Parliament's attitude to women-modernising or playing for time?

Houses of Parliament

A seemingly minor concession made to a female MP has made headline news-in this report, what this shows about Parliament's attitude to women is explored.

On Tuesday night,something happened which, to the majority of society, wouldn't be headline news: Allowances were made for MP Lucy Powell, to cast her vote on the Finance Bill, despite not being in the chamber, because her baby son was with her.

Surprisingly, this was the first time such an exception had happened; normally the process, known as "nodded through" is only used when MPs are too unwell to physically enter the debate.

Has the event, as some commentators have suggested, shown Parliament, and indeed, politics as a whole, as becoming more equal in regards to gender?

Although Powell declared the move was liberating, to a certain extent it has been prompted by the ban on babies in the voting chambers of both the Commons and Lords, a ban which has been described by Liberal Democrat MP Jo Swinson as simply "bizarre."

MP's also do not have maternity cover, instead their constituents are served by the constituency office, demonstrating the differences between politics and the rest of society.

Obviously, there are questions around why it has taken so long for concessions to be made to female politicians and the answers to this can perhaps be found in the prevailing attitude of the government. Despite promising that one third of his cabinet would be women, David Cameron has failed to deliver and is a long way off his target with the figure standing at only 3 out of 27.

The suggestion from women's minister Nicky Morgan of using all-women shortlists after the next election was quickly dismissed by the party- despite only sixteen percent of the party's MP's being female, with reports that they are struggling to attract sufficient female candidates.

One must ask; taking all this into account, does, what is effectively the exclusion of women and their children from the voting chamber, really herald a more inclusive Parliament?

Current evidence suggests there is a lot left to be desired in terms of how inclusive Parliament is. Of Labour's MPs, only 33% are women and the figure for the Liberal Democrats is a dismal 13%. In the 2011 census, there were one million more women than men, and yet this is categorically not reflected in Parliament. Party leaders constantly talk about the need for an inclusive, One Nation Britain and yet are failing to deliver equal opportunities for female politicians.

In order for equal representation- what is, basically, the foundation of Parliament- there must be a radical change in the way women are treated. If Parliament is to effectively represent a diverse and ever changing society, then basic concessions as seen on Tuesday night, must come with greater urgency and more depth.