Women in Democracy by Julie Girling MEP for Parliament Week 2013

Slowly, the tide is turning and women are featuring more and more in day to day political life.

I am a Member of the European Parliament, representing South West England and Gibraltar. I was elected in July 2009 together with 254 other women from across Europe. In 2009 of 736 MEPs, 35% were women.  One third of the 72 UK MEPs elected in 2009 were women meaning the UK has the 17th highest ratio of the 27 EU Member States.

In British Politics we’ve come a long way since the 1900’s: women finally got equal voting rights with men when the Equal Franchise Act of 1928 was passed which allowed women over 21 to vote for the first time. In 1969 the voting age was lowered from 21 to 18 and electoral equality between men and women has been maintained ever since.

Earlier this month (October 2013) Conservative MP Eleanor Laing was elected as one of the three deputy Speakers of the House of Commons. 143 women MPs were elected at the 2010 General Election, more than at any previous election.  Currently there are 147 women in the House of Commons, just over one-fifth of all MPs (23%).  A similar proportion of Members of the House of Lords are women.

In politics, we are on the road to equality but we’re not there yet. Sexism is still endemic in parliament. You will recall controversial Ukip politician, Godfrey Bloom, insisting at his recent party conference that a room of debating women in politics was “full of sluts”. Prior to this, in April this year, Mr Bloom confirmed his views that businesses shouldn’t employ women of childbearing age. Previously, he’s declared: “A woman’s place is cleaning behind the fridge.” Unfortunately, these attitudes still exist in British and European Politics in spite of the progress we have made.

It shouldn’t matter if you are male or female in British or European Politics, what matters is that you have the courage of your convictions, stand up for what you believe in and are true to yourself.

Having more women in positions of power in political facilitates real change in dealing with the issues women face.  We can work for education, employment and empowerment of women across Britain, Europe and the World. We can lead nations in our fight against oppression and campaign against injustice. Female politicians deserve their place alongside men fighting for the future of women and for the women of the future.

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