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Women and Equalities Committee to look at action on gender equality in the House of Commons

3 March 2021

Women MPs in the House of Commons, like their counterparts globally, continue to face barriers to gender equality. Today the Women and Equalities Committee is launching a new inquiry to assess recent progress and make recommendations to create a more ‘gender-sensitive’ Parliament.

Following The Good Parliament report in 2016 by Professor Sarah Childs, a gender-sensitive audit was carried out on the UK Parliament in 2018 finding that barriers included:

  • The culture of Parliament as highlighted in recent reports of bullying and harassment, and sexual harassment;
  • The challenges that working in Parliament poses for family life, including the unpredictability of business and potential long hours;
  • The financial impact of standing for Parliament; and
  • Online threats and threats to physical security, in particular gender-based intimidation, harassment and violence against female Parliamentarians and female candidates.

A series of actions includes a new Proxy Voting scheme for those on parental leave (and for COVID-related reasons) and an Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme containing a Behaviour Code for the whole Parliamentary Community.

This work is in line with action internationally where the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU) has published Guidelines for the elimination of sexism, harassment and violence against women in parliament and the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians has published the Gender Sensitising Parliaments Guidelines: Standards and a checklist for Parliamentary Change.  

Committee Chair Caroline Nokes MP said:

"While there has been progress and important changes in recent years, Parliament still remains too much of a "boys’ club", and this can be experienced negatively by men as well as women. We are launching this inquiry during Women’s History Month to look at how the House of Commons has progressed in implementing changes set out in previous reports, and how far there is still to go in making it more gender sensitive. If we want to see equal representation, we need to create a Parliament where equal treatment and modern working conditions can be taken for granted by future generations of women and men, whatever their background."

Key questions which the inquiry will consider include:

  • How successfully have changes proposed in the past been implemented in practice?
  • What further changes do we need to make to procedures and working arrangements? Eg parental and carer leave; proxy voting; virtual attendance
  • The major refurbishment of Parliament taking place over the next decade – the Restoration and Renewal Programme – creates opportunities for positive changes. How can our buildings and facilities be changed to support a gender sensitive House of Commons?
  • How can we create a more inclusive culture?
  • Which individuals or bodies are responsible for taking action, and who/what should be driving change?

Full terms of reference for the inquiry can be found [here]. The deadline for evidence is 31 March 2021. The inquiry will be taking oral evidence from key players in Parliament after Easter.

Further information

Image: Parliamentary copyright