Why does local government and devolved powers matter?

Local government plays an important role in all our lives: it provides vital care and social services, influences economic development in our neighbourhoods and is a vital part of the UK’s democratic system. Fawcett are now working with local partners to bring women together in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands, and to ensure diverse women's voices are heard as a part of policy makers' decisions. Find out about our devolution project here.

Fawcett's Local Government Commission research, conducted over the course of a year, reveals some shocking statistics on endemic sexism, and the barriers women face, in local government.

Our findings show that just 4% of local councils in England have a formal maternity, paternity or parental leave policy in place for councillors, and only 17% of council leaders are women – a figure that has hardly shifted for ten years.

Created with flickr slideshow.

Our final report reveals some sad truths, but it also emphasises how women can make a positive impact when they break through. The women councillors we spoke to across all political parties were truly inspirational, both for their resilience and the unrecognised work they do to improve people’s lives. There is so much scope to make things better. 

Take action to end sexism in local government for good

Write to your local council today to demand change. Below is a suggestion for what you can write.

Copy the text, and then visit Write To Them to contact your local councillors. Once you have typed in your postcode, you will be able to send a message directly to your local councillors.

Please be sure to include your name and the name of your local councillor, and add a personalised sentence or two to the text below, as this will have more impact and will ensure that your message is not blocked.

Dear Councillor,

Women’s representation on councils has almost flat-lined, with women currently making up just 33% of all councillors in England and 28% of councillors in Wales.

Will you take action to help get more women in to local government?

Not only is it plainly wrong that decisions that affect women are not proportionately made by them, but research shows that in the world of business, teams with more women in perform better, and that having women involved in decision-making impacts whether or not issues which disproportionately affect women, such as domestic violence, are discussed.

The Fawcett Society and Local Government Information Unit (LGiU) have for the last year explored the reasons why there are fewer women on our councils. You can read their final report here: https://www.fawcettsociety.org.uk/policy-research/local-government-work-women-final-report/ .

They found that a third of women councillors have experienced sexist comments from other councillors. Just 4% of councils have formal maternity, paternity, or adoption policies in place for councillors and some councils don’t cover the cost of childcare at all, while others offer extremely limited cover. Fewer than one in five council leaders are women, six in seven of the council cabinet jobs that lead to the top go to men, and women make up only 33% of council chief executives, despite the fact that 78% of council officers are women.

Their report shows how we can change this picture. Will you ask the council to implement these changes?

Support parents and flexibility
– Provide comprehensive maternity, paternity, adoption, and parental leave policies for councillors and cabinet members;
– Introduce a comprehensive dependent carer’s allowance scheme so that all childcare and adult dependent care costs are covered;
– Regularly survey councillors to identify the most mutually convenient meeting times for all members involved in meetings;
– Introduce remote and flexible working policies (as far as is compatible with the law);
– Introduce reasonable adjustment policies to support disabled councillors;

Challenge sexism and harassment
– Work with the police to ensure that women council candidates can report abuse and harassment in the knowledge that they will be taken seriously;
– Include a prohibition on sexism and discriminatory behaviour in the council’s code of conduct, and implement a formal standards committee;
– Establish a formal role to oversee member conduct and promote equality;
– Provide councillors with appropriate training to tackle discrimination, and publish audio recordings in order to enable transparency;

Enable women get to the top
– Introduce active sponsorship schemes for all new councillors, and ensure women councillors are encouraged to take them up;
– Adopt within their constitution a requirement for at least 50 per cent of cabinet members, and chairs of committees, to be women; and introduce assistant or deputy cabinet member roles, filled on a gender equal basis;
– Offer all council officer roles, including senior jobs, as flexible working and part-time by default, unless there is a clear business case otherwise;
– Support the development of gender equality networks so that councillor allies can support women local government officers in challenging sexism.

I look forward to hearing your response, and if you have any questions about how to implement these changes in our area please contact the Fawcett Society at [email protected], or 0203 598 6154.

Your resident,
<Add your name here>

Write to your local councillors now.

Done? Great! Tell us on social media

Tweet to us at @fawcettsociety or tag us in a Facebook post to let us know you’ve written to your local councillors – we’d love to hear from you! Don’t forget to use the hashtag #LocalAndEqual.

You can also:

  • Share our social media posts with your followers, including the hashtag #LocalandEqual
  • Follow your female councillors on social media.
  • Tweet your councillors to promote the campaign.
  • Why not attend a public council meeting? Get clued up on who’s making the decisions that affect local services and developments in your area.

Get informed with our hard-hitting research

Read the Final Report: Does Local Government Work for Women?

Our hard-hitting report concludes that local government is ‘not fit for the future’ as a result of a range of outdated practices and attitudes that hold back gender equality. 

Key findings include:

  • Help with the costs of childcare is patchy, with some councils not offering any support at all.
  • It is not possible for local councils to use technology for councillors to attend meetings remotely. This creates additional barriers for women, particularly those with caring responsibilities.
  • Sexism is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten female councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party, and a third from their council colleagues.
  • Half of disabled women and many BAME women councillors face multiple discrimination
  • 80% of council seats go to incumbents at each election, making it very difficult for women and minority groups to break through. Of those councillors serving for 20 years or more, 3 in 4 are men.
  • Women make up just 33% of council chief executives, the head of their non-political staff, yet 78% of council employees are women. A lack of flexibility in senior roles is partly to blame. 

Read the Interim Report

In April 2017, Fawcett published its Interim Report, which revealed that almost four in ten female councillors have experienced sexist comments from within their own party, and that 10% have experienced sexual harassment.