BLOG: Diversity in democracy – the time to act is now #Diverse5050
By Evelyn James, Diverse5050 Campaign Manager
‘Diversity’, a word that symbolizes strength in our differences, the force of unity, growth, and development. This word has become a buzzword and a subject of concern in today’s leadership and political representation. Our society embodies people from diverse backgrounds ranging from race, language, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexuality amongst many other different characteristics. It is these unique differences that engender the growth and progress of society.
Wales is no different, being a diverse nation with people from different backgrounds and characteristics. However, the political structure has suffered setback in the lack of reflection of diversity in the election of leaders and representatives in decision making processes. For decades, electoral representation and leadership in Wales has had little or no representation for women, Black, Asian and minority ethnic people, LGTBQ+ people, and disabled people amongst other protected characteristics. The question remains – why? How are leaders chosen and whose interest do they protect? How diverse and inclusive is the leadership and representation in the political system of Wales?
It took 22 years to elect the first minority ethnic woman to the Senedd in Wales. The record further shows that despite the celebration of Wales being the first country to achieve 50:50 gender representation in its parliament in 2003, the 2021 elections recorded a setback for women’s representation, which dropped to 43% from 48%.
What are the barriers and why the setback?
As stated by Bethan Sayed, a former Plaid Cymru Member of the Senedd, “We live in an unequal society. If women weren’t in so many caring roles, if women weren’t on so many zero hours contracts, if they weren’t suffering maternity discrimination I would say, yes, let’s have meritocracy.
Until we get to a system where we are all equal, we will need things like quotas, and we will need measures like job shares.” – Plaid Cymru’s Bethan Sayed calls for politics culture change – BBC News.
A study by Amnesty shows that many women participants in politics in the UK face massive abuse and threats, especially women from under-represented groups. For instance, the 2017 UK general election recorded that Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women MPs received 41% of abusive tweets, such as in the case of Diane Abbott. This is a contributory factor to why 43% of Wales’ Black, Asian and minority ethnic populations feel that there are not enough positive role models in public and political life. These and many more are the challenges faced by under-represented groups in Wales.
These barriers stem from the long rooted systemic exclusion and inequality perpetrated against women, often expected to shoulder the majority of caring responsibilities, responsibilities that are consistently under-valued. Why are we still talking about gender bias and discrimination in today’s politics despite human rights legislation like the UN Convention for the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)? Questions run deep yet the solution lies in the now and our actions.
What we need is a Senedd that is truly representative of the people of Wales in all its diversity. The Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform has rightly recognised and emphasised in its report that diversity leads to better decision-making whilst the lack thereof, impacts negatively on growth and progress. The electoral reform process, now at the second stage, presents us with a unique opportunity to ensure diverse and equal representation in Welsh politics. Increasing the size of the Senedd, integrating legally binding gender and diversity quotas, and implementation of an Single Transferable Vote (STV) voting system would go a long way to bridging the gap. This is achievable, as recommended by the Senedd Electoral Commission.
Diversity presents an opportunity to explore the wealth and depth of knowledge and experiences that surrounds us and use them as a tool to better our society. It is time for political parties to commit to making more diverse nominations of candidates, reflective of lived experiences. It is time to ensure better representation of women, Black, Asian, and minority ethnic women, LGBTQ women, and disabled women in Welsh political life. The time to act is now, lest another decade pass us by.