Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002

Colour photo of the House of Lords during the Queen's speech

Political parties now seem to have embraced the importance of gender in their selection processes as an integral part of modernisation and election strategies, recognising it as a matter of democratic legitimacy as well as individual justice. Achieving women’s full and equal participation in elected bodies is one of the Sustainable Development Goals agreed by 193 United Nations member states (including the UK) in 2015

Susan Atkins

The Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 was an enabling measure which allowed political parties to change their internal processes to improve women’s representation in elected bodies. The Act allowed political parties in the UK to use positive discrimination to tackle persistent under-representation of women in Parliament and other elected bodies. It did so by excluding from the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 and Sex Discrimination Order 1976 (which applied to Northern Ireland) any arrangements made by political parties for the purposes of reducing inequality in the numbers of men and women elected as candidates.

Proposals for a Bill were announced in the first Queen’s speech after the 2001 election, which saw a fall in the numbers of women MPs. This was in marked contrast to the doubling of the numbers of women MPs (to 18 per cent) following the 1997 election in which all women shortlists had been used by the Labour Party for half its “winnable” seats, until stopped by a legal challenge.

Passed with all party support in 2002, the Act put positive action to increase female representation in Parliament firmly on the map. Representation of women as MPs (which had remained at under 5 per cent until 1987) has increased at every following election up to 30 per cent by December 2016.

The full version of this landmark is written by Susan Atkins.


Learn More

Home of Commons Library, ‘Women in Parliament and Government’ (SN01250, 12 July 2017)

The Telegraph Media Group, ‘Labour to Change Law on All-Women MP Shortlists’