Women in Parliament and Government - Commons Library Standard Note

Published 18 July 2014 | Standard notes SN01250

Amended 12 August 2014

Authors: Richard Keen, Richard Cracknell

Topic: Elections, Equality, Members of Parliament, Ministers, Parliament

This note shows how the number of women in Parliament has changed since 1918, when women first became eligible to be elected as MPs. It presents comparative data for women in Parliament and other elected bodies in the UK and internationally. It also looks at some milestones over the last 100 years for women in Parliament and Government in the UK.

Currently just over one in five Members of Parliament are women, compared with just over one half of the adult population. The 2010 General Election returned a higher number and proportion of female MPs than any previous general election. Prior to 1987 women had never made up more than 5% of MPs.

As of the July 2014 Cabinet reshuffle, 25 per cent of serving ministers are women. Five women currently hold Cabinet positions. The highest number of female ministers to have ever held Cabinet positions concurrently is eight, in 2007.

Historically, women found it difficult to be adopted as candidates by the main UK political parties and when they did find a seat, it was likely to be less winnable than those for which men were selected. In the 2005 and 2010 general elections, the all-women short-list policy appears to have helped change this for Labour and to have broken down the association of candidates’ gender and seat marginality.

In global terms, the UK Parliament ranks 74th out of the 188 countries included in the Inter Parliamentary Union’s international rankings. The UK has the eleventh highest proportion of women MEPs out of the 28 EU Member States. 41% of UK MEPs are women, compared to 37% across all 28 EU Members.

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