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Women's progress in local elections 'stagnant'

6 Jun, 2011

CFWD's new report on women in the 2011 local government elections has found that it could be generations before women have an equal voice in town halls. In particular, it found that:

  • Representation of women in local government remains stagnant after May elections.
  • At current rate of change we face another 150 years before  women have an equal say
  • Political parties key to getting more women into town halls.

The Centre for Women and Democracy, a member of the Counting Women In campaign, has published a new report looking at the impact of the recent local elections on women’s representation.

‘Representative Democracy? Women in the 2011 Local Government Elections in England’ examined a third of the local authorities that held elections in May 2011 and found:

  • There was a net increase across over 3,500 seats of just 20 women councillors (1)
  • At the present rate, it will be more than 150 years before there are equal numbers of men and women elected to English local councils (2)
  • There were 318 wards where all the main three party candidates were male, 14 times as many as the 22 wards where all candidates were female. (3)

Nan Sloane, report author and Director of the Centre for Women and Democracy, said:

“Only 31 per cent of councillors are women, and this isn’t improving. If the annual increase in women councillors stays as it is – just 20 across the sample of 3,500 seats we looked at – it will be many generations before women have an equal voice in local decision-making. This is shocking, and goes against all the rhetoric that we hear so often about the need for more women in public life.

“Since over 90 per cent of councillors belong to one of the big three parties, their candidate recruitment processes are key. But we also think that it’s astonishing that nobody has responsibility for the diversity of democracy nationally, and we shall be taking steps to ask government, the Electoral Commission and elections officers to do this, both in terms of providing support for the identification and training of candidates through a Democracy Diversity Fund, and by monitoring who is standing for election in the first place.

“In a genuinely representative democracy women would not be regarded as an added extra. They’re 51 per cent of the population, they’re more likely to be both the users and the providers - as employees - of local services, and they pay equal taxes. It’s high time they were equally represented."

 

Anna Bird, Acting Chief Executive of the Fawcett Society said:

“Nearly a century on from winning the vote, women remain outsiders in the corridors of power.  We are underrepresented in town halls across the country and in Westminster – where men outnumber women 4 to 1.

“This report should act as a wake-up call for those who think business as usual will deliver the step change in women’s representation we so urgently need. Wishing and hoping isn’t working, it’s time we took a new approach.

Fawcett is working with Centre for Women and Democracy, the Hansard Society and the Electoral Reform Society in the Counting Women In campaign to make change happen.”

 

Notes:

The Centre for Women & Democracy, theFawcett Society, the Hansard Society, the Electoral Reform Society and the Centre for Women and Democracy have joined together to form the Counting Women In campaign to address the lack of women in politics. We believe the under representation of women in Westminster, the devolved assemblies, and town halls around the UK represents a democratic deficit that undermines the legitimacy of decisions made in these chambers. Together, we will be fighting to ensure women have an equal presence and voice within our democratic system.

(1) In the 100 authorities surveyed, details of which can be found on page 23 of the report

(2) If, as is reasonable to assume, this sample is taken as representative of the overall trend.

(3) More details on page 3 of the report.