Centenary year in 2018: a “missed opportunity” unless we remove barriers to women’s political participation


Unlock Democracy is part of the newly launched coalition that has issued a challenge to government and political parties – to make the 2018 centenary of the first women’s votes in the UK a year for actively encouraging women’s political participation.

But the coalition has warned that unless government and parties set clear targets, adopt an action plan and act to remove barriers to women’s political participation the centenary of women’s votes could be a “missed opportunity” and our politics will “fail to be relevant to women’s lives”.

Meeting to plan activity to highlight 100 years of the first votes for women in 2018, and as
parliament sits to begin its work in the New Year, the Centenary Action Group concluded that the lack of action so far suggested that the important anniversary this year could fail to deliver any real change.

We know that increasing the numbers of women in Parliament is not only a matter of basic human rights and equality but is also necessary at a time when voter participation is low, and politics is reaching a crisis of credibility. Women in politics face an extraordinary amount of abuse, especially on social media, partly because they speak up but also simply because they are women. This stops women from entering political debate.

From the work towards women’s political participation the world over there is clear evidence that the more diverse the decision makers are, and the more widely power is spread, the less room there is for abuse and discrimination and the more likely it is that decisions made will benefit everyone, including the most marginalised women and girls in the UK and beyond. This is so critical because it is a central part of the UN Global Goals (Goal 5) that all countries are aiming for, but most countries, including the UK, are still falling short.

Last year the Women and Equalities Select Committee Inquiry made a number of recommendations which would address the lack of women’s representation in parliament but to date government has failed to act on any of them.

  • 32% of MPs are women – the UK parliament ranks 38 the in the world for women’s

  • representation

  • 33% of councillors are women and just 17% of council leaders

  • All 6 elected Metro Mayors are men and just 12% of Combined Authority representatives

  • are women

  • In 2014, the Girlguiding’s Girls’ Attitudes Survey found that 67% of girls aged 11-21 said

  • there aren’t enough female MPs and 63% thought girls’ voices would be listened to more if

  • there were more female MPs

  • Only 4% of local councils in England have a maternity, paternity or parental leave policy for

  • councillors

  • 4 in 10 councillors have experienced sexism from within their own party and a third from

  • council colleagues and 1 in 10 have experienced sexual harassment

  • Half of Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women councillors experienced racism and sexism - half of disabled women councillors also experienced multiple discrimination

Alexandra Runswick, Director of Unlock Democracy, said:

“The Centenary is a moment of celebration and a time to reflect on the great strides made towards gender equality. However while politicians and those in power celebrate the Centenary they must not just pay lip service to the principle of equal representation; we need urgent action from politicians, not overtures.

“The lack of diversity in parliament is a canary in the mine shaft. It is symptomatic of a system that inherently benefits the status quo and cedes overwhelmingly disproportionate power to white men from privileged backgrounds. It is not just women who are underrepresented, but also members of minority communities. Political parties are well placed to make immediate headway towards increasing the number of women and minorities, and yet they have not. Let the Centenary therefore be both a celebration of how far we’ve come but also the impetus for going the final distance.”

The Centenary Action Group has launched with the hashtag ‘#StillMarching’ on social media.


Sam Smethers, Chief Executive, Fawcett Society
Laurie Lee, CEO, CARE International
Frances Scott, 50:50 Parliament
Nikki van der Gaag, Director of Women’s Rights & Gender Justice, Oxfam GB
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive, Electoral Reform Society
Julia Bentley, Chief Executive, Girlguiding UK
Lynne Stubbings, Chair, National Federation of Women’s Institutes
Amnesty International UK
Women for Refugee Women
Caroline Haworth, Chief Executive, Womankind Worldwide
Labour Women’s Network
Jess Phillips MP, Chair, Women’s Parliamentary Labour Party
Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader, Green Party
Liz Saville Roberts, Westminster Leader, Plaid Cymru
Angela Crawley MP, SNP Westminster Spokesperson on Equalities, Women and Children
ActionAid UK
Women’s March London
Alexandra Runswick, Director, Unlock Democracy
Dr Mary-Ann Stephenson, Director, UK Women’s Budget Group
Artichoke Trust
Professor Sarah Childs, Birkbeck, University of London
Dr Sumita Mukherjee, University of Bristol
Irene Cockroft, SuffrageArts
Dr J Kay Richmond, Chairman, UK Programme Action Committee, Soroptimist International

Zero Tolerance
Talat Yaqoob, Chair, Women 50:50