Our male-majority government just rejected plans for getting more women into politics

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Moya Crockett
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The government has been accused of a “lack of ambition” after rejecting multiple proposals on how to boost the number of female MPs.

Earlier this year, the House of Commons’ women and equalities committee put forward no less than six ideas for increasing the number of women in parliament. Every single one of these has now been rejected by Prime Minister Theresa May’s government, The Guardian reports, due to the “additional regulatory burden” they would entail.

There are just six women in May’s cabinet of 23 people, including the PM herself. Male politicians make up almost three-quarters of the government’s most senior figures.

Vetoed suggestions included fining political parties if they failed to meet targets for female candidates at general elections, and introducing new laws to make sure than at least 45% of election candidates were women.

The government also turned down the idea of setting a firm target of 45% female representation in parliament and local government by 2030.

The women and equalities committee’s report, published in January, said there was a “serious democratic deficit” because of the lack of female representation in the House of Commons. The UK ranks an embarrassing 48th in the world for gender equality in politics.

“Women make up more than half the population of the United Kingdom and, at a time when more women are in work than ever before, there is no good reason why women should not make up half of the House of Commons,” it said.

The report also recommended that parties “explicitly identify winnable seats” and made a concerted effort to get female MPs into those seats.

At the general election in June, just 29% of people standing for election were women. There are now more women in parliament than at any point in history, but male politicians still outnumber women by more than 2:1. Some 442 sitting MPs are male, while 208 are female.

In its official response to the committee, the government said that the recommendations had been rejected because they would create more legislative red tape. It also said that individual political parties should be accountable for the number of female MPs, not government.

“The government shares the committee’s view that political parties have primary responsibility for ensuring that women come forward to represent them and are put in positions from which they can win seats,” the reply said.

“The government does not believe that the best way to achieve this is through legislation and placing an additional regulatory burden on political parties.”

The proposal that parties should be fined if they didn’t meet gender diversity targets was also shot down. “The government does not support quotas set out in legislation, and therefore does not agree that sanctions should be introduced,” said the statement.

The prime minister has previously spoken of her distaste for gender diversity quotas, dismissing them as a “quick fix”.

“As a woman, I’ve never wanted to get anywhere because I was part of a quota,” May, then home secretary, said in 2012. “I’ve wanted to get there because I’d worked hard for a job and because I deserved it.”

Maria Miller, a former Conservative cabinet minister, heads up the women and equalities committee. She said that the UK was failing to be a world leader in gender equality, and that the government’s verdict confirmed this.

“The government’s failure to accept any of the committee’s recommendations shows a complete lack of action and ambition to bring about real change,” she said.

Sophie Walker, the leader of the Women’s Equality Party, said that she was heavily disappointed with the government’s response. “By rejecting every one of the women and equalities committee’s recommendations, the government has let all women down and continues to stifle true democracy in which all voices are heard,” she said.

Walker agreed with May’s view that quotas are a short-term fix for increasing the number of women in parliament, but said that shortcuts are often necessary on the path to equality.

“They are a short-term solution to fix a long-term imbalance of power, and they are a stepping stone towards a political system that sees everyone, and is open to all,” she said.

“We will continue our challenge to the old politics of Westminster by mobilising our activists on our clear pathway to getting more women into politics.”

Images: Getty Images / Rex Features