Time for a feminist perspective on the constitution?
As election fever takes hold, the question of women’s participation in parliament arises yet again. We are approaching the centenary of the election of the first woman to the Westminster Parliament. Countess Markievicz, a Sinn Fein candidate who had played a role in the Easter Rising of 1916, stood for election in Dublin in 1918. She was the first woman to be elected to the House of Commons. She never took her seat in Parliament. In 1919 Nancy Astor became the first woman to sit on the benches of Westminster.
In the current parliament, a mere 143 of the 650 MPs elected to the Commons are women. That means that less than a quarter (just 22%) of parliament is made up of women. Progress has certainly been made in the century since Markievicz and Astor. However, the UK still has one of the lowest rates of female representation in the world – 60th in the world in a recent league table of women representatives in national parliaments.
In this election year, many will ask what we can do to increase female participation in politics and in government. Some will suggest that gender quotas be legislated for and female participation be given constitutional protection. The election will also raise more general questions about the rights of women, including the right to equal pay and opportunities. These vital questions may require a re-evaluation of the British constitution, or indeed something altogether more radical – a new constitution for the UK.
Well, that is exactly what we have set out to do – and more – in a unique crowdsourcing project at the London School of Economics and Political Science.
Spearheaded by LSE’s Institute of Public Affairs, the ConstitutionUK project seeks to engage ordinary people from across Britain to have a say in how their country should be governed, dragging our 800 year old non-constitution into the 21st century and making it relevant to modern Britain.
Is this feasible? We think so! At the very least, it’s a useful exercise in getting people to think seriously about existing laws which affect them every day – some that are ridiculously out of touch with our society in 2015.
- Is there still a place for the British monarchy in 2015?
- In the absence of a written constitution, do the Prime Minister and ruling government have too much power?
- What are British values and should they be written down in a constitution?
These are important questions but what is interesting to note is the paucity of questions so far about the role of women in our constitution or feminist perspectives on our constitution. With the election in sight it is important to consider whether gender balance in parliament and government should be something that is protected under our constitution. Furthermore, perhaps what won’t be discussed at all is the protection of women in the private sphere; including the right to be free from violence in the home.
It’s important that the constitutional debate is not hijacked by academics, lawyers and MPs – hence the appeal to ordinary people to visit www.constitutionuk.com , register and share their views. We want to hear your opinions, regardless of how simple or complicated they are!
The project will culminate in a constitutional convention hosted by LSE in March, at which the top 20 participants from the crowdsourcing project will be invited to help finalise a written, codified constitution to present to parliament. This is a chance for everyone to have their say!
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