Political parties in Britain should be forced to reveal how many women and minorities they put up for election to parliament, lawmakers and campaigners said on Wednesday.
They said the government should take action after a recent law compelling many British companies to share the gap between how much they paid male and female staff provoked debate and pledges of change.
“We don’t have equal representation in politics and there’s a distance between citizens and politics as a result,” said Helen Pankhurst, the granddaughter of British suffragette campaigner Sylvia Pankhurst.
“There’s a double standard, or a bit of hypocrisy, if you demand accountability elsewhere and aren’t accountable yourself,” Pankhurst told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
Despite sex discrimination being outlawed in the 1970s, women hold just 208 of the 650 seats in the House of Commons and are also under-represented in senior business roles. Just over a quarter of the House of Lords upper chamber members are women.
Campaigners have called on the government to bring into force existing legislation that would compel parties to make public how many of their candidates are women.
The Government Equalities Office declined to comment, saying in a statement that it “continues to work on supporting groups to participate in politics”.
Politicians compete ahead of five-yearly elections to be chosen as a candidate for their party, with the final decision taken by party members in the local constituency.
Speaking at a round-table event hosted by the Centenary Action Group, lawmakers from the three main British parties said they had run up against sexist assumptions and stereotypes when forging their political careers.
Nicky Morgan, a member of parliament (MP) with the ruling Conservative Party, said when she first put herself forward, the members “still had a concept of what a candidate looked like as male, often married with children”.
Jo Swinson, the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats, said she had been quizzed about whether she planned to have children when competing against a man with a young family.
“The gender pay gap has put pressure on companies – people are asking questions and I think we need the same thing with political parties,” she added.
Britain stands at number 39 in an international index charting women’s representation in parliaments, below Rwanda, Cuba and Bolivia.
Campaigners said forcing parties to be more transparent would increase pressure on them to nurture female candidates and those from minority backgrounds.
Labour MP Dawn Butler said that would result in a “more robust type of policy”.
“It’s important to have that intersectionality, to have different voices, not people who all went to the same school and have got all the same friends,” she said.