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Sexism ‘commonplace’ across local government

Sexism in local government is “commonplace,” as more than a third of female councillors reported experiencing sexist comments from colleagues, a survey from the Fawcett Society has revealed.

Startlingly, one in 10 women also said they had experienced sexual harassment from fellow councillors. On top of this, 43% of the 2,300 councillors surveyed stated that they were held back by assumptions about what they could do because of their gender.

There are also a number of other worrying statistics quoted in the research, including that since 1997 women’s representation in local government had only risen from 28% to 33%, whilst the proportion of women in Parliament had doubled over that time.

Concern was also raised that women were being held back by care commitments, as 28% thought that childcare was a barrier to their career ambitions, compared with 18% of men.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society chief executive, said that the problem of sexism in local government was not confined to one party, but was commonplace across local government.

“We are sadly used to hearing about the misogyny our politicians experience from the public via social media, but this research shows that they are also experiencing it from within their own parties, including their male council colleagues,” she commented.

The findings are part of the Local Government Commission, a year-long study conducted by the Fawcett Society in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit. The statistics released today are from the interim report, with a final report due in the summer.

Dame Margaret Hodge MP, co-chair of the Commission, said: “We are seeing a culture in some parts of local government which would not be out of place in the 1970s.

“This in turn is linked to the under-representation of women in local government where we have seen very little progress over the past 20 years.”

Her colleague, Cllr Gillian Keegan, a co-chair of the Commission, added that women’s under-representation, combined with the slow turnover of male councillors, is acting as a barrier to culture change.

“We also see women more likely to experience barriers such as lack of childcare, clashes with caring responsibilities and a lack of access to informal networks,” she stated.

“As we now start to think about solutions we have to focus on how we remove some of these barriers to progress, such as through embracing new technology.”

And Cllr Claire Kober, Local Government Association spokesperson, said:

“Councils are doing everything they can to ensure gender equality. Sexism has no place in the council chamber and all incidents should be reported under the local code of conduct for councillors.

"It is important that local government reflects the communities it represents and the LGA is leading the Be A Councillor campaign, which includes a focus on encouraging women and under-represented groups to engage with and enter politics.

“The LGA is also working with the Women’s Local Government Society to identify 100 pioneers in women’s suffrage who went on to use the vote to bring tangible benefits to their communities.

"The project celebrates women getting the vote and aims to inspire a new generation of women councillors and civic activists.”

This latest development follows a separate report that warned that the new combined authorities were at risk of being an ‘old boys’ club’ as 93% of leadership at the authorities were likely to be men.

It also follows similar reports about the Northern Powerhouse from the Fawcett Society that leadership was being dominated by men.

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