Woman To Win
After years of campaigning for the equal representation of women in Parliament, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington has seen significant and hopeful changes. However, she tells Noa Hoffman that Conservative women still face barriers to getting elected.
As a veteran advocate for women in Parliament, Baroness Jenkin of Kennington is pleased her party is making progress towards increasing gender representation.
In 1997, when Jenkin’s friend and former prime minister Theresa May was first elected, only 13 female Conservatives occupied seats in the Commons, a figure that contrasted starkly with the 101 Labour women on the benches opposite.
Fast forward more than two decades and May now sits in the chamber alongside 86 other Conservative female MPs.
It’s a step in the right direction for Jenkin, who was made a life peer in 2011 – but she is not yet satisfied.
Ultimately, she feels, true equality will only be achieved when women comprise half of Parliament’s elected Members. It is a goal she is sure both the Prime Minister and her party genuinely support.
“Boris says he passionately wants this to happen. You’ve got to then think, well how am I going to make this happen?” Jenkin says.
“I’ve seen party chair after party chair slapping themselves on the back, slapping the party on the back, wanting it to happen, wanting us to do or get better. But it actually involves far more of a commitment and investment than they are prepared to put in.”
Frustrated by the quantity of female candidates standing to be Conservative MPs, in 2005 Jenkin and May co-founded Women2Win, an organisation that campaigns to promote talented females in the party, as well as to address gender imbalances by encouraging more women to become Tory MPs.
The organisation’s work has helped to foster what Jenkin describes as “serious improvements” in representation and encouraged the party’s candidate department to become “totally committed to the agenda”.
However, Jenkin is of the view that much work remains to be done. “With only 25 per cent (of Conservative women MPs) in Parliament, we are the ones holding back any form of equal power,” she says.
“We have a much more rigorous process to get on to the candidates’ list and to become an MP than the other parties – it’s always a challenge,” Jenkins says.
While there are some associations who still believe “that an MP looks like my husband” (Jenkin’s husband Bernard is MP for Harwich and North Essex) she is nonetheless sure that the Conservative Party is a welcoming place for women. There are plenty of bright and talented Tory women. But these women must be encouraged to step forward, she says, for the party, the country – and the female gender.
And despite the problems, Jenkin is optimistic about the future for Conservative women. She believes there are ways of making parity happen, they just require time, effort, commitment and must be considered a priority.
“It is about persuading our members who do the selecting that having a woman has many advantages over having a man. I think they’re getting better.”
Unafraid to tackle controversial subjects, Jenkin is a supporter of the “gender critical” school of thought, which argues certain women’s spaces should be preserved exclusively for biological females.
“A couple of years ago, I definitely would have said trans women are women and I don’t say that today,” she says. “I think you can easily be supportive of trans people but ensuring there is no erosion of women’s rights.
“I do not support self-identifying trans women going into women’s prisons, I do not support trans women in competitive sports.”
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