What hope a less one-sided gender split in Parliament?

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"The clock is being turned back for women in this country," complains Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper.

The powerhouse politician, who is also Labour’s spokesperson on women and one of the few female frontbenchers in Britain, does have a point.

The number of female MPs holding top Government jobs is actually declining – a depressing fact with which to mark International Women’s Day on Friday, March 8.

In David Cameron’s current Cabinet, the number of women has gone from five to four out of 22 since September, when Caroline Spelman was replaced with Owen Patterson as Environment Secretary amid a row over alleged ageism.

And it wasn’t much better with Labour in government, either – although, now in opposition, the current Shadow Cabinet includes a record 11 women.

Before that, however, Gordon Brown never had more than five female secretaries of state, while Tony Blair marginally topped that with six in one of his Cabinets.

But for Ms Cooper, whose own husband Ed Balls – the Shadow Chancellor - outranks her in the Labour Party, it is the women in the rest of society she is worried about.

"Women are paying twice as much as men to get the deficit down, and are facing cuts in support for childcare that are leaving many families struggling to make work pay," she says.

Ms Cooper believes that giving more women power could change this.

[Related: 'We need sexism training' Tory MP admits]

"The top table of Government is looking more like the Bullingdon Club every day and it's no coincidence that women across the country are being hit hard by a Prime Minister who surrounds himself with so few female voices.

“Ministers should be demonstrating leadership and doing more to support women's equality.

"Instead, the Prime Minister has cut the number of women in the Cabinet.

"And Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, who have the lowest proportion of women in Parliament, need to demonstrate they take women's concerns seriously.

"We need serious action from the Government to support women's equality, not drift or damaging policies which risk putting progress into reverse.

"From insulting female MPs in the House of Commons, to sacking a female Cabinet Member, reportedly because she was too old then replacing her with an older man, time and time again the Prime Minister has shown that his attitude to women is of a different era.

"David Cameron and his Government are turning back the clock on women's equality. It's high time David Cameron stopped sidelining women and started listening to women instead."|

[Related: Women in combat: Will US military ruling change the role of UK female soldiers?]

It is perhaps telling that a spokesman for the Department for Culture Media and Sport said Maria Miller, the Tory Minister for Women and Equality, and Jo Swinson, the Lib Dem parliamentary under-secretary, were both "too busy" to comment on this story concerning International Women’s Day.

A recent study by the Counting Women In organisation found that Britain has fallen down an international league for our share of female politicians.

In 2001, the UK was 33rd out of 190 countries. Today it is 60th – with 22.5% of MPs being women.

States such as Rwanda, Costa Rica, the Philippines and nearly all of Europe all have a higher proportion of female lawmakers.

Sweden, which is only fourth in these rankings, has double our share with women taking up 44.7% of seats in its parliament.

In Britain, 143 out of 650 MPs are women – the highest proportion in history.

Of these, Labour has the lion’s share - 81 out of 255 (31.8%) of its parliamentarians are female.

Yet – thanks to David Cameron’s insistence that some constituencies have all-female candidate shortlists – the Conservatives have made significant gains.

A total of 49 out of 303 (16.2%) of Tory Party MPs are women – increasing from just 17 out of 198 (8.6%) in 2005.

The Liberal Democrats are the only party to see their share fall from 10 out of 62 (16.1%) in 2005 to seven out of 56 (12.5%) at the last election.

Lorely Burt, the chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary party, admits that Labour and Tory all-women shortlists have been more successful than her party’s less-interventionist approach.

"My personal view is that unless there is some kind of selection system which favours the selection of female candidates we are never going to get there, least of all my own party," she says.

But, despite there not being a female prime minister for 22 years, the chances of seeing another Margaret Thatcher should not be dismissed.

"I am sure that we will have another female prime minister in the near future; after all the men aren't making much of a job of it are they?” adds Mrs Burt, who also revealed former Labour Northern Ireland Secretary Mo Mowlam was the female politician who most inspired her.

There are a number of rising stars who just might win back the role for women.

Yvette Cooper, 43, has been tipped as a future leader of the Labour Party – although her even more ambitious husband may prove the biggest obstacle to this happening.

Theresa May, the highest ranked current Tory politician, has been seen as a solid Home Secretary and is relatively popular.

Certainly polls reveal that Conservative women want her as their next leader.

The Liberal Democrats have no women in the Cabinet, but junior minister Jo Swinson, 33, has been identified by respected political commentators as one to watch.

There are also rising stars among the rookie intake of 2010. Among them are Labour backbencher Stella Creasy, 35, Conservative junior minister Liz Truss, 37, and Labour’s Rushanara Ali, 37, who is said to have the potential to be Britain’s first Muslim prime minister.

So the country may have fallen behind the curve, but the future still offers hope for the role of women in public office.

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