Why local government desperately needs more women – International Women’s Day 2018

Today, March 8th, is International Women’s Day. Councillor Caroline Page, LDGI Spokesperson for Women, discusses the urgent need for gender parity in local government in Suffolk:

cro in chamber
Caroline Page speaking at Suffolk County Council in support of the WASPI campaign

“Our LDGI Group has the only Spokesperson for Women in Suffolk County Council – and I am very proud to have created this role.

I am one of 22 women County Councillors out of 75 on Suffolk County Council, a proportion that is significantly below the appalling average of 33% of women in UK councils. This itself has flatlined. At the current rate it will be another 50 years before local government reaches gender equality, and closer to 80 years in Suffolk. This is in Suffolk – the home of Women’s Suffrage, the birthplace of women’s further education. It is as if the work of Elizabeth Garrett and her sister Millicent (later Fawcett) has been forgotten.

A crying shame when half of Suffolk’s population (about 370,000) are women. If you spread us evenly across the county we might all be within shouting distance of each other, if we shouted very hard. We need all the help we can get – we need more women to speak for us.

We need women to realise that they can, and need to be, elected. I’d say a lot of women simply don’t think of themselves as electable – which is a shame, because so many of us have developed the skill sets, the energy, the drive, the determination, multitasking and the fire in our bellies to be very good representatives indeed.

Most curious of all, people seem to make very little connection between local politics, voting and outcome. They maybe will ‘not bother’ to vote at all in local elections – though the effects of a county council budget will affect their roads, their schools, their social care, their transport.

Or they will vote for a party that will not raise council tax year after year – and then be astonished at the effect this has on their roads, their schools, their social care, their transport.

Within this mindset very few women want to be councillors – seeing it as a male environment and a negative one at that. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. And yet of course, a council is a place where we the people can put many things right and gender equality in women councillors would help make that happen

Councils raise and allocate huge amounts of local funding – and they decide where it goes. If most councillors are comfortably off, middle-aged, middleclass and male, if they have never known the worry of how to put shoes on children’s feet, or been a lone mother paid at minimum wage, or understood the anxiety of how to hang on to their job while getting two children to schools in different direction, they will not understand the issues of paying carers too little or splitting siblings between schools or failing to provide rural families with sufficient transport options.

They might well have different funding priorities to a woman when it comes to refuges or rape crisis lines or supporting family carers. Not because they mean harm but because they have never suffered from the problems. As the current phrase is ‘they don’t have skin in the game.’

So, women of Suffolk, this is International Women’s Day 2018. Why not make this the day when we think about changing our county for ourselves, deciding to stand at the next elections, and alter the future of our county and everyone who lives in it? For the better!”

 

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