'Men's club' politics leaves women cold

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Indy Politics

Women are less likely to become involved in mainstream politics or to stand for Parliament than men - despite being as likely to vote, a report concluded yesterday.

Women are less likely to become involved in mainstream politics or to stand for Parliament than men - despite being as likely to vote, a report concluded yesterday.

The report identifies a gender gap, with women more disillusioned than men with mainstream politics, which they regard as male-dominated. They are less likely than men to trust political institutions or to lobby their MP.

The report, commissioned by the Electoral Commission, found that women did not believe "they can influence the political process". It said: "Women have a weaker sense of political efficacy than men; they have lower confidence that they can influence the political process through their own actions. Women also express less interest in politics than men, are less likely to regard politics as important and less likely to trust a range of political institutions."

Just 18 per cent of MPs are women, but only the Labour Party has introduced positive discrimination to boost the number.

The study, by researchers from Harvard University and Birkbeck College London found women were more likely to become involved in the electoral process if a female candidate was standing in their constituency. In 2001, in seats where a woman MP was elected to Parliament, the turnout among women was 4 per cent higher than for men.

Laura Turquet of the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for more women in public life, said it was heartening that the report found the presence of a woman candidate boosted female turnout. But she called for more all-women shortlists to be introduced for safe seats.

"It's exciting to see that the presence of a female candidate increases women's turnout in elections. It increases the connection between women voters and Westminster politics because it's very much about the delivery of policies being from people who look a bit like you - rather than reams of faceless white men," she said.

The report concluded that postal voting may boost turnout among women but pilots of electronic voting show it may dissuade women from voting.

Sandra Gidley, the Liberal Democrats' spokesperson for women, said it was time that political leaders grasped the importance of the women's vote and did more to promote female participation in national politics.

The report found a significant "gender gap" in activities such as party membership, party donations, party activism and in contacts with politicians. Men were also more likely to be involved in a voluntary association or member of a sports or social club. The only exception was church groups which have more women members. The gap was narrower among higher income households and those who attended university. But men were "consistently" more politically active than women across all age groups, the report said.

WHO'D BE A POLITICIAN?

Ang Langley , 43,

nurse with five children, from Bristol

If you asked me what my hobby is, I'd say it is politics. I have always been politically active and became a supporter of a political party ever since I could vote. I want to change things and this is the way I can do so. I firmly believe in fighting for working people. The issues that matter to me most are foundation hospitals and the agenda for change in the health service, and also the threat of the BNP. I became the vice-chairwoman of my local Labour Party branch in Frome Vale, Bristol, a few months ago. I think that political appointments should be made to the person who is most capable, whether that be a woman or a man.

Stella Cridge , 27, business consultant, from Vauxhall, south London

I am not a member of a political party but I am very interested in politics and the political process in Westminster. I would be less inclined to join a political party and more likely to think about taking a job in government.

I do not think it is the gender issue alone that alienates people from Westminster politics, but also the public school, upper middle-class tradition of politicians.

I don't think having more women MPs would make any difference to me in terms of becoming interested in party politics, but I would still like to see more women MPs. The number one issue for me at the moment is Iraq.

Erika Lang , 21, nanny from Helensburgh, Dumbartonshire

I don't always understand what all the fuss is about. There is too much point-scoring by rival politicians rather than just sorting out things out.

I find it difficult to relate to what they are saying so tend to switch off when politics comes on the news. I can't be bothered with all these middle-aged men arguing among themselves when they should be listening to ordinary people.

I don't know who to vote for because I don't feel that anybody has tried to explain to me in clear and simple terms what their policies are. Until politicians start speaking the same language as the rest of us a lot of people are not going to bother listening.

Elsie Kaney , 76, retired, from Lymm, Cheshire

I am not politically active any more but I did belong to a political party before I got married. I have not bothered since then but I have definitely always voted and kept up with political issues. My reason for staying away from party politics is not because it is male dominated but that I am just not inclined to join. Perhaps it is because, as a woman, you have less time for that because you are looking after your children.

It would make no difference to me if more women appeared in Parliament. But I would like to see more strong female characters who know what they want, like Margaret Thatcher, but in both parties.

Soha Sheikh , 20, student, from Tooting, south London

I have never been an active supporter of a political party and I would say I feel quite indifferent to dealings in Westminster. Party politics seems more like male-dominated propaganda than something which is true to life. All the main players are men from a certain background and the Houses of Parliament just do not convey equality to me.

Having said that, I have always voted Labour because I believe in their policies the most. The terror issue concerns me because it seems so one-sided, as well as the terror laws that came into effect after 11 September. I will often talk about political issuesbut I do not feel any sort of obligation to join a party.

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