Women who were considering becoming a Member of the House of Keys, but decided against it are being asked to share their experiences in a focus group.

This would be part of a research project that is currently taking place exploring barriers that women face getting into politics.

The research is being carried out by Dr Catriona Mackie, a specialist in Manx social history, culture and politics, Dr Alex Powell who has a particular interest in gender, and Professor Peter Edge, who is a legal expert as well as Manx politics.

Dr Mackie explained when the research came about: ‘We’ve been thinking about this since Lord Lisvane’s Review of the Functioning of Tynwald back in 2015.

‘At that point there really weren’t women in Tynwald, but it was not long after the report was published that in the 2016 election, five women were elected.

‘Then in 2021, we had ten women elected, so there has been a bit of a change already.’

The research will produce three publications as well as a report for Tynwald to consider.

It comprises historical data analysis, considering how many women were standing for elections, what the response to them was, as well as interviewing women who were involved or are involved in politics between the 1980s to the present day.

The research explores the experiences of female Members of the House of Keys, but does not include Members of the Legislative Council, nor does it include interviews with male MHKs due to funding and timing.

Whilst the research is ongoing, no conclusions have been reached yet, but Dr Mackie spoke on some of the themes that have arisen in the interviews.

She said: ‘In terms of the campaign trail, there do seem to have been differences between men and women candidates going around, especially knocking on people’s doors, which you have to do in the Isle of Man.

‘In the UK, you might have a whole team of people knocking on doors with you, in the Isle of Man, the expectation is that the candidate will go knock on everybody’s door and talk to them.

‘There were occasional instances where they felt uncomfortable, where they realised that they were a little bit more vulnerable, and taking steps to make sure that somebody knew where they were.

‘There is a general feeling that this is not something that men have to deal with. It also relates to what time of the year the election is at, if it is winter, then it is dark very early.’

‘Another thing that has been mentioned is the design of the chamber, which was designed with men in mind.

‘So for example, if you go into the chamber, you can see portraits of Speakers who are men that keeps growing on the walls, the chairs and desks were designed with men in mind, the lack of female toilets, the temperature of the chamber, with some interviewees mentioning that they bring in blankets, things like that.’

‘Since 2021, in particular, the island is doing very well in terms of female representation in politics.

‘One of the other things that we want to look at is women’s routes into the political arena because we don’t have the party system, candidates aren’t coming up through the ranks or political party, so how are they finding their way into politics?

‘Also to what extent do different types of experiences help with that process of being ready to enter the political arena? So for example, are there women who stand as a commissioner, and then make their way into national politics off the back of that?

‘We find historically, quite a lot of female candidates were involved with the Board of Education and whether it was intentional or not, it was a stepping stone for them.

‘Another thing that has come out in the interviews, that in the island, there is a feeling that it is often more about personality, rather than politics, that people often like or don’t like you because of the person that you are and it doesn’t really matter what political mandate you were putting forward.

‘There are gendered aspects to that, for example, we tend to think of women as having certain types of personalities, which if a woman steps outside of that, they can be criticised for it.’

Yet Dr Mackie acknowledged that Manx politics has become much more accessible for women in recent times.

She said: ‘I think that we can certainly see 2016 and 2021 as tipping points, where you have that critical mass of women in the chamber that can start to make some changes, so that hopefully, it means that going into politics as a woman is a more attractive prospect.’

Earlier this year, Tynwald approved a move to change the sitting hours, notably so that Tynwald sits until 6.30pm instead of being able to run until 8pm.

The reasons cited were to improve work-life balance, as well as for childcare reasons.

However, a recommendation to align sittings with half term holidays was rejected.

Dr Mackie said: ‘A number of women mentioned in the interviews that the system at the moment is not very friendly to people who have children, or are caring for other members of the family.

‘However, it is difficult at this stage to talk in a complex fashion about it, because you have men in the house of keys who will have young children, which we don’t know who in the family takes on the main responsibilities of childcare.’

There will be two focus groups taking place, later this year, one with families of female MHKs (past and present) and the other with women who were considering going into politics but decided against it.

If you are interested in taking part, you can email Dr Mackie on [email protected]