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Closing the gap - new report identifies ways to increase participation of women in public life

Closing the gap - new report identifies ways to increase participation of women in public life

CABINET OFFICE News Release (Cabinet Office on behalf of Government Equalities Office) issued by COI News Distribution Service. 4 September 2008

A new report published today highlights what needs to be done to get more underrepresented groups of women to play an active role in civic and civil life.

Women from all walks of life remain underrepresented in decision making roles and this is particularly true of women from Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) backgrounds.

Only 29.3% of local authority councillors in England are women and of them, only 3% are BAME women. Currently, less than 20% of MPs are female. There are only two minority ethnic women MPs and there has never been an Asian woman MP.

Closing the Gap is a report on the findings of The Women Take Part project announced in 2007, by Government Equalities Office and the Department for Communities and Local Government.

Women Take Part aimed to identify the key ingredients to supporting women from underrepresented groups to become active in public life and deliver change - what works and why; and the key elements likely to have a long term and sustainable impact.

Following this research, which included a mix of surveys, questionnaires, formal interviews and focus groups, the best ways to get women involved were identified as:

* Having role models who others can relate to, i.e. women with young children who live similar lives or come from similar backgrounds;

* Specific measures by organisations which target and encourage Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women to step forward (being asked to participate is a big factor);

* More flexible arrangements to enable women to juggle caring responsibilities and participating in the wider community, such as when meetings are held, where and childcare arrangements;

* Building community level networks of support for specific groups such as BAME women; and

* Having ongoing support to maintain and progress their participation and gain confidence to take the next steps.

From these findings, the report identified the following key recommendations in moving forward:

1. Build on the Women Take Part research - develop and pilot the framework as a resource/toolkit for change for women and organisations;

2. Bring together initiatives that offer relevant learning, support and development to agree a useful way forward;

3. Address the issue of resources for learning, support and development for women's journeys;

4. Broker networking between women's organisations and democratic structures and processes;

5. Clarify and disseminate the legal position for organisations on promoting gender equality within civil and civic governance roles; and

6. Broker dialogue with public agencies and Voluntary and Community Sector organisations around gender, fairness and positive action.

Also published today is Sex and Power, the Equality and Human Rights Commission's annual report looking at women in top positions of power and influence which finds that more progress is needed for women to achieve equality in public life, and the public and private sectors.

Deputy Minister for Women and Equality, Barbara Follett, said:

"Getting women involved in decision making can change the face of policy making. We have seen this happen in Parliament where issues such as violence against women, maternity leave, flexible working and childcare are regularly discussed and we now have better and stronger policies in all these areas. This is due to increased women's representation.

"Engaging more women into public life can also help ensure that public services reflect the communities they serve and maximise the skills that women can bring to these positions.

"We must grow the talent pool at a local level to enable under represented women to gain the skills and confidence to take the first step on the ladder.

This report helps us to better understand the journey these women take and recognise the barriers they face to establish what are the key ingredients to supporting these women to become active and deliver change - what works and why."

Communities Secretary Hazel Blears said:

"There are thousands of women involved in their communities, as volunteers, campaigners and councillors, and I am always inspired when I meet them. But we still have a long way to go. Many women do not make the leap from campaigning or volunteering to standing for office. Many more are put off by the structure and culture of local democracy. We are working to break down the barriers, provide a platform for women (especially women from Black and Minority Ethnic backgrounds), and ensure that our elected representatives truly reflect the diversity of our communities."

Notes to Editors

1. Women Take Part is a project funded by Government Equalities Office and Communities and Local Government and was launched by the Ministers for Women in Autumn 2007.

2. Women Take Part aims to:
* investigate what currently works to better encourage and support women from underrepresented groups to become more active in local decision making

* determine which are the most effective models likely to have a lasting impact and which will enable organisations to be more inclusive

* Ongoing research has included a mix of surveys, questionnaires, formal interviews and focus groups.

3. A factsheet on Women's Representation in the UK can be obtained from Press Office or online at http://www.equalities.gov.uk/public_life/index.htm

4. Sex and Power, the Equality and Human Rights Commission's annual report looking at women in top positions of power and influence across the public and private sectors is available at http://www.equalityhumanrights.com

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