Shirley Chisholm, the first Black woman to run for the presidency of the United States, was fond of saying:
“If they don’t give you a seat at the table, bring a folding chair”
Much has changed since Chisholm’s candidacy in 1972. Sadly, however, many of the same hurdles that Chisholm faced remain. Here in the UK, the 2019 general election returned the most diverse parliament in British history. Despite this, only 34 percent of MPs are female. Although there are 13 more non-white MPs than in the last Parliament, only 9.6 percent of MPs are from an ethnic minority background -- and all of these MPs represent English seats. Although the UK currently boasts the highest proportion of openly gay MPs in the world, only 6.9 percent of MPs identify as gay, lesbian, or bisexual -- and there has still never been an openly transgender MP. Twenty percent of MPs were educated at either Oxford or Cambridge, with a further third having attended Russell group universities.
Although it is important to acknowledge the significant progress that has been made in recent years, there is still much work to be done. A recent report led by Baroness Doreen Lawrence concluded that structural racism within government has contributed to the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 on minority communities.
Increased representation often leads to improved policy outcomes. In Brazil, for example, an increase in female political representation has been linked to decreasing rates of child mortality. In India, there is evidence that the number of drinking water projects in areas with women-led councils was 62 percent higher than in those with men-led councils.
From Black Voters Matter in the United States to abortion rights activists in Poland, movements fighting for progressive change around the world are often led by those who have traditionally been denied full participation in democracy. We have the power to make democracy work for everyone here in the UK -- but first, we must seek out and nurture a new generation of activists and organisers so that they are ready to tackle our nation’s biggest problems.
As we begin looking towards a post-pandemic world, we have a golden opportunity to ensure that the next generation of activists and politicians are more diverse and reflective of British society than the last. If we are to create a democracy that works for everyone, we must ensure that parliament is reflective of the people that it serves. It’s time to grab a folding chair and demand a seat at the table.