Right now, Britain’s coalition government is laying out plans for an ambitious public services reform program in the name of cutting the UK’s deficit. The government is seeking to overhaul everything from police to pensions to the number of politicians in Parliament. Many of the changes involve inviting private companies to run services previously provided by the state.
Opinion in the UK is sharply divided as to whether this transformation is necessary–or desirable. One thing is clear, however: The changes are likely to have serious consequences for the presence of women in public life in the UK.
Last week, the Centre for Women and Democracy in the UK published a new report [pdf] finding that British women were set to lose their voices in strategic decision-making roles across the country, including in key areas such as policing and the economy.
How is this the case? Because filling positions from the private rather than the public sector, or making roles elected rather than appointed, is expected to shrink the already low numbers of women in many of these jobs.
For example, by getting rid of the current police authorities and replacing them with “Policing and Crime Panels,” the number of women scrutinizing local policing is expected to be cut almost in half. Likewise, women are considerably less likely that men to stand as candidates to become new elected police commissioners.
It may not be too late to stop the gendered impact of these changes though according to Nan Sloan, director of the Centre for Women and Democracy:
We believe that, with a little forethought, much of this could be avoided. We think it’s time the political establishment recognized women’s right to be fully involved in decisions made about the services for which they pay.
As in Washington, men continue to dominate Westminster. They make up four out of every five members of Parliament. The UK’s current administration only has four female ministers in its 22-person cabinet. Perhaps if there was more parity at the very top of Britain’s government, it would take greater care to safeguard women’s representation at every level of public life.