It is amazing to be part of a party, in which two-thirds of our MPs are female. However, it is also sad how rare this, even today.
Reflecting on this, I believe the Liberal Democrats are proof that it is possible to have more women in Parliament when the right support is given. We are a testament to what can happen when you put your mind to it.
However, clearly, this isn’t happening across the board, and I suppose I ought to acknowledge that some of those women came in through our by-election wins where selection takes place differently.
Across the spectrum, we need more women to apply. We need to increase the visibility of women MPs and give them role models they can relate to. That’s why parties proactively seeking out good women applicants is so important.
We also need to make sure the process isn’t putting women off. There needs to be training and support. There needs to be more proactive steps to show that Parliament is a good place to work – that you will be safe and supported.
I’m sure there are fantastic candidates with a lot to offer who have been put off by what they see in the news, and the amount of sleaze and scandal.. I’m proud that as the Chief Whip for the Liberal Democrats, I constantly work to ensure that it is a safe place for people to work, and I do think being a woman (and the only woman currently in the role in any party), means that I can be more alive to some of these issues.
Getting more women into Parliament will surely help,but it goes further than that. We need proper structures of accountability; we need to make sure that no one is able to abuse their power. We also need to tackle the amount of abuse online, particularly of women. This needs a fundamental shift in our political discourse, and for social media companies to take responsibility for hate speech on their platforms. Everyone has a role to play in making our democracy better.
This is vital. Having more women elected isn’t just about fairness. Not having women in the room leads to vital issues impacting well over half the population being deprioritised or ignored. We saw this with the Covid Inquiry, where the evidence has shown that the only woman in the room raised domestic abuse, but it was ignored. Other examples are childcare, flexible working, carers leave, transport design, health priorities, safety on the streets, misogyny in the Met and places of power; the list goes on.
What we need is diversity of thought and experience. We need people who have experienced different things. I’m often asked to talk about policing issues because I’m a former officer, as well as the only woman who has served in the police force. And this isn’t just about women – it has to be about ethnicity and socio-economic background as well.
Failure to attract more women risks becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy. For more women to stand for parliament, we need more role models in parliament. Without them, things will never change. We need women from all sorts of backgrounds and with all sorts of experience. It won’t help us make better policy which truly reflects all sorts of people’s experiences otherwise. That’s why we need to consider other diversity facets, too.
Although obviously I want to encourage women to join and run in the Liberal Democrats, this is far larger than that. Being in Parliament is about representing your constituents, about doing what you can to make our policies as good as they possibly can be. I work with MPs from parties across the house on shared interests – ending the need for food banks and supporting Afghan women and girls in particular. I respect them, even if we don’t always agree on everything.
I was once asked to stand - so I stood - and look where that conversion took me. This is why today, we need to #AskHerToStand - and encourage women to head to 50:50 Parliament to sign up to stand today.
I hope that even if people aren’t involved directly with the campaign they will take its message to heart. That’s what happened to me – from not belonging to a party to being a member of parliament in less than five years. Would I have considered myself as capable of being a candidate without having been asked directly. I’m honestly not sure.