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6 February 2018updated 09 Sep 2021 5:43pm

7 reasons why proportional representation is a feminist issue

Under a proportional representation system we would have more women MPs, global research has shown.

By Amelia Womack

It is 100 years since women won the right to vote. Now, there are a record number of women MPs in the House of Commons. Our Prime Minister is a woman. But 2017’s general election marked only the first time the number of men elected did not exceed the number of women elected ever. It’s clear something needs to change.

Our electoral system is built on the out-of-date first past the post system, which in 2015 saw almost three-quarters of votes cast wasted. Proportional representation would make every vote count, and ensure the representation of parties in Parliament would match the number of votes they get.

But what many people don’t know is that proportional representation is a feminist issue, too. Here’s seven reasons why.

1. Get more women elected

Under a proportional representation system we would have more women MPs, global research has shown. Harvard found that in “plurality/majority systems” like Westminster, women made up one in ten parliamentarians on average, compared to one in five in proportional representation systems.

2. Get men out of comfy seats

In a first past the post system, parties tend to run an incumbent male MP again, research by LSE has found. This means the system is locked into looking like the previous Parliament.

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3. Action on austerity

Austerity disproportionately hurts women, with black and ethnic minority women hit the hardest. Using the government’s own statistics, the Resolution Foundation calculated Britain is now facing its worst decade for wages since the Napoleonic wars. Under the current voting system, pro-austerity MPs in safe seats have no incentive to do anything to improve the life chances of some of the most excluded people in society.

4. Nothing about us without us

Having more women in Parliament isn’t just a good thing – it is the only way to make sure women’s interests are looked out for in government and our laws. Look at my colleague Caroline Lucas, fighting for compulsory PSHE lessons in schools, or Harriet Harman’s fight for paid maternity leave for MPs.

5. Climate action now

Women are more affected by climate change. Women make up the majority of the world’s poor, and are more dependent on natural resources for their day to day lives. Women make up somewhere between 50 and 80 per cent of the world’s food producers, and are often responsible for securing water, food, and fuel for cooking and heating – resources which are the first harmed in the event of climate disasters. Women also face social, economic, and political barriers that limit them coping with climate change impacts and moving or finding a new job.

6. Give peace a chance

Involving women in peacebuilding makes it 24 per cent more likely that violence will end within a year, research shows. Peace is more likely to continue long term if gender equality is central to all political decisions.

7. You might hear the word “tampon” in Parliament

With more women in the chamber, perhaps the men in the room will stop being too embarrassed to say “tampon” – as was the case for Sir Bill Cash who had to be forced to say the dreaded word by Stella Creasy.

Amelia Womack is the deputy leader of the Green Party.

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