Campaigners have called on the government to mark the 90th anniversary of universal women’s suffrage by requiring all political parties to publish data on the proportion of women among their parliamentary and local government candidates
Data on how many women are selected to stand for election is not officially collated, with critics claiming the lack of information was preventing proper scrutiny and “holding back progress in this country”.
Women make up just a third of elected politicians in the UK despite winning equal voting rights with the passage of the Equal Franchise Act in 1928.
In Scotland, concern has grown that early progress in boosting gender equality in politics has stalled. The past two Scottish elections have returned the same proportion of women to sit in Holyrood. Fewer women serve as MSPs now than after the first devolved Scottish election in 1999, with the proportion of women at Holyrood peaking in 2003 at 39.5 per cent.
Just 32 per cent of MPs are women, although that figure has risen steadily in successive elections. Across the UK, 33 per cent of elected councillors are women.
Jess Garland, director of policy and research at the Electoral Reform Society, said: “On the 90th anniversary of equal suffrage, it is a sad fact that no clear way of knowing where we stand in terms of women’s representation in politics.
“Now that companies have revealed their gender pay gaps, it’s time UK parties tackled the inequality in their own back yards. We’ve seen businesses play their part – now government and political parties must play theirs in showing their diversity figures.
“Much like the gender pay gap, political inequality is holding back progress.”
Proposals to require the publication of equalities data was included in legislation passed by Labour in 2010, but the provision has not been enacted because Conservative ministers have raised fears about the “potential regulatory burden”.
Ms Garland added: “The Women and Equalities Committee has already called for Section 106 of the Equality Act (2010) to be enacted to tackle this problem.
“This should be the week the Equalities Minister takes action, and ensures real transparency when it comes to diversity in politics.”
Sam Smethers, chief executive of women’s rights campaign group the Fawcett Society said: “Our parliament trails many others in the world for women’s representation.
“We cannot create a modern, inclusive, gender-equal parliament unless we do the basics and capture data on the diversity of candidates. Section 106 must be implemented and what better time to do that than the anniversary of the Equal Franchise Act.”
Ms Garland added: “The government appears to be imagining obstacles where they do not exist. Political parties are best placed to know who they are standing in elections.
“The legislation is ready and there is widespread support for this change to be made. The sooner it is enacted, the sooner the UK’s shameful political gender gap can be bridged.”
Labour will hold a debate this week to mark the anniversary of equal suffrage on Monday.
Dawn Butler, the shadow equalities minister, said: “While we reflect on how far we’ve come in the last 90 years, we are also reminded how far we have to go to achieve full equality.
“This anniversary is a reminder of the importance of addressing the inequalities faced by all women – working-class women, women from ethnic and religious minorities, disabled women and LGBT+ women, leaving no-one behind.”
A spokesperson for the UK government Equalities Office said: “Transparency is important to the Government Equalities Office, as our gender pay gap regulations have shown, and we are keen to see where else this approach could help shine a light on areas where women and other groups are held back.
“This parliament is the most gender and LGBT diverse ever, but there is still more to do.”