The Lord Speaker oversees proceedings in the House of Lords and is the second successive woman to hold the role since its creation in 2006.
As many of you will now know, the aim of Parliament Week is to inform an ever widening group of people, both young and old, on the work of what is after all “their” Parliament. The Parliament Week team works all year to make it a special experience for its audience and uses all possible mediums to engage the interest of citizens. So we will have debates, discussions, dialogue and demonstrations – and there is plenty to talk about given the theme is women in democracy.
If you think that democracy is only delivered through political parties – then please think again. Democracy is essentially about representing people, at any level or in any context, to take political action. So, for example, getting a group together at school to make representations about uniform or meal choices or even order of lessons is political. The key element is the organisation of others to represent a cause or a social goal. This is why repressive states around the world do their utmost to prevent organisation – they know that people have power! I saw this in South Africa during the days of Apartheid. At that time the State went to extraordinary lengths to interfere with the distribution of people in townships – deliberately separating tribal groups so that crowd gatherings and overt political activity became impossible.
But what about the role of women in democracy? We know that half of the population are women but less than a fifth around the world engage in formal politics. Why?
There are many answers but perhaps the one that comes most easily to mind is that politics is traditionally perceived as a male pursuit. This is changing – but slowly. In developing countries, girls’ education is a vital driver of change. The more that girls have access to education, the greater the chances that they will participate in politics and other professional careers. Girls’ education has other, mutually reinforcing benefits too. For example, in cultures where girls have traditionally married young, better education leads to later marriages. This results in fewer and better spaced children and reductions in child and maternal mortality and morbidity rates. Mothers, in turn, are committed to their own daughters’ education. In one generation a profound change can occur which, in time, can have long lasting consequences for women’s political engagement and involvement.
In the UK we have huge advantages as compared to many developing countries – but we don’t as yet make as much use of these opportunities as we could. Education is a key development tool and Parliament Week is a valuable education process. It offers everyone the chance to know more about the way in which they are governed and it encourages people to engage with the process in ways which may appear small but are perhaps far more significant.
Parliament Week disclaimer
From time-to-time, we invite guests to contribute to the Parliament Week blog. This blog post reflects the opinions of its author. The views expressed should not be attributed to Parliament Week or the UK Parliament. If you have any comments, please email email@example.com