British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at his first Cabinet meeting in May 2010.
British Prime Minister David Cameron speaking at his first Cabinet meeting in May 2010.

(WOMENSENEWS)–On the heels of recently released global rankings that show a startling drop in political participation by U.K. women –now at 65th place from 33rd place in 2001–an Aug. 28 report by the Counting Women In coalition offers fresh annual data and urges parties to use the 2015 elections as a turnaround opportunity.

“Elections are a unique opportunity for parties to make a real improvement in the number of women MPs we have,” Eva Neitzert, deputy chief executive of the Fawcett Society, a London-based leading women’s rights group, is quoted as saying in a summary sheet accompanying the report. “We urge the parties to field more women candidates in safe and retirement seats to ensure women are represented equally in their party.”

“Sex and Power 2014: Who Runs Britain?” finds the Labour Party leading the way in fielding women in 54 percent of its target and retirement seats. The Liberal Democrat Party follows at about 41 percent and the Conservative Party lags at about 35 percent.

U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron reshuffled the Conservative members of his Cabinet last month, appointing more female ministers ahead of the general elections. He promoted two women to his full Cabinet and 10 women overall, so that now five of the 17 full Cabinet members are women. However, some have said the move was a bid to freshen the image of the ruling Conservative Party ahead of the polls.

Less Than Dazzled

Katie Ghose, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, was one of those less than dazzled by the Cabinet moves.

“Despite a headline-grabbing reshuffle earlier this year, the prime minister failed to reach his own target of making a third of his ministers female,” Ghose is quoted as saying in the summary. “It shouldn’t be so difficult to make sure one in three people at the top table of politics are women, which is why political parties have to redouble their efforts to open up.”

Under representation pervades all levels of government, finds the report, particularly in local government, where only about 13 percent of leadership positions are held by women, a nearly 4 percent decline since 2004.

“Improving representation at a local level is also key,” says the Fawcett Society’s Neitzert, “failing to tackle problems at this level will undermine efforts to increase women’s representation on the national stage.”

In higher government the numbers are better but far from proportionate to women’s share of the population. The report finds women are 22 percent of Cabinet ministers, 23 percent of Parliament and 23 percent of the House of Lords.

The report also scans the news media and finds few women in sight, with women only 5 percent of national or Sunday papers, 6 percent of regional dailies and 9 percent of print and broadcast political editors.

Five Other Recommendations

Aside from urging political parties to rectify the numbers, authors make five other key recommendations; better monitoring by election authorities of who stands for election, improved complaint and redress procedures for sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying within political parties, diversity trainings for political parties and bolstering women in the news media.

Ruth Fox, director of the Hansard Society, offered a doubtful view of the fate of these recommendations.

“At best it looks like there will be only a modest improvement in the number of women in Parliament after next year’s general election and the U.K. will continue to drift down the international league tables,” Fox is quoted in the summary. “But if the political parties, the government and the media are really serious about tackling this issue then the realistic, practical steps we have outlined could still be implemented in the coming months to improve the culture of politics and the general election campaign.”

The Fawcett Society, Hansard Society, Electoral Reform Society, the Centre for Women and Democracy and Unlock Democracy joined in 2011 to form the Counting Women In coalition to address the lack of women in politics.

“We believe the under representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies and town halls around the U.K. represents a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of decisions made in these chambers,” the coalition says in an end note to its summary. “Together, we will be fighting to ensure women have an equal presence and voice within our democratic system.”

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