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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 April, 2004, 11:56 GMT 12:56 UK
Women 'turned off by politics'
by Jackie Storer
BBC News Online political staff

It's enough to make the suffragettes turn in their graves - but research suggests women are far more disillusioned with politics than men.

While women in the early 1900s chained themselves to railings in a bid to secure a vote, a report says their 21st Century counterparts are less likely to join political parties.

Tony Blair surrounded by women Labour MPs in 1997
Women 'are more active' in seats where there are female MPs
The Electoral Commission suggests that although women are just as likely as men to vote, they are far less likely to make political donations or contact politicians.

But the study says women become more active in seats where there is a female MP or candidate and a postal ballot.

It suggests parties put forward more female candidates and says the wider use of postal ballots will increase the number of women voters.

The odour of cigar smoke, stale beer and pumped-up machismo still hangs over the place
BBC correspondent Iain Watson says political parties are being urged to follow these "very straightforward" guidelines to increase women's participation.

One polling company claims the Labour party has a particularly difficult challenge in gender politics, with older women seeming to have taken a disproportionate dislike to the government.


The commission, which was set up to encourage more people to vote, says women are put off by the male-dominated nature of Westminster politics, creating an "activism gap".

However, in constituencies where a female MP was elected in 2001, turnout among women was 4% higher than men.

The presence of female MPs or female candidates significantly increases political activism amongst women
Nicole Smith
Electoral Commission

In those same seats, women were more likely to agree that government benefits people like me - 49% compared to 38% in constituencies with a male MP.

The commission's report comes out just weeks before local, European and mayoral elections on 10 June.

It did find that the spirit of the suffragettes lives on with women becoming involved in demonstrations, signing petitions and backing single issue campaigns.

Nicole Smith, the Electoral Commission's director of policy, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Women are not really engaged in formal politics in terms of party membership, giving money to parties or making contract with politicians between elections.

"Our research suggests that the presence of female MPs or female candidates significantly increases political activism amongst women."

Deborah Mattinson, co-founder and joint chief executive of Opinion Leader Research - which carries out polling for political parties - said older women were more likely to vote than younger women, although many older female voters were disillusioned with the political process and the Labour government in particular.


"Back in 1997 it was basically the older women who won it for Labour," she told Today.

"I think that this spells a potential difficulty ahead for the government because it's quite clear that women are much less enchanted by the government currently than men are.

"They are much more likely to say they don't trust politicians in general and they're much more disillusioned with this particular government and what they see as its lack of achievement."

Dr Katherine Rake, director of the Fawcett Society, which promotes greater female participation in politics, told Today the government will have a problem winning back some of its former supporters.

"There's an issue of trust and dissatisfaction for all women voters actually and older women in particular, they tend to prioritise the NHS and education more strongly than men do.

"What really matters to women voters is what kind of delivery you get at the end of the day.

"Women tend to be more dovish and certainly the whole Iraq issue has caused a huge amount of issues for trust for this government."

Baroness Shirley Williams
"It isn't true women are put off politics, they're put off party politics"

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