Article 7 in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women focuses on women in ‘Public and Political Life’.

The convention states:

States Parties shall take all appropriate measures to eliminate discrimination against women in the political and public life of the country and, in particular, shall ensure to women, on equal terms with men, the right:

(a) To vote in all elections and public referenda and to be eligible for election to all publicly elected bodies;

(b) To participate in the formulation of government policy and the implementation thereof and to hold public office and perform all public functions at all levels of government;

(c) To participate in non-governmental organizations and associations concerned with the public and political life of the country.

So what does this mean?

It means that women should have an equal experience in: voting, in being elected to positions within government, and in working at NGOs and other organisations with a public interest.

In what way is this article relevant and important to women’s rights and women’s organisations in the UK?

Despite women forming 52% of the population, in no part of the UK do they hold an equal share of power across public life (CEDAW Four Nations Shadow Report, 2019).

For example, in Wales, women are 18% of council leaders, 43% of Assembly Members, and head up only 6% of top 100 businesses.

LGBT, disabled, working-class and Black and minoritised women face additional barriers to representation and positions of power across public life. In Wales, disabled or BME people hold less than 4% of public appointments.

At the time of the previous general election in 2017, Fair Deal for Women project* in 2018 found that:

  1. The House of Commons now has a “record number” of women MPs. Yet, as of 2017, women are only 32% of MPs, 26% of peers, and 36% of the Cabinet.
  2. Black and minoritised women are 13% of the UK population, but only 3% of MPs. In other words, white men still take up a large majority of Parliament seats.
  3. The total number of women to have been elected to the House of Commons since 1918 remains lower than the number of men (459) in the current Parliament (as of 2017).
  4. The UK ranks 36th out of 190 countries in terms of percentage of women parliamentarians.
  5. A marked party difference can be observed, with women being 43% of Labour MPs and 21% of Conservatives (as of 2015).
  6. Women are 60% (14 of 23) of BME MPs from the Labour party, compared to 29% (5 of 17) of BME MPs among Conservatives.
  7. Women take up only 26% of senior Foreign Office roles and 27% of senior Ministry of Defence roles.

These figures will be revisited after the upcoming general election on December 12th. In a recent survey by the Women & Equalities Select Committee, two thirds of women MPs say that progress on tackling violence against women in politics impacts their willingness to stand for re-election. There has been a recent flurry of resignations by multiple women MPs including Lib Dem MP Heidi Allen and Conservative MP Nicky Morgan. Black and minoritised women are more likely to experience multiple levels of discrimination, evidenced through Labour MP Diane Abbott continuing to face misogyny, racism and abuse, and in the 2017 general election, she received over half of all online abuse directed at women politicians. It cannot be ignored that the abuse faced by women in political positions is different than that experienced by men.

What does the UN Committee say?

In the 2019 Concluding Observations from the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women, they said:

  • They welcome the increasing number of women who are represented in Parliament, the judiciary and the police force.
  • But, remain concerned about the underrepresentation of women in political and public life, in particular in Northern Ireland, and the low representation of “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” women and women with disabilities.
  • They welcome the adoption in Scotland of the Gender Representation on Public Boards (Scotland) Act in March 2018, which aims to achieve 50 per cent representation of women in non-executive positions on the boards of certain public bodies by December 2022.
  • But, remain concerned about the inadequacy of measures adopted by the State party to accelerate the representation of women in all areas of political and public life throughout the whole of the State party’s territory.

So, the Committee recommends:

  • the State party take specific targeted measures, including temporary special measures, to improve the representation of women, including “Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic” women and women with disabilities, in Parliament, the judiciary and decision-making positions in the foreign service and its diplomatic missions.
  • the State party to take measures to address the low representation of women in political and public life in Northern Ireland, including by ensuring the implementation of section 43 A of the Sex Discrimination (Northern Ireland) Order 1976 enabling the use of gender quotas.
How can we use this article to influence change for women in the UK?

With the general election just 11 days away, the intent and purpose of Article 7 is more relevant than ever. Evidence shows that increased representation for women has a positive impact on equality and in these uncertain times for the protection of women’s human rights, all women need to be represented in order to be safe and secure. Here are some questions that we need to ask our candidates / political parties and to ask ourselves when voting:

  • How are they supporting increased representation of diverse women in private and public sector leadership?
  • Will they commit to supporting specialist women’s charities?
  • Will they protect vital life-saving BME women’s refuges?
  • Will they commit to supporting mandatory human rights training in schools?
  • Will they prioritise women’s rights if they are elected?
  • Will they commit to establishing gender proof policy making?
  • Will they introduce a mechanism to hear the most marginalised women voices in government?



Hannah Coombes, Finance and Admin Officer at Women's Resource Centre. 

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