who runs britain?

More women in government, but nowhere near enough

7th October 2013
7 Oct 2013
counting women in
who runs britain?
women's representation


More women in government, but nowhere near enough

 Prior to the 2010 general election, David Cameron pledged that a third of his ministers would be women [1]. Today’s reshuffle has seen the Prime Minister make some progress towards this goal, although the chances of the Government meeting his pre-election pledge by the next general election remain extremely slim. Although the number of women in government has risen by three, that still means just one in five ministers are female. And the number of women in the Cabinet remains at just four out of 22.

Members of Counting Women In, a coalition of campaigning groups seeking equal representation of women in politics, have welcomed the Government’s attempts to increase women’s representation, but have warned that there is still a long way to go not just to meet their own pre-election pledge but also to achieve real gender parity in politics.

Nan Sloane, director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, said:

‘Whilst I welcome the increase, it is nevertheless unacceptable that women remain so heavily under-represented at the highest levels of government. There is a steadily growing body of evidence to the effect that gender balance in decision-making bodies makes them function better, so although there has been a small improvement we still seem to be plodding along behind many of our international partners such as France and Sweden. It is therefore impossible not to be disappointed at the slow progress we are making.’

Ruth Fox, director and head of research of the Hansard Society, said:

“Our annual Audit of Political Engagement shows that women’s political engagement is declining and has particularly deteriorated in the last few years. The outcome of this reshuffle is therefore welcome news. But all the political parties still have a lot more to do to fully address the parlous state of women’s representation in Britain.”

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“The government is making painfully slow progress towards equal representation, despite David Cameron’s pledge to make a third of his ministers women. When people look at politicians, they increasingly see them as aliens who live on another planet. Having so few women in government adds to the impression that our representatives have very little to do with us.

The main parties have to think about how to bring down the barriers to participation for women, and ensure that our politicians look more like the people they are elected to represent.”

Ceri Goddard, chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said:

“This reshuffle was an opportunity to give women – more than half of those eligible to vote – a greater say in the running of our country, on everything from the economy to foreign affairs. While this slight increase in the number of women round the table is welcome, it doesn’t go nearly far enough. Time is running out for David Cameron to honour his pre-election pledge to make a third of his ministers female by the end of his first term.

The UK lags behind much of the world when it comes to women’s representation – we are currently ranked 60th. Other countries fare much better, even when it comes to Cabinet-level posts – indeed, Sweden, Switzerland and France all have equal numbers of men and women in their cabinets. A child born today will be drawing her pension before she has an equal voice in the government of her country, today’s action don’t take us that much closer. British politics urgently needs to get up to date and join the 21st century.”

Alexandra Runswick, director of Unlock Democracy, said:

“Our democracy and public life is weaker when it misses skills experience and talents of over half the population, so the increase in the number of women in government is to be welcomed.  However progress remains painfully slow. While other countries have reached gender equality at cabinet level, David Cameron is struggling to fulfil his pledge that a third of his government would be women.”

The total number of women in government is now 25 out of 118 positions, up from 22 prior to the reshuffle. In other words, 21.2% of the government is now female.

Earlier this year the Counting Women In coalition published a report examining gender imbalance in politics and public life. Sex and Power 2013: Who Runs Britain? found that women made up just 22.5% of MPs, 21.7% of peers and 17.4% of the Cabinet. At the local level, the picture is even worse: they make up just 13.3% of elected mayors and 14.6% of Police and Crime Commissioners.

Britain is falling down the global league table when it comes to the representation of women in politics, as other countries move forward faster: in 2001 we were ranked 33 out of 190 countries, but by the end of 2012 we had fallen to 60th place.

The Counting Women In coalition is campaigning for:
political parties to increase the number of women candidates at all levels of election

  • the Government to pilot a new scheme to increase women’s presence, profile and participation in the 2015 general election and beyond
  • the Government and other political players to implement the recommendations of the 2010 Speaker’s Conference Report
  • gender equality on event platforms across the public, private and third sectors

For more information and for interviews, contact Will Brett at will.brett@electoral-reform.org.uk; 07979 696 265.
[1] A third of all Tory Government ministers will be women, claims Cameron, Daily Mail 30 April 2009