Women’s representation in the House of Commons increased significantly following the general election of 1997, jumping from 9% to 18% of all elected MPs. A total of 120 women were returned to Parliament across political parties, doubling the number female MPs. Of these, 101 (the vast majority) were Labour MPs.

The Labour Party used all-women shortlists as a tool during the 1990s to increase women’s representation. This was found to be in breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1975 at an employment tribunal in 1996. Subsequently, the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act 2002 enabled the lawful use of all-women shortlists, extended until 2030 by the Equality Act 2010.

The 1997 election led to a landslide victory that placed New Labour (the Labour Party) in government under Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Harriet Harman (MP for Camberwell and Peckham) served as the first ever Minister for Women 1997-1998. She returned to the role of Minister for Women and Equalities in 2007, launching a consultation on a new Equalities Bill in 2008 (which led to the Equality Act 2010). Read her interview for the Institute of Government’s ‘Ministers Reflect’ project here.

In 2015 the proportion of women MPs rose further from 22% to 30%.