DIVERSE 50:50 campaign – Why diversity at the Senedd is well overdue

While the Senedd might look relatively diverse for a political institution in the UK, it is far from representative of modern Welsh society. The Welsh Parliament made headlines in 2003 when it became the first legislative body in the world to have 50% women. One stark fact casts the claims of the Senedd to be world-leading on diversity into doubt; there has never been a Black, Asian or minority ethnic (BAME) woman elected to the Welsh Parliament in the 21 years it has been in existence, something our campaign aims to change.

Some people rightly praise the Senedd’s history in ensuring high levels of women members. But the truth is that this has been down to the use of positive actions by individual parties who have been relatively successful in elections. For example, Welsh Labour have routinely used All Women Shortlists and the twinning of seats to ensure female representation. Likewise, Plaid Cymru’s use of zipping to place women first and third on winnable regional seats has had a significant impact.

We need to see big changes in the representation of people of Wales at the Senedd and we need to ensure these changes are not reliant on one or two political parties. While WEN Wales and EYST Wales run mentoring schemes to encourage those who want to advance in political and public life in Wales, systemic changes are also desperately needed.

It’s time for all parties to commit to this agenda. That’s why we at WEN Wales, EYST Wales, Race Council Cymru and ERS Cymru have together built coalition of 15 organisations to campaign for ‘Diverse 50:50’ for the Welsh Parliament. 

The campaign calls for all political parties’ manifestos for the 2021 elections to commit to:

  • Publishing party diversity plans 
  • Collecting and publishing data on the diversity of their candidates and eventual elected representatives in the 2021 Senedd elections and 2022 Local Government elections 
  • Making manifesto commitments for 50:50 gender balance alongside increasing diversity of representation of LGBT+ people, people of colour and disabled people in the Senedd through positive action 

There have been very few Assembly members of Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds, and our political leadership must more accurately represent the diverse people of Wales. The activism of the Black Lives Matter movement and effects of Covid-19 have spotlighted long existing racial inequities and highlighted the impact of systematic exclusion from seats of power.  EYST’s Mentoring Project has worked with over 75 aspiring leaders who represent a wealth of talent which needs to be utilised.  A number have gone on to stand for or take up positions in public life, but transformation must happen much more quickly.  Now is time for all political parties to evidence their commitment to social and racial justice by taking on these pledges.

This is a significant campaign because of the nature of the existing discrimination. The women Race Council Cymru support face barriers of race and gender. Women face discrimination that stops them from taking leading positions in political spaces. It is important and urgent that quotas for women are implemented, even as an emergency measure. This will ensure a level playing ground where ethnic minority women can actively participate and represent within the Senedd. We cannot promote equality and integration if the voices of underrepresented groups are left out.  We need dynamic political development and fair process that involves all, irrespective of age, gender, sexual orientation, religion, disability etc. 

We expect the Senedd to make significant change in the near future, where every political party makes a direct commitment to implementing Diversity 50:50. Diversity 50:50 will make necessary change to support ethnic minority women to take positions in the Senedd. 

We are very pleased that significant changes are being recommended by the Committee on Senedd Electoral Reform, chaired by Dawn Bowden MS,  including explicit backing for 50:50 gender split at the Senedd, and a greater access to an Access to Elected Office fund. 

Now we need positive action. We must ensure that when we go to the voting stations in May 2021, the resulting Welsh Parliament is truly representative of the people across Wales.  

Diverse 50:50 is supported by: Action for Children, Chwarae Teg, Diverse Cymru, Fair Treatment for the Women of Wales (FTTWW), the Institute for Welsh Affairs (IWA), Llamau, National Federation of Women’s Institutes Wales (NFWI-Wales), Oxfam Cymru, Race Alliance Wales, Social Firms Wales and Welsh Women’s Aid.

To sign up to the campaign as an organisation and find out more, email: hilary@wenwales.org.uk and search #Diverse5050 on social media.

Written by Hilary Watson, Policy Officer at the Women’s Equality Network (WEN) Wales; Patience Bentu, Community Engagement Officer at Race Council Cymru; Ginger Wiegand, All Wales BAME Engagement Programme Lead at Ethnic Minorities and Youth Support Team (EYST) Wales; and Jessica Blair, Director of the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) Cymru.