All-Women Shortlists

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The number of women in the United Kingdom parliament has progressively increased over the years. The highest number of women MPs recorded is 207 elected in the general elections of 2017. This represents 32 percent of all members of parliament, and they belonged to different parties. From 1918, four hundred and eighty-nine women have been to the House of Commons (Kelly and White, 2012, p. 14). The Labour Party has recorded the highest number of women MPs with Conservative Party coming second.

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The number of women elected to the UK parliament recorded minor declines in 1951, 1966, 1974 and 1979. Chart 1 below shows the number of women elected to parliament against the respective years. Chart 2 displays the number of votes cast over the years while chart 3 shows the number of seats in the UK parliament and their division based on parties.

Chart 1

Chart 2

Chart 3

The All-Women Shortlists was developed to increase the number of women that qualified for various political seats. As chart 1 shows, the number of women has constantly been increasing yet the figure has never matched that of the male representatives in parliament (Sobolewska, 2013, p. 4). The All Women Shortlist was introduced to fill the gap between the male and female members of parliament hence gender neutrality. Since its introduction, the public did not welcome the All Women Shortlist (AWS) system gladly. Mainly, men opposed the system with 68 percent of them not backing up the process. The number of women who did not support the idea was significantly lower compared to that of the men with 51 percent of them discouraging the process (Cutts, and Widdop, 2013, p. 35). Nonetheless, the impact of the AWS system was observed in the 1997 general election. 

The Labour Party was one of the first political parties to implement the system in the 1997 general election. The party targeted to increase the number of female representatives in parliament to at least 100 positions. This aim was easily achieved amid controversies regarding the system. The critics of the AWS argued that the practice encouraged gender discrimination since it favored women.

The AWS system gained momentum, and in the 2005 general election, 128 women were elected to MP positions. The Labour Party was leading in the women MP with 77 out of the 128 being from the party. The perception of the use of the AWS continued to receive immense criticism from both genders. In fact, some female MPs such as Ann Widdecombe argued that women need equal opportunities as men and special privileges (Nugent, and Krook, 2015, p. 17). The wheels of the AWS turned in 2009 when the conservative leader, David Cameron initiated a campaign to institute the AWS. He cited that the ethnic minority and dismal women representation in parliament needed the AWS to change the state of affairs. This stand led to an increase in popularity for the AWS. Since 2010, the number of women being elected to parliament has been rising due to the AWS (Sobolewska, 2013, p. 8). The 2017 general election recorded the highest number of women MPs ever recorded in the UK history. Two hundred and seven women MPs were elected in the general election.

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The AWS has led to the increase in female representation in parliament. Despite the constant criticisms facing the system, the practice has helped women to reach winnable seats hence increasing their overall number is political seats. Owing to the system, the number of women MPs rose from 192 in 1997 to 207 in 2017. 

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  1. Cutts, D. and Widdop, P. 2013. Was Labour Penalised Where It Stood All Women Shortlist Candidates? An Analysis of the 2010 UK General Election. The British Journal of Politics & International Relations, 15(3), pp.435-455.
  2. Kelly, R. and White, I., 2012. All-Women Shortlists. London, House of Commons Library.
  3. Nugent, M.K. and Krook, M.L. 2015. All-Women Shortlists: Myths and Realities. Parliamentary Affairs, 69(1), pp.115-135.
  4. Sobolewska, M. 2013. Party Strategies and the Descriptive Representation of Ethnic Minorities: The 2010 British General Election. West European Politics, 36(3), pp.615-633.
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