Councillor Elfrede Brambley-Crawshaw discusses her experience as a young woman in politics, and why representation of all kinds, not just gender, is so important in politics today.
“It’s up to us all to be supportive of women and other minority groups who are already elected: these people are role models for the future and their success benefits us all.
It’s healthy to constructively criticise and disagree but abuse is unacceptable. We should ‘call it out’ when nasty or unkind things are said that single out a woman because of her sex, this stands for other minority groups too. Just for the record a woman won’t appreciate being called a ‘pretty girl’, hearing that if ‘you were younger you’d be lining up to go on a date with her’ or listening to sexist jokes, it’s just uncomfortable.
Political systems that are representative or ‘look like’ the communities they serve will make the best decisions for their populations. This is because they will bring a greater breadth of experience in the issues that a community faces. It is not just about ensuring a balance of women and men in politics and other leadership roles but also making sure that there is a mix of people from different economic backgrounds, ethnic groups, professions, political views, disabilities and age.
Women are statistically more likely to be a stay at home parent, experience poverty and domestic and sexual violence. They are more likely to care for elderly relatives and tend to take on more unpaid work than men. This gives them a wealth of experience which needs to be heard in political spheres in order to achieve good governance.
Women typically experience more financial constraints than men, particularly if they have a family or care for a relative. We need to free them up for political roles by asking what would assist them? Paid childcare or carers allowance is a good example!
We can all champion the benefits of diverse leadership and challenge decisions that make it harder for women to take up new opportunities. We can all be sympathetic and look for practical solutions for childcare or caring issues, remember women’s expertise is valuable and so is their work looking after vulnerable people in our communities.
Political parties should be taking action to make sure they are as inclusive as possible, they should be welcoming to all people. They should give quieter, less confident people a space to speak out and chair meetings well so louder more entitled people don’t take over. To make politics and leadership more representative we need to attract people who would not usually see themselves in that role, and naturally they will need a bit of support at first. Remember the loudest and most confident person is not necessarily the most competent.
When selecting candidates, make sure there is time for a proper democratic husting and that different kinds of people are encouraged to come forward.
Most people have an image of what a politician looks like in their mind – they may have not ever considered they would be a good councillor. When women show talent and attributes that would make them a good councillor or leader, tell them! Those already in leadership roles should take time to listen to concerns of women and let them know that their life experience and expertise is important and valued.
If you are a female councillor stand up and be counted, say yes to speaking in public, offer your views and shake things up a bit! Nothing is more encouraging to other women, particularly young women, than seeing confident women having a go.
My final thoughts are for those women who are considering standing for election:
Don’t overthink! Just get out and do it! Standing for an election is an empowering and important thing to do regardless of whether you win or not.
If you don’t who will?