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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Stiller as Derek Zoolander in the leaked trailer for Zoolander 2
film
Sport
footballArsenal take the Community Shield thanks to a sensational strike from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain
Arts and Entertainment
Gemma Chan as synth Anita in Humans
film
News
Keeping it friendly: Tom Cruise on ‘The Daily Show’ with Jon Stewart
people
Arts and Entertainment
Ensemble cast: Jamie McCartney with ‘The Great Wall of Vagina’
artBritish artist Jamie McCartney explains a work that is designed to put women's minds at rest
News
Republican Presidential Candidate Donald Trump
people
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for an I...

Recruitment Genius: Project Assistant

£17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are a leading company in the field ...

Recruitment Genius: DBA Developer - SQL Server

£30000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Office Manager

£26041 - £34876 per annum: Recruitment Genius: There has never been a more exc...

Day In a Page

Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks
The haunting of Shirley Jackson: Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?

The haunting of Shirley Jackson

Was the gothic author's life really as bleak as her fiction?
Bill Granger recipes: Heading off on holiday? Try out our chef's seaside-inspired dishes...

Bill Granger's seaside-inspired recipes

These dishes are so easy to make, our chef is almost embarrassed to call them recipes
Ashes 2015: Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

Tourists are limp, leaderless and distinctly UnAustralian

A woefully out-of-form Michael Clarke embodies his team's fragile Ashes campaign, says Michael Calvin
Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza

Andrew Grice: Inside Westminster

Blairites be warned, this could be the moment Labour turns into Syriza
HMS Victory: The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

The mystery of Britain's worst naval disaster is finally solved - 271 years later

Exclusive: David Keys reveals the research that finally explains why HMS Victory went down with the loss of 1,100 lives
Survivors of the Nagasaki atomic bomb attack: Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism

'I saw people so injured you couldn't tell if they were dead or alive'

Nagasaki survivors on why Japan must not abandon its post-war pacifism
Jon Stewart: The voice of Democrats who felt Obama had failed to deliver on his 'Yes We Can' slogan, and the voter he tried hardest to keep onside

The voter Obama tried hardest to keep onside

Outgoing The Daily Show host, Jon Stewart, became the voice of Democrats who felt the President had failed to deliver on his ‘Yes We Can’ slogan. Tim Walker charts the ups and downs of their 10-year relationship on screen