More than two-out-of-three women MPs say they have witnessed sexist behaviour in Parliament, according to new research, amid warnings that a “toxic” culture risks driving women out of politics.
A survey commissioned by the Fawcett Society found just 37 per cent of women MPs believed the environment at Westminster to be “inclusive for people like me” compared to a majority of their male counterparts (55 per cent).
In the course of the past five years, 69 per cent of women MPs said they had witnessed sexist conduct, as against 49 per cent of all MPs.
Over nine-out-of-ten women MPs (93 per cent) said online abuse or harassment had a negative impact on how they felt about being a parliamentarian compared to 76 per cent of male MPs.
And three-quarters of women MPs (73 per cent) said they did not use social media to comment on certain issues because of the abusive environment they encountered online as against just over half (51 per cent) of men.
The findings are based on an anonymous online survey of a sample of 100 backbench MPs conducted by pollsters Savanta ComRes.
Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, said the findings underlined the need for reform at Westminster.
“Sexism, racism, ableism and other forms of discrimination have no place in our society and when we hear so many MPs have experienced these toxic behaviours – both in Parliament and online – it’s extremely concerning and damages our democracy,” she said.
“It’s just not acceptable that MPs work in an environment that is more abusive than inclusive. It stops sitting MPs from speaking out on issues that matter, and deters budding women MPs from standing for election.
“MPs are rightly proud of the difference they can make to our society – but without urgent action, we won’t achieve the diverse, inclusive and representative democracy that the UK needs more than ever.”
Pace of change ‘too slow’
Former cabinet minister Dame Maria Miller MP, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for women in Parliament, said the report showed the pace of change at Westminster was too slow.
“Democracies around the world are under pressure, so we all have to ensure our democratic institutions are as robust as they can be. Diverse parliaments are shown time and time again to be key to a strong democracy,” she said.