Diversifying UK politics

Francesca Gains, Professor of Public Policy at Manchester shares how she is championing female representation in politics and helping to improve policymaking by encouraging gender-balanced political institutions.

Improving the representation of women in politics and policymaking

I was the first woman to be appointed as Head of Politics at The University of Manchester, before taking up my current role as Academic Co-Director of Policy@Manchester. My research explores and champions ways to improve the representation of women in politics and policymaking. Current projects investigate diversity and representation in the devolution agenda and policymaking to address gendered inequalities.

My work has impacted governance and policymaking in Greater Manchester, the first region in England to sign a devolution deal, transferring budgets and policymaking powers to a combined authority led by a directly elected metro mayor. During the first Greater Manchester mayoral election, in 2017, I collaborated with campaigners to successfully fight for the appointment of a female deputy mayor and gender balance in cabinet.

Having women around the policymaking table helps to bring to the fore issues that need addressing to tackle gendered discrimination.

Francesca Gains / Professor of Public Policy & Academic Co-Director of Policy@Manchester, The University of Manchester

Tackling gender discrimination

Having women around the policymaking table helps to bring to the fore issues that need addressing to tackle gendered discrimination. Many policies affect men and women differently. For example, austerity measures have hit women harder due to their greater dependence on welfare and employment in low-paid, part-time work. In heterosexual relationships, it is harder for men to take parental leave because national policies tend to discourage the lower earner in the family (usually the woman) from returning to work after having children.

Crime is also gendered, with a disproportionate number of women being the victims of domestic violence. My research with Vivien Lowndes, from the University of Birmingham, found that female police and crime commissioners are twice as likely to make violence against women a priority. We also found that police and crime commissioners, both men and women, who took their equalities duties seriously were nearly two and a half times more likely to prioritise this issue for action.

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) has women in senior positions, including the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime and the council leader responsible for equalities. Some of these female leaders have begun work on ‘turbo-charging’ women’s equality in Greater Manchester.

I am a member of the GMCA’s Greater Manchester Women's Voices Task and Finish Group and helped to create an evidence base for this group by bringing together research taking a gendered lens to policy from academics at the University.

Improving politics and policy through gender equality

The GMCA is now working on establishing a Greater Manchester Women and Girls’ Equality Panel, which will focus on gender equality in relation to the following themes: representation in public life; safety; employment, business and the economy; health.

My impact to date has mainly been in Greater Manchester and much of this work is ongoing. However, there are ten combined authorities, eight with metro mayors, in England and more than 15 million citizens live in these areas. I hope to share my research and ideas with other combined authorities to ensure they include diversity and representation in their devolution agendas and gender equality impact assessments in their policymaking.

Find out more

  • Policy@Manchester publication: 'On Gender', July 2019

Meet the researcher:

  • Francesca Gains, Professor of Public Policy and Academic Co-Director of Policy@Manchester at the University of Manchester.