If you want to know how progressive the parties are on gender equality, just take a look at the following figures on the number of female MPs at Westminster in 2005.
Labour: 98 (28%)
Conservative: 17 (8.6%)
Lib Dems: 9 (15%)
All MPs: 127 (20%)
Source: BBC/Hansard Society
Labour's success in recruiting women MPs has even provoked the Tories to consider joining the 20th Century on the issue (still a century behind, but its progress).
But as the Labour and especially the Lib Dems show, it is still very difficult for parties to select women candidates in winnable seats under our electoral system. The Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly show how PR helps this situation with 40% and 50% female representation respectively.
Whatever is wrong with the principle of AWS, it seems in practise it has been a huge success both electorally for Labour and in terms of fairness to women. The standard of women candidates has been as high (if not higher) than the male counterparts from my reading of the situation.
The Tory record here is disgraceful; They have increased their number of female MPs from 13 in 1931 to 17 MPs today, hardly an improvement. Considering all the media attention lavished on the horrible Justine Greening etc. It is hard to believe the Tories select so few women, but their spin machine has always been better than Labour (they even spun New Labour catching up on spin); The Tory's spin department just had a lot more horrible facts to distort and couldn't hide the sheer level of incompetence and unfairness of the Tories and their policies after 18 years of power.
Women MPs in Parliament.
1931: Labour 0, Tory 13 (2.7%), Lib 1 (2.8%)
1945: Labour 21 (5.3%), Tory 1 (0.5%), Lib 1 (8.3%)
1970: Labour 10 (3.5%), Tory 15 (4.5%), Lib 0
1992: Labour 37 (13.7%), Tory 20 (6%), Lib 2 (10%)
1997: Labour 101 (24.2%), Tory 13 (7.9%), Lib 3 (6.5%)
2001: Labour 95 (23.1%), Tory 14 (8.4%), Lib 5 (9.6%)
2005: Labour 98 (28%), Tory 17 (8.6%), Lib 9 (15%)
Source: HoC Library
As we can see, progress has been painfully slow for all the parties. Only Labour has recently made progress by introducing AWS. Since 1997 it's numbers of women MPs started to shoot up and in 2005 it increased its percentage of women MPs even further.
There has only ever been 22 female cabinet ministers and only 5 of these have been Tory despite Tory Governments dominating the 20th Century.
To understand how this current Labour government has changed the situation you only have to consider that Labour currently have 6 females in their cabinet, this is more than the Tories have EVER had in their history. In total, there has been 13 female cabinet ministers since 1997 under this government.
As a temporary measure until 2012, the AWS seems a reasonable policy, it has already had an impact on the backward Tories by forcing them to consider there own lists to increase the number of their women MPs. This can only be a good thing, but without PR, progress will remain slow. PR of course will address other just as important under-representations in ethnic minorities, the working class and the range of opinions expressed in parliament.