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Will women change British politics?

There are now more women in the Westminster Parliament than ever before. 29.4% of the 650 MPs elected in May 2015 are women. More significant is that six of the key leadership roles in British politics are now filled by women. 

The Prime Minister, the First Ministers in Scotland and Northern Ireland are women, as are the Conservative and Labour party leaders in Scotland and the leader of Plaid Cymru in Wales. The General Secretary of the TUC is also a woman and three of the UKIP leadership candidates, including the favourite, are women. So what differences might all these women in political leadership make?

Are we all unique individuals with unique personalities and experiences or was John Gray right to say men and women are different in his book “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”? On the basis of questioning 25,000 individuals Gray concluded that men and women communicate differently, think, feel, perceive, react, respond, love, need, and appreciate differently. “They almost seem to be from different planets, speaking different languages and needing different nourishment.”[i]  Other studies have reported that women show more sensitivity, warmth and apprehension than men whilst emotional stability, dominance, rule-consciousness and vigilance are typically male characteristics. Are these shallow stereotypes or should we expect the increasing numbers of women MPs and leaders to feminise and change British politics? If they did, would that be change for the better or does the cut and thrust of party politics need masculine traits more than feminine ones?

Britain has the longest serving female head of state and was the first European country to have, in Margaret Thatcher, a female head of Government. Angela Merkel has successfully led the German Government for 10 years whilst Erna Solberg has been Norway’s Prime Minister since 2013. Edith Cresson was Prime Minister of France in the early 1990s but had less influence than President Mitterrand. Spain, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands all have more female MPs than Britain, but have never had a woman in the top job. Hilary Clinton is the first woman to be nominated for the US Presidency.

There is no inherent reason why a woman should be any less equipped for political leadership than a man but hitherto women have faced prejudicial barriers in British politics. Some have also started climbing the greasy pole later than their male counterparts after having children. The flaw in the assumption that men and women are inherently different is that it assumes a polarising view of gender, whereas a spectrum view is probably more realistic. Women are not all at one end of that spectrum and men at the other end. Indeed the aim of John Gray’s teaching is to help both genders to understand each other and adapt their behaviour to develop relational harmony.

Surely the gender of our political leaders is not as important as their moral characters. Honesty, humility and a commitment to public service are not gender specific characteristics. The policies they bring to office may differ but what matters is that their aim is to serve the nation, not just advance their own careers.  Like all fallen creatures, they need our prayers to fulfil this calling.

[i] “Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus”, John Gray PhD, Harper Collins 1992, Introduction

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