s Equality Network Wales, a platform for consulting with women
- Chware Teg’s opportunities for young women to shadow Assembly members, supporting women through the political pipeline
- The Assembly Women in Democracy Caucus, who have addressed the issues around women undertaking more care and domestic work and the underrepresentation of women in public life in Wales and are engaging internationally with the Icelandic Parliament
- The story of how Wales became the first legislature to achieve 50/50 representation and the impact this had worldwide
- The Violence Against Women Domestic Abuse and Sexual Violence (Wales) Act which is leading the way in tackling violence against women and girls
- The role of the EU in pushing for progress and supporting women’s facilities and rights in Wales: What Europe has done for Wales. The EU that has been supporting different women’s facilities, as well as supporting women’s rights in terms of maternity leave, means that Europe was important to women.
"We are at an opportune time to really push hard, to open doors, to be radical. Whatever it takes to get more diversity at all levels. We need political parties to push as well as individuals". Wales roundtable
Participants were asked ‘What change would you like to see over the next ten years?’
Views on what is needed next to achieve a step-change by 2028 were rich and varied, but there was a consensus that action is needed now to extend existing gains to all women within the UK and internationally. These recommendations are the amalgamation of the priorities for change, from when we asked research participants what change they would like to see over the next ten years.
Advancements in Wales.
The Welsh Government intends to put equality at the heart of policy and decision-making in Wales. On International Women’s Day in March 2018, the First Minister of Wales announced a rapid review of the Welsh Government’s gender equality policies.
The first phase of the review, delivered by Chwarae Teg and the Wales Centre for Public Policy reviewed policy and decisions in Wales and what we can learn from around the world. The review found that, while much has been achieved, there are still improvements to be made for gender equality in Welsh life and there is much we can learn from international best practice. There are a number of recommendations for the Welsh Government to consider.
Phase 2 of the Gender Review is underway and is due for completion in July 2019 with the establishment of a roadmap to advance gender equality in Wales. Find out more
The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act has the ambition, permission and legal obligation to improve social, cultural, environmental and economic well-being. The act requires public bodies in Wales to think about the long-term impact of their decisions, to work better with people, communities and each other, and to prevent persistent problems such as poverty, inequality and climate change.
The act is unique to Wales attracting interest from countries across the world as it offers a huge opportunity to make a long-lasting, positive change to current and future generations.
Join the conversation
To generate conversation and awareness around the Women Power Politics report, please join the conversation on social media and respond to the following question using the hashtag #WomenPowerPolitics / #MenywodGrymGwleidyddiaeth
'100 years ago, (some) women gained the right to vote in the UK but worldwide there are still gender inequalities in politics and power. What change would you like to see over the next 10 years?'
Watch some of the participants from our research roundtable events in Belfast, Cardiff, Edinburgh, London and Manchester respond to this question in the video above.
Please email us if you have any further questions
Download the report below