COMMONS

A gender-sensitive Parliament (House of Commons): inquiry launched

13 June 2019

The Women and Equalities Committee launches an inquiry into actions by the House of Commons to ensure that it meets the needs of both women and men, and address equality issues, particularly those relating to Members of Parliament.

Purpose of the inquiry

The inquiry builds on the work undertaken by Professor Sarah Childs in the Good Parliament Report (2016), and the subsequent UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit (Dec 2018), which makes a range of recommendations to authorities in Parliament, to political parties and to the Government. The House of Commons and House of Lords Commissions have published a joint response (Tues 11 June).

Scope of the inquiry

The Committee will be looking at four themes drawn from recommendations in these reports:

  • Women’s representation and leadership: there are 209 women MPs: 32% of a total number of 650. Twenty eight per cent of select committee Chairs are women;
  • Parliamentary Effectiveness: the gender sensitivity of parliamentary procedures, facilities and support – eg childcare, predictability of late sittings;
  • An inclusive culture
  • Violence against women in politics, including in online spaces. The Audit report – see above – noted that one of the factors putting women off standing as MPs is “the culture of Parliament as highlighted in recent reports of bullying and harassment, and sexual harassment.”

The Committee is keen to hear views from anyone with experience of these issues, including MPs, staff, visitors, researchers, and experts on how other Parliaments address gender sensitivity and equality.

The UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit report was published in December 2018 with a range of recommendations to make Parliament more gender sensitive. There is considerable overlap; many of the issues and recommendations were shared across these reports. In the same year, new policies were introduced in Parliament to address bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. 

Terms of reference

The Women and Equalities Committee is holding an inquiry into actions by the House of Commons to make sure that it meets the needs of both women and men, and addresses equality issues, particularly as it relates to Members of Parliament. 

In 2016, the Good Parliament Report by Professor Sarah Childs set out a range of actions to make Parliament more representative and inclusive. Following this in 2018 a gender sensitive audit was carried out looking at:

  • The culture of Parliament as highlighted in recent reports of bullying and harassment, and sexual harassment;
  • The challenges that working in Parliament poses for family life, including the unpredictability of business and potential long hours;
  • The financial impact of standing for Parliament; and
  • Online threats and threats to physical security, in particular gender-based
  • intimidation, harassment and violence against female Parliamentarians and female candidates.

The UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit report was published in December 2018 with a range of recommendations to make Parliament more gender sensitive. There is considerable overlap; many of the issues and recommendations were shared across these reports. In the same year, new policies were introduced in Parliament to address bullying, harassment and sexual misconduct. 

Key issues

  • There are 209 women MPs, 32% of a total number of 650 and, as of June 2018, the percentage of female chairs of select committees was 28%;
  • There is a lack of predictability in, and advance knowledge of, parliamentary sitting patterns for example parliamentary sessions can sit late and at short notice;
  • A number of facilities are provided to help parliamentarians to balance their duties with their caring responsibilities, however the audit raised safeguarding concerns relating to childcare in the Commons;
  • The UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit report noted that one of the factors putting women off standing as an MP was “The culture of Parliament as highlighted in recent reports of bullying and harassment, and sexual harassment”.

Send us your views

The deadline for submission is 2 August 2019

We are now calling for written submissions. We are keen to hear from anyone with experience of these issues, including parliamentarians, staff working in parliament as well as from visitors to Parliament and others who work with Parliament. We would also welcome submissions from researchers and experts on how other Parliaments address these issues.

We are taking evidence in the following themes drawn from recommendations in The Good Parliament Report 2016 and the UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit report 2018:

  • Women’s representation and leadership within and across the House of Commons
  • Parliamentary Effectiveness: the gender sensitivity of parliamentary procedures, facilities and support 
  • An inclusive culture of Parliament
  • Violence against women in parliamentary politics, including in online spaces

Questions

  • What strategy is being followed to implement the Good Parliament Report and the UK Gender Sensitive Parliament Audit recommendations and who is responsible overall? How effective has this strategy been?
  • What actions are being taken following these reports and who is responsible for their implementation? How effective has this action been?
  • What are the priorities now and who should be responsible for taking action forward?
  • What mechanisms for bringing about subsequent action have been identified and implemented? How will this be scrutinised?

Further information

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