Europe has plenty – but where are all of Britain's powerful women?

David Cameron's latest Cabinet reshuffle pushes UK down the international gender-equality league

Britain has slipped in the international rankings on sexual equality because of a cut in the number of female government ministers, according to a study published today.

Its conclusion will embarrass David Cameron, who once pledged that women would fill one-third of places in his government. Instead, fewer than 20 per cent of his ministers are female – and several were moved out of high-profile positions by Mr Cameron in last month's reshuffle. Five government departments, including the Treasury, are now all-male.

The World Economic Forum's annual "global gender gap" report places Britain 18th – down from 16th last year – after being passed by Nicaragua and Luxembourg. The report measures countries' progress on tackling discrimination against women on a variety of measures, including earnings, educational performance and political participation.

The report says: "The UK slips two spots relative to its performance last year. This is mainly the result of a decrease in the percentage of women in ministerial positions, which decreased from 23 per cent to 17 per cent."

The top five places are filled by Iceland, Norway, Sweden, Finland and Ireland.

Just over 22 per cent of MPs are women, putting Britain joint 58th with Malawi in a separate league tabled compiled by the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Ceri Goddard, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for equality in public life, said: "The UK lags behind much of the world when it comes to women's representation. News that we have fallen yet further should spark action on the part of the Government.

"Every day, politicians in Westminster make decisions that affect all of us – whether to go to war, how to balance the nation's budget, what to teach in our schools. The views and experiences of one half of the population are not properly heard."

The statistics emerged as controversial European Union plans for minimum quotas of women on company boards – strongly opposed by several countries including Britain – were postponed last night. Lawyers had warned the plans were not legally enforceable.

The EU Justice Commissioner, Viviane Reding, had been seeking backing for a law obliging companies to appoint at least 40 per cent of top table seats to women. Gender quotas have already been introduced in France, Italy, Spain, Iceland and Belgium – and Norway, which is not in the EU, has had a 40 per cent quota for a decade.

Britain says it prefers a voluntary approach. The percentage of women on the boards of FTSE 100 companies has risen over the past year to a record 16 per cent, compared with less than 15 per cent across the EU as a whole.

Going, going, gone: women demoted

Caroline Spelman

Sacked as Environment Secretary last month amid claims, denied by No 10, that she was too old. Ms Spelman, 54, was replaced by Owen Paterson, 56, after seemingly being blamed for last year's forestry privatisation U-turn.

Cheryl Gillan

One of the longest-serving Tory women MPs, in the Commons since 1992, she was removed as Welsh Secretary in the reshuffle. Soon after returning to the backbenches she spoke against Government plans for a fast rail link between London and Birmingham.

Justine Greening

To widespread surprise, she was demoted from Transport Secretary to International Develop-ment Secretary. Despite winning plaudits in her old job, she seems to have been punished for restating too forcefully the Coalition's opposition to expanding Heathrow Airport.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Sport
Wembley Stadium
footballNews follows deal with Germany
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Voices
voicesApple continually kill off smaller app developers, and that's no good for anyone
Sport
A 'Sir Alex Feguson' tattoo
football

Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear
tv

Thriller is set in the secret world of British espionage

Life and Style
life

News
ScienceGallery: Otherwise known as 'the best damn photos of space you'll see till 2015'
Life and Style
fashion

Bomber jacket worn by Mary Berry sells out within an hour

Life and Style
tech
Sport
Andros Townsend is challenged by Vladimir Volkov
football
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Y1 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Y1 Teacher required for a So...

Senior Financial Services Associate - City

Highly Competitive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - FINANCIAL SERVICES - Senior...

Residential Property

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Residential Conveyancer - Wiltshire We have a...

Y5 Teacher

£90 - £120 per day: Randstad Education Leicester: Long term position for a KS2...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week