Engage: Women MPs and women’s issues ‘invisible’ in the election campaign

?At the height of the election campaign, Prime Minister’s wife Samantha Cameron earned more coverage than women who were actually standing for Parliament. And female politicians are and have been largely invisible in the media, according to research by a University of Huddersfield lecturer. 

Deirdre O’Neill, a Senior Lecturer in Journalism and Media, has been working on a project funded by The Fawcett Society, which promotes gender equality.  The aim has been to investigate coverage of women during the election.  With her co-researchers Heather Savigny, of the University of Bournemouth, and Orlanda Ward of UCL, Ms O’Neill has been carrying out a detailed survey of a range of national newspapers. 

The first findings from the project are an analysis of the reporting of male and female politicians from 16 March to 11 April – the period spanning two weeks before Parliament ended and the first two weeks of the official general election campaign. 

It was found that although 27.4% of the candidates for the main parties are women, 92% of articles featured just men.  Also, 92% of politicians quoted were men and 95% of accompanying photographs featured male politicians. 

?“Some papers did not feature women at all,” said Ms O’Neill, adding that outside of the leaders’ debates, senior female politicians hardly figured, and in one of the weeks sampled Samantha Cameron was more prominent than Harriet Harman or Theresa May. Issues pertinent to women, such as childcare, received hardly any attention.   

“In more recent samples, there has been coverage obsessing about the ‘style’ of female politicians, particularly Nicola Sturgeon’s ‘makeover’,” continued Ms O’Neill, who said that the relative lack of coverage and a “trivialising focus on appearance” was in line with previous research she had conducted that dealt with the visibility of women MPs, focussing on coverage over the last few decades. 

In a blog on the subject, Ms O’Neill states that the reason for low coverage of women in politics can be laid at the door of both the press and the campaign strategies of the political parties themselves.   

“It’s time women gave these institutions a wake-up call,” she writes.

Picture (c) Danny Lawson/PA Wire.