Parliament Week Blog (Monday) | Women in Parliament

Our system of Parliamentary democracy spans over 800 years, but it is only in the last 100 years that women have played a pivotal role in how the laws of our country are shaped.

The votes for women movement was often represented as a ‘tide of change’ sweeping the nation. However, it was not until 1919 – some 127 years after Mary Wollstonecraft published ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Women’, that a woman - Viscountess Nancy Aston, was first elected to Parliament.

The story of the fight for women’s suffrage has a long history – spanning almost two centuries.

From the submission of a petition calling for women’s votes by Mrs Mary Smith, in 1832, to the prominent suffragette’s led by Emeline Pankhurst in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; we must not forget the struggle that previous generations endured to secure the rights that we now see as part of everyday life in modern Britain.

As a female MP - one of only 13 in the Conservative Party who were elected in 1997, I can say first hand that a lot has changed for the better since my first day in Westminster just over 19 years ago.

I recall that when I first started in Parliament I was often the only woman in meetings - and indeed one of very few women around the Cabinet table with school-age children.

However, history shows us that better decisions are made when those who make them are more diverse. For example, when assessing the priorities for public transport, men rate reliability and cost as the most important factors, but women put something else first—their personal safety. Put the two perspectives together and a better outcome is achieved.​

Similarly, it has also shown that we have better representation. Having recently taken part in several debates which recognise the modern challenges facing women, I have seen first-hand how issues such as; gender equality, slavery and sexual exploitation, education and the gender pay gap have been brought to the forefront of politics and are being challenged at the highest level because there is a greater energy in Parliament when both men and women can join together to champion these issues.

As it stands, I am delighted to see that since the 2015 general election there are now 192 female MPs on the green benches – a little under 30% of the Commons chamber. Whilst this is not yet parity - we are heading in the right direction. And the fact that Britain is being led by a female Prime Minster demonstrates to a generation of young girls and women that there are no barriers to achieving ones fullest potential in our political democracy.

If you are interested in finding out more about the role of women in Parliament, please visit the Parliament website: http://bit.ly/2gae4rl