Last Weekend I was delighted to attend the inaugural conference of Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians (CWP) from the British Islands and Mediterranean Region (BIMR) of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association in Edinburgh.
The theme of the conference was Enhancing the Participation of Women in Politics. The conference provided an opportunity for women parliamentarians from across the region to discuss issues of mutual interest that fall within the remit of the newly established CWP BIMR group.
Speaking at the opening session of the conference, I gave a presentation to delegates about the lack of female representation in parliaments. Currently there are 147 women in the House of Commons, just over one-fifth of all MPs (23%), and a similar proportion of Members of the House of Lords are also women.
During the presentation I explored some of the special measures that other countries have introduced to help address this imbalance. One of the most effective measures that has been used to increase the number of women in parliaments has been the introduction of quotas, whether it be through legislative changes or party reforms.
Labour are the only major UK party to introduce reforms targeted specifically at increasing the number of women candidates and parliamentarians, and we have done this through the introduction of All-Women Shortlists.
Experience shows that All-Women Shortlists are the most effective way of delivering gender equality in our one member First-Past-The-Post electoral system. All-Women Shortlists and they have undoubtedly strengthened our Party and our Parliament.
At present Labour has 86 women MPs, constituting 33.5% of the Parliamentary Labour Party, which is more than all the other parties put together (61). Currently, only 4 out of 22 cabinet posts are held by women and the Tories and Lib Dems have now conceded that their parties have a problem with gender balance.
The conference sessions were very productive and gave delegates the opportunity to share their knowledge and experiences about the main barriers women face when trying to enter into politics. The parliamentarians identified ways in which we could look to overcome these obstacles and, in my role as a member of the CWP BIMR steering committee, I look forward to working with parliamentarians from across the region to increase the representation of women in parliaments and politics.
This is an essential step forward that we must take as we seek to tackle some of the broader issues facing women and girls throughout the Commonwealth, such as the threat from violence, access to education and equal employment opportunities.