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By Baroness Smith of Llanfaes
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Women Put Off Politics By “More Abusive Than Inclusive” Westminster Culture

(Alamy)

3 min read

A new report has warned that a toxic and exclusionary culture in Westminster risks pushing many women out of politics altogether unless action is taken to modernise Parliament.

The report by the Fawcett Society, which was based on interviews with current and former MPs, found that only 37 per cent of women MPs agreed that the culture in Parliament was “inclusive” compared to 55 per cent of men.

Almost half of all MPs (49 per cent) claimed to have witnessed sexist behaviour in Parliament in the last five years, while 93 per cent of women MPs said that social media had affected how they viewed their role as an MP.

Seventy three per cent of women MPs said that they “do not use social media to speak up on certain issues” because of abuse on social media, while just 51 per cent of men MPs felt the same way.

The Fawcett Society warned that “without urgent action, these issues will further exacerbate the under-representation of women – particularly Black, minoritised and disabled women – in Westminster.

The charity’s chief executive Jemima Olchawski said the findings should “sound clear alarm bells” and that reports of “toxic behaviours” in Parliament were “extremely concerning and damages our democracy”.

“It’s just not acceptable that MPs work in an environment that is more abusive than inclusive. It stops sitting MPs from speaking out on issues that matter, and deters budding women MPs from standing for election,” she said.

Olchawski added that “without urgent action” the UK would struggle to achieve a “diverse, inclusive and representative democracy”.

Maria Miller, a Conservative MP and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Women in Parliament, warned that with many democracies around the world “under pressure” it was important “to ensure our democratic institutions are as robust as they can be”.

“Diverse parliaments are shown time and time again to be key to a strong democracy,” she continued.

“Yet, Fawcett's research shows that, whilst important changes have been made in the House of Commons, progress towards a more diverse House of Commons is 'far too slow'.”

The report found a number of “push and pull factors” which impacted women MPs and their decisions to stay in or leave Parliament, with push factors including the “exclusionary culture”, high workload, lack of support systems and online abuse.

Many MPs speaking about their negative experiences for the research also spoke “passionately about their motivations and the positive impact they can have”, which was a major “pull” factor.

Changes being called for by the Fawcett Society include exploring changes to sitting hours, online and proxy voting, increased staff and office budgets, and better support for childcare.

The report also called for new measures to tackle the intimidation of candidates during election periods, and new amendments to the Online Safety Bill to better address the disproportionate levels of online abuse experienced by women.

To help track progress, the charity proposed implementing a new “accountability mechanism” to oversee and publicly report on changes made, and establishing new quotas to increase women’s representation.

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