Inspiring inclusion

First marked in 1911, International Women’s Day is a global celebration of women’s achievements and a reminder of how far we have come in the fight for equal rights. 

As we honour this year’s event, on 8 March, it is important to focus on the theme, which is ‘Inspire inclusion’. 

Inclusion enables individuals from different backgrounds to feel valued and empowered to be their authentic selves, and break barriers to success. 

We must recognise the immense progress made so far regarding women’s rights. However, we still have a long way to go to close the gap in power and leadership positions. 

This can be tackled as more and more women take on leadership positions both at work and in our communities, to help make decisions and effect change. 

In local government, there are numerous training and mentorship opportunities that we can tap into; not forgetting the LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign, which supports people to represent their communities by becoming councillors. 

Through working individually and together across sectors, we can challenge discrimination in its entirety, opening up a world of opportunities for all women and girls.

Here, you can hear from four councillors (see below) who are working tirelessly to serve and lead their communities. 

‘School of life’

For a year I danced around with the notion that I could make a real difference to my community if I did more than shout at whatever ‘wrong I wanted to undo’.

I don’t like confrontation, or politics or one-sided debate – or the scenes in Parliament where MPs seem to shout across or over people to get their message or motion across, like frustrated youngsters in a playground.

I noted in various articles about how to become a councillor that there are training sessions on resilience, communication, leadership, etc.

So, I pushed myself out of my comfort zone, applied, and was a surprised winning candidate. I went straight onto the front bench with five portfolios. Baptism of fire! 

I booked straight on to two leadership courses and the support and friendship of those people continue to help me through my blue days.

My driving mantra? I want to put the word ‘unity’ back into the disconnected word ‘community’. I do it with patience, love, listening, and not getting sucked into shouty pottymouth agendas; especially those on the other side of chambers.

I am a fun-loving 58-year-old with a varied CV. The school of life prepares you to be a councillor, as do experience, wisdom, humour and a thick skin.

‘Making the lives of our residents better’

I am a wife, mum of four, and businesswoman. I have been running a farming business with my husband since 2003 and my role is very much behind the scenes, as it has always fitted in well with bringing up our children. Safe to say, I had led a very insular life! 

I was introduced to local government in 2019, having no clue what it meant or what the role would entail, but also having no idea how much I would get from it.  

The biggest challenges were getting out of my comfort zone, finding confidence in myself, and understanding the quirkiness of local government. I found the latter easier to deal with. I compare the merits of council business with those of running my own, and take comfort and pride that our decisions are helping to make the lives of our residents better.

My confidence has grown the more I have pushed my boundaries. It is important for me that my children see that the work I do in my day job and my council role complement each other, and I hope it inspires them to take opportunities to push themselves.

It is really important that women are better represented in local government; we have so much to give and have an invaluable insight into our communities.

‘See a better future’

As councillors, we have political power. It’s up to us to get involved and make changes happen for all of society.

It’s not easy, but I’ve yet to find a job that’s as rewarding, where you can make a massive difference to the area you love.

Elections focus your mind, especially when, like me, you have lost your seat in the past. You must be clear, honest and tell people what you’re going to do and why, and show how you are delivering. 

In Oldham, we didn’t hide that the national housing crisis is hitting us hard. Hundreds of families are in temporary accommodation; many people aren’t remotely close to joining the housing ladder. So we took action. We got everyone together, hammered out solutions, and set goals very publicly. Now we can tell residents about our impact – developments visibly under way, building towards our initial target of 2,000 new homes.

Being a councillor isn’t for those who want to sit and shout on the sidelines, but women from all backgrounds are putting their hands up. We understand the challenges for people since 2010 – disastrous decisions by the Government, and huge disinvestment in councils. And I won’t pretend it’s been easy as a Muslim woman councillor and then leader. But the highs of actually improving people’s lives outweigh any lows. 

If you empathise with local people, and can see a better future, please give it a go. 

‘Levers of change’

Public service runs through my family, with my parents being teachers, and me working in the NHS and public sector. These same values led me to the Green Party. 

At first, I volunteered behind the scenes, organising election campaigns as I was worried about conflicts of interests with working at a council (turns out I needn’t have worried!). 

It wasn’t until 2019, looking out a train window, thinking about how helpful I’d be to councillors when we got them elected, that I realised I should put myself forward. 

I love being a councillor – I take the responsibility seriously, making sure I’m doing as much as possible for residents as well as for wider ward issues, such as advocating for traders at the wonderful Ridley Road Market, which started in the late 1880s.

Sometimes, when supporting residents, the levers of change are out of reach for a councillor, particularly in housing, but I’ve learned that showing care and listening goes a long way. 

We have a supportive network of Green councillors in London and I’ve got better at asking council officers for advice. 

Balancing non-councillor work and councillor duties is challenging – especially being part of a small minority opposition group – so reviewing capacity and priorities is important. 

My advice to anyone thinking about being a councillor is to go for it – you are good enough and residents need passionate, caring advocates.

More information and contacts to access the LGA’s support can be found on the Be a Councillor website.


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