As this edition of Green World shows, we are blessed with many women in prominent publicly elected roles in our party – as well as a growing number of non-binary members in key internal positions. We have a proud record of championing gender equality, adopting policies long before other parties.
But closer to the ground, the picture is more complicated. In 2017, 41 per cent of our general election candidates were women or non-binary. While this put us in front of other parties, equalling Labour, it still falls short of the percentages that would make our candidates reflective of the population they sought to represent – although hardly surprising, perhaps, considering that our membership showed a roughly similar gender breakdown at the last count.
To understand the factors behind this gap – and what we can do to address it – we may need to dig a little deeper. In 2015, just after the general election, members were asked if they had been to a meeting in the last year – a potential precursor to becoming an officer or candidate. Men outnumbered women at all ages. But – looking just at those over 25 for now – an interesting difference emerges: the size of the gender gap in meeting attendance increases with age, peaking in the 45-54 age group and then decreases to a two per cent difference for those over 65.
What could account for this pattern? Here, it is interesting to look at research into the gender gap in our MPs. Women MPs are less likely to have children than their counterparts who are men; those who do have fewer children on average. Even in 2018, women still do the majority of the housework, and the majority of childcare or care for relatives. Is the problem we have in recruiting women as candidates because they are already giving their time – at home?
Luckily for us, there are demographic groups who can give their time. In the most recent election, we were proud to state that 12 per cent of our candidates had a disability. With a growing disability gap in employment, these members may struggle to give their labour for money. Instead they may fall into voluntary ‘work’, a way to meaningfully give their time when other options are not so easily available.
One of the major problems faced by the Green Party is of course that we do not have the income of other parties. Our party is therefore built on the labour of volunteers. This may sit perfectly with our Green values when these volunteers have a reasonable income or pension, but less so when they do not, and when volunteering is only viable for those who can pay for childcare or someone else to do the housework.
While we all wait for a Universal Basic Income, there are other ideas the Executive is exploring, such as the ‘timebanking’ scheme submitted to our organisational strategy by Disability Greens. Could attending a meeting be rewarded with free babysitting from another member, who would then in turn be reimbursed for their time in another form they value or need?
This approach may not be for everyone, especially for those who are already able to volunteer without remuneration. Furthermore, it may not do anything to address another major gap in our membership - our lack of ethnic diversity. Women and non-binary members are of course not a monolithic group, and we need a range of measures to fight the common phenomenon of their under-representation in politics. Even where time may be less of an issue, we still do not see gender equality.
It will be exciting to see the results should a timebanking pilot begin, but clearly there is no single silver bullet to this issue. Nevertheless, with further analysis, I hope that we will be able to implement a package of measures which will mean that we once again lead the way on this issue by becoming the first major party in England and Wales to proudly stand a gender balanced list of candidates for election.