Recent figures from the Equal Power campaign have highlighted a worrying trend towards women not seeking to be elected into positions of power – an issue that requires urgent action to ensure better representation in public life. The Equal Power partnership - a coalition with the Fawcett Society, 50:50 Parliament, Citizens UK, Centenary Action Group, Glitch, Muslim Women’s Network UK and The Parliament Project - is hosting dozens of online workshops aimed at tackling these issues as well as campaigning to address the barriers to women’s successful participation in political office.

Research by the Fawcett Society and our Equal Power partnership has shown that more than ever women are unlikely to get involved in politics and to put themselves up for selection. Back in December 2019, 59% of women surveyed said they were ‘unlikely to stand as an MP’ and 44% ‘unlikely to stand as a councillor’ if there was an election within the year. Now nearly a year on from the start of coronavirus, this has risen to 74% for unlikely to stand as an MP and 62% for unlikely to stand as a councillor. The women taking part in the survey were those that had already engaged in equal power workshops – and despite their enthusiasm, the majority have shown that they are unlikely to seek a public role.

The women surveyed highlighted what is putting them off seeking public office. 69% said they would have balancing actually being an MP or Councillor with other responsibilities while 69% cited abuse or harassment from the public or other parties as a barrier. 59% said a lack of confidence to put themselves forward and 57% said sexism within local politics – something shown all too starkly at the Handforth Parish Council meeting that went viral.

These statistics show the huge problem we face to women’s representation which is why the Equal Power partnership is both calling on the government to take urgent action and finding creative ways of supporting women into positions of power.

The Equal Power partnership are running training sessions to take urgent action on these concerning statistics and support women into power. These sessions look to tackle head on the issues shown to women’s involvement. From learning how to keep yourself safe online – an area where women are likely to face significantly more abuse than men – to networking opportunities where those in power share their experiences of what public life really is about and training on how to apply.

The Centre for Economic Studies highlighted in their research how across the world women in leadership handled the pandemic better – this was even more the case when outliers such as New Zealand were removed. This research demonstrates the importance of having women represented in all our diversity at all levels – it ensures greater success.

The partnership is also urgently calling on political parties to set targets for increasing representation, on the government to publish diversity data, to ensure measures are being taken to tackle online harm and to reinstate the access to elected office fund.

Seyi Akiwowo, Founder and Executive Director, Glitch said:
"Online abuse should never be a barrier for women wanting to go into public life. Sadly it is and our Ripple Effect Report revealed online abuse has increased during the pandemic. Glitch is proud to be part of the solution with Equal Power. By providing free workshops on digital self care and self defence we are equipping women with both the skills and knowledge to take up their space online and in democracy".

Frances Scott, Company Director, 50:50 Parliament
"This International Women's Day 50:50 Parliament is looking forward to campaigning alongside our fantastic equal power partners for women to have equal seats and equal say, loud and proud in our signature 50:50 T-shirts. It is great to know that by working together we are making a difference. 50:50 is here to support women every step of the way in getting selected and elected. Our network of 50:50 Buddies and regular weekly BiteSize meetings help women overcome some of the hurdles. This International Women's Day we call upon everyone if you know a women who would make a great representative ask her to #SignUpToStand via 50:50 so that we can help her progress in politics."

Faeeza Vaid MBE, Executive Director, Muslim Women’s Network UK (MWNUK)
“For women with intersecting identities, barriers also intersect. So, advancing one part of the solution required is not enough. Instead, we need to tackle head-on all the barriers faced simultaneously. The array of training offered by this partnership of organisations is an example of the kinds of support needed for women, no matter where she may be on her political journey. However, structural and systematic change must come too if we are to make our democracy more representative of the communities it serves.”

Hannah Stevens, Director, The Parliament Project said:
“We have nurtured a community of thousands of women who are passionate about representing their communities. Yet, this research affirms what we hear from these women anecdotally; the lack of structural support and patriarchal structures in party politics makes the path to standing for election daunting and difficult. We can and should do better. The UK will not be the best version of itself until its democratic institutions look and live like its people and for that to happen we need 51% of our elected representatives to be women!"

Hannah Swirsky, Campaign Coordinator, Centenary Action Group said:
“The pandemic has highlighted that the “old boys club” does not lead to effective policy making and can exacerbate inequalities. The ongoing barriers to women’s representation means that we are missing out on the talents, experiences and interests of women, in all their diversity. We need ‘deeds not words’, from the government to address these barriers and ensure an equal and representative democracy.”

This International Women’s Day we will hear a lot about the impact of the pandemic on women but the focus needs to be on the steps we take to tackle it – and encouraging as many women as possible to sign up and share these workshops and to consider standing for a role in public life.