Women In Politics
Women are under-represented in politics. The lack of women in Westminster is increasingly reported yet the dearth of women in local government is very often forgotten.
- Women make up only 32% of local councillors in England and 24% in Northern Ireland
- 12.3% of local authority leaders in England are women (2014), compared to 16.6% in 2004
- Only 13% of elected mayors are women
- Women make up only 32% of members of the European Parliament
Women’s representation at a local level is stagnating with virtually no change in the level of female councillors in the last ten years. The situation is even worse in Wales (27%) and Scotland (24%). At the same time, the number of female council leaders has dropped by 5%.
Women face many hurdles when standing for local election:
- Councillors are often paid little (or not at all) so, unless they are retired or independently wealthy, they must also have a job. Those trying to combine caring responsibilities with a job will struggle to take on time-consuming roles in local politics.
- Local council meetings are often held at awkward times, are unlikely to provide childcare expenses or offer flexible working
- Women councillors are often pigeon-holed into traditionally female portfolios such as child or social care and are rarely in the cabinet where spending decisions are made.
Why does it matter?
Local councils may suffer from an unglamorous reputation, yet local governments wield a lot of power. Not only is it one of the key routes into Westminster, local government spending makes up a quarter of all public spending – over a £100 billion.
Decisions of national importance are being made without women round the table – the different perspectives and experiences of 50% of the country are not being heard.
Ongoing cuts to local government spending are having a hugely disproportionate impact on women, undermining access to key services such as childcare, social care and special services such as protection from domestic violence. A lack of female voices around local decision-making tables will only exacerbate this situation.
Our Women and Power campaign pages explains why women’s representation is so important.
What should happen?
Local councillors should have access to the same employment law and practice requirements as the rest of the public sector. Councillors shouldn’t be treated as self-employed and be exempt from employment regulation such as formalised maternity rights.
Council meetings should be run to enable engagement of all its councillors and innovative methods should be used to help people with caring responsibilities and/or jobs to attend, such as an online video stream.
To manage supply we need accurate demographic data on prospective candidates and also to mentor women to encourage them to stand
To manage selection we need to ensure selection committees have had diversity training and should consider the use of positive action measures where no improvement is seen
We need to ensure councillors experiencing sexism and sexual harassment have access to proper forms of redress, including an independent body that can examine these issues beyond the realm of party politics.
What you can do
Every year part of the country votes for new local councillors and mayors. When it does:
You can find also find out who your current European Members of Parliament are here.