The equal participation of women and men in local politics, as our elected councillors and as our leaders, is an important condition for effective democracy and good governance. Representative councils are best able to speak to, and for, their communities and to support the effective business of local government.
Local government – of course – led the way on women’s suffrage: in 1889, a handful of women stood in the elections for new county authorities, and before that women were accepted as candidates on parish, urban and rural district councils.
In 1907, new legislation enabled women ratepayers to become county and borough councillors, and mayors and chairmen of councils, with Elizabeth Garrett Anderson becoming the first woman mayor in England (in Aldeburgh in 1908), and Gwenllian Morgan the first Welsh woman mayor (Brecon, in 1910).
However, today, none of the combined authority mayors are female, and overall women councillors are still outnumbered two to one by men. They make up a fifth of political leaders, and a third of local authority chief executives – despite 76 per cent of employees in the local government workforce being female.
The LGA’s Be a Councillor campaign aims to increase the pool of talent from which councillors are elected – a key task for local government.
The campaign is based on the belief that local authorities – and political parties and groups – can do the best for their communities when they truly represent their place.
Local government can only be as effective and relevant as the people elected to run it. This means encouraging more diversity and harnessing the skills, experiences and knowledge of under-represented groups, including women – and including women from black and ethnic minorities, LGBTQ+, and of all ages.
So we have recently added new case studies of female councillors – and their tips and stories about being an elected representative – to our Be a Councillor website. Some are featured here (www.beacouncillor.co.uk/meet-her).
The LGA also recently published ‘Twenty-first century councils’, a toolkit designed to help councils create the underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that encourages and empowers women, parents and carers to stand as councillors and take on leadership roles in local authorities.
The toolkit is designed to support all types of council – district, county, unitary, metropolitan, combined – and to work with the level of resources, capacity and expertise you have available to make improvements.
You can download the resource at www.local.gov.uk/twenty-first-century-councils.
Local government needs different kinds of people willing to stand for election so that parties get a choice of quality candidates: councillors who are capable, vibrant, energetic and engaged, with a commitment to local people and a passion for change.
As a newly elected councillor, it is shocking to learn that there are nearly twice as many male councillors as female in this country. We all need to encourage women to stand and give them the support they need.
At a time when so many people are disillusioned with politics, it doesn’t make sense that half the population are under-represented. Getting more women councillors could change the conversation in town halls around the country.
Becoming a councillor is a great opportunity for women. We all need to get out there and #AskHerToStand.
Councillor Geraldine Coggins (Green), Trafford Council
I became a councillor in 2003, when my youngest child was five. I took some persuading to put myself forward, the local party was encouraging, but barriers of self-belief and the time commitment concerned me.
Juggling three children, part-time work and being a councillor did take some organising. Initially, I was put on committees that met at school pick-up and drop-off times. I made use of after-school clubs, claimed the expenses and requested other committees in future.
I love getting things done for residents. I love being involved in my local community. I’m less keen on the meetings where little is achieved except hot air, but I enjoy those committees where we make real change.
I would encourage more women of all ages to stand as councillors. Councils need to be representative and can only be so if people stand up. My daughter’s now putting herself forward as a councillor. Voices of the young, of women and from all backgrounds, need to be there, having a say in running our councils.
Councillor Fay Howard (Lab), Swindon Borough Council
I was persuaded to stand as a councillor nine years ago, and have not looked back since. I saw it as a great opportunity to get stuff done for my community, to make life a little bit easier, better, and fairer.
Local government has its frustrations for sure, but I have found it rewarding as I bring my unique perspective as a BAME woman to the table, and use my engineering background to think creatively and find solutions to the challenges my communities face.
I encourage women to become councillors; it’s about making our communities work as one big family.
Councillor Tumi Hawkins (Lib Dem), South Cambridgeshire District Council
I was a mum who lived a quiet life, had never engaged in politics and was not a well-known local character – who would vote for me anyway?
Eleven years later I am deputy leader of a county council enjoying my role and developing with the challenges it brings.
With persistence and drive, every woman has the opportunity to stand and make a difference in their community. It’s often not the large, well-publicised events that impact the most, but it’s the small actions that really can make a difference and have a long-lasting effect on yourself and those that you serve.
Councillor Mandy Chilcott (Con), Somerset County Council and West Somerset District Council