Representation

By Tamsin Suarez

Elections have been called for the 17th October, and three parties and two independents have signed up to be candidates in the running. Together Gibraltar is the only party that truly resembles the society it aims to represent, putting forward a diverse slate with an equal amount of men and women. The same tired old demographic, however, is still going strong, and excusing Together Gibraltar, out of the remaining 22 candidates, only two are women.

I am a woman and I am proud to be a woman. I know that I am not limited in capacity because of my gender. Six of my eight children are female and I will make sure they never entertain the idea that they are any less capable because of their gender. I’m sure that to most of you, the thought is absurd! Yet half of the population is being disfranchised from the right to decide what is best for ourselves, our children and future generations.

The current CM’s message for this election is crystal clear: When things get real, we need men to take the reins.

Diversity in our politics is beneficial for everyone. It is very easy for politicians to forget the challenges that unrepresented groups face, and it is much easier to advocate for your own demographic than for those you barely understand. Women, LGBTQ+, disabled people and minority groups are all impacted. The importance of this is all too apparent when it comes to Parliament introducing and implementing important protective legislation such as the Clause 6b of the Marriage Act, that allowed civil servants to actively discriminate against same-sex couples, and the rights of women to certain areas of healthcare. Who is qualified to decide these personal matters? Certainly not those who will never be affected personally by such legislation.

Are the other candidates and their parties saying that women are not capable of leading on the environment? On business? On Brexit issues?  Are they signaling that women do not have the skill, empathy and integrity to defend Gibraltar’s interests? I suggest a little “check your privilege” exercise and take a good look around the world and Gibraltar and see how women are leading in all areas.

Together Gibraltar presents as a 50/50 gender split. Combining the other two parties and independent candidates, women represent a measly 8.8% of all candidates. They present the ‘token woman’. It is a stark comparison to the European parliament where in the 2019 elections 40.4% of all MEP’s are women. The world leader in female representation is Rwanda, with 64% of women in its chambers. In England and Wales in 2015, 29% of female MP were elected into parliament;- that puts them in 36th place in the world and lagging behind several of its European counterparts. 

It is hard to distinguish how much of this situation is caused by discriminatory legislation and social patriarchal norms, and how much is caused by sexist, internal party dynamics - with our main "barristocratic" parties reflecting male-dominated worlds. What is certain, however, is that both have an impact.

In British politics research shows entrenched gender bias in political parties, including widespread incidences of indirect and direct discrimination against women by party selectors. Would that be reflective locally?

(Whilst researching this data I have also under covered that the 9th legislature of the European Parliament, 61% of all MEP are new to Parliament, interesting, but a whole other OP.)

Last Tuesday, Together Gibraltar signed their candidates into Parliament to contest the general election. For the first time in local history, a party signed on with a fair representation of the population. At Together Gibraltar, we ensured open democracy was heeded and the party membership voted in the candidates of their choice. The membership spoke loud and clear. They wanted a party that reflects their society, that reflects our homes and that gives a voice to all.

It was surreal in this day and age to hear the response of the leader of the opposition on the radio, when asked why more women were not represented. His answer was that a variety of women had wanted to join the party, but that the best candidates had been selected. I understood this to mean that a small and probably equally unrepresentative group of executive members had decided that these women were not as capable as their male counterparts. Maybe they are saying that women should revert to staying at home and childrearing? This is not the first time their policies have reflected these views.

Everyone believes that selection processes should always be meritocratic, but this is clearly not happening in our politics. Who is deciding who is fit to lead? Is it also the same tired demographic - overwhelmingly men of a certain age? What sort of message does this send out to our talented, strong and intelligent female population and young girls? Are we really not prepared to take decisive action on this issue?

I refuse to let this reality demoralise me, and will fight with all my heart to give more and better opportunities to our women. I hope it gives you the same energy and sense of purpose. It has been 100 years since women had to fight to achieve a vote and a say, and now it’s time we take our struggle to the next level. Women of Gibraltar, it’s time to get involved in politics. Fearlessly, proudly, and hopefully as a part of Together Gibraltar, the only party that has given this issue the importance it deserves. I refuse to let my daughters and their peers feel limited by their gender. They are capable of anything and they will achieve.

I am excited to be representing the only party that reflects society and the reality of modern politics, and I hope to see women more equally represented in Parliament after the elections - for the good of Gibraltar’s society as a whole.

Tamsin Suarez is a candidate for Together Gibraltar