A whole generation of women is lost to politics

On International Women's day, a damning new report says female politicians are failing to act as role models

Mary Dejevsky@IndyVoices
Sunday 08 March 2009 01:00

Leading female MPs are failing to inspire a "lost generation" of young women to become interested in politics, a damning report has revealed. Girls and young women feel disenchanted with and disengaged from politics, the major study found.

More than 90 years after women won the right to vote, the survey of young females aged up to 25 concludes they are "outside politics", with many feeling detached from local and national policies and decision-making.

The report, which has been highlighted to mark International Women's Day by Girlguiding UK, the largest women-only organisation in the country, casts doubt on the ability of high-ranking female politicians to act as credible role models for girls.

Ruth Kelly, who resigned from the Cabinet last year to spend more time with her family, has left the impression that women cannot have both a high-flying career and children, one Guide leader said yesterday.

The study places the blame on a lack of information about how to take part in local and national politics, and the small proportion of female MPs – 19 per cent – in Westminster.

The report, Political Outsiders: We Care, But Will We Vote?, is published in partnership with the Fawcett Society and the British Youth Council. Its findings are all the more worrying because it is based on the views of Guides, traditionally more active in volunteering than others in their age group, suggesting disillusionment in the wider public is even greater.

Denise King, the chief executive of Girlguiding UK, said: "This report shows that greater efforts are needed to inspire the next generation of female policy-makers, empowering them to have a real say on issues affecting their daily lives and the communities they live in."

More than a quarter of girls are put off by a lack of information about how they should take part, while 17 per cent believe it cannot make a difference.

Nearly half of young women say they would like to be more involved in volunteering, but when this comes to local or national politics, the figure drops to 28 per cent. Domestic violence, gangs and knife crime, bullying and equality at work emerged as the most important issues for young women.

The report calls for a new Youth Green Paper, including a demand for one person under 25 to be on every parliamentary shortlist, and the ability to vote by text message or through social networking sites such as Facebook.

Katherine Rake, the director of the Fawcett Society, said: "The gap between Westminster and the daily lives of today's young women is rapidly widening into a chasm as young women struggle to see the relevance of national politics."

Jess Alcroft, 21, a student at Leeds University and a Guide leader, said: "Ruth Kelly is my MP in Bolton West, and when she resigned to spend more time with her family it put across the perception that women cannot have a high-profile political career if they want a family as well.

"Deep down I really want to be in politics... But I get the impression that the majority of male MPs are sitting around just filling in their expenses forms."

Asked whether she believed Harriet Harman was a good role model, Miss Alcroft said: "Any woman in a high-profile position is a good role model, but there is a sense that you have to hide your femininity to achieve things in politics, and be a person rather than a woman. I would dispute that, because there are benefits to having a feminine side."

Theresa May, the most senior female member ofthe shadow cabinet, said: "Without sustained efforts by politicians from all parties these young women... will become a lost generation politically, disengaged from the decisions that affect them."

The Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson, the youngest member of the House of Commons, said: "When I was growing up I too felt that there was a lack of female role models in politics and a lack of young MPs who would champion the issues important to young people and inspire us to be active citizens."

Harriet Harman

The frontrunner to succeed Gordon Brown, according to bookmakers, is criticised for not being 'feminine' enough and does not cut through to ordinary young women.

Hazel Blears

The Communities Secretary admits 'we still have a long way to go' to encourage more women to become involved in politics. Guides say Blears is recognisable only inside Westminster.

Ruth Kelly

By resigning from the Cabinet to spend more time with her family, she 'left the impression' that women cannot have both children and a high-flying political career.

International women's day protest: Calls for official action against domestic violence as thousands march in central London

Thousands of women and children marched in central London yesterday to demonstrate against domestic violence. The protest, organised by a coalition of women's groups and volunteers called Million Women Rise, was held to mark International Women's Day.

An estimated 5,000 women and children – including those who had suffered domestic abuse – gathered in Portman Square. They then marched to Oxford Street and up Regent Street before arriving at a rally in Waterloo Place.

Ange Jones, one of the organisers, said: "We want the Government to implement a strategy on violence against women and for it to be fully resourced. We also want the funding and acceptance of women's services, because they are under threat."

Sandra Horley, chief executive of Refuge, said: "Abused women and children should not have to depend on charity. We are talking about the social infrastructure of our nation. Domestic violence is undermining the social fabric of our country. This is not only about women; it is about our children, and about future generations. And the Government has a duty to ensure that an infrastructure of services is in place and that women and children are given protection."

Representatives of Million Women Rise have been invited to tomorrow's launch of the Home Office strategy for violence against women.

Emily Dugan

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments