Government still failing on female representation

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The Independent Online

The dearth of women in government is as stark as in Britain's boardrooms, with just two out of 17 Cabinet committees overwhelmingly dominated by men and several of the most powerful including no women at all.

There are just four women in the 25-strong Cabinet, only the child poverty sub-committee is chaired by a woman and only one other, social justice, has a gender-balanced membership.

Meanwhile, the economic affairs, banking and public expenditure committees include no women whatsoever. Neither does the legislation committee, or the two coalition committees. And of the four national security groups, none has more than three female members. Even the home affairs committee manages only four women out of 24 members, although one is the Home Secretary. Elsewhere in government, the picture is no rosier. The proportion of female MPs is 22 per cent, just four points higher than in 1997. Margaret Hodge, who leads the powerful Public Accounts Committee, is the exception rather than the rule – one of just seven women chairing the House of Commons' 29 select committees. Only a fifth of local council leaders or deputy leaders are female.

Such marked imbalances are skewing the policy agenda, according to LSE visiting professor Kate Jenkins. "To have a reasonably civilised society, we have to treat everyone equally," she said. "Instead there is lack of understanding about how government policy affects women differently from men."

Anna Bird, at the Fawcett Society, says the gender imbalance in politics and public life is a "democratic deficit".

"It is about power," she said. "Women do not have the same power and influence over the world around them."

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