The Constitution Unit


Women's Representation in Politics

December 1999 - June 2000 & March 2001 - August 2001

Principal Investigator: Dr Meg Russell

About the project

The 1997 election, and subsequent elections to the devolved assemblies, saw a marked increase in women's representation. However this was mainly due to positive action measures, such as the all-women shortlists used by the Labour Party, whose legality has been brought into doubt. In 1999 the Unit received funding from the Nuffield Foundation to investigate the main legal arguments surrounding positive action in candidate selection procedures. This project culminated in a report, published in June 2000, which was influential in the Government's decision to change the law in this area. The report, based on interviews with senior lawyers and representatives of the political parties in the UK and overseas concluded that for the parties to act confidently legal change should be introduced, probably in the form of a short electoral law.

Further funding from ESRC's Future Governance Programme resulted in an international seminar involving women practitioners from around the EU. This seminar, and a second grant from the Nuffield Foundation, informed a further study and second report, The Women's Representation Bill: Making it Happen, published in July 2001. This report set out the detailed legal changes necessary to allow 'positive action' by political parties to promote women's representation in elected office.


"We should all pay particular tribute to all the preparatory work done by Meg Russell and The Constitution Unit. Meg Russell's 2000 and 2001 reports set out, in effect, the options open to Parliament and the Government."
(House of Commons Hansard Debates, 14 November 2001, col. 897)