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‘Virtually no progress’ in council gender diversity as 97% still male-dominated

There has been “virtually no progress” on women’s representation in local government, with a whopping 97% of councils still being male-dominated, stark figures have shown.

Research by the Fawcett Society revealed that the proportion of women elected to local government in England increase by less than one percentage point, bringing the total proportion of female councillors to just 34%.

Similarly, of the seats up for grabs during this year’s local elections, less than 40% went to women – up by just three percentage points compared to 2014, when the seats were last contested.

Across specific parties, the Conservatives were the less diverse, with the Tories actually experiencing a fall in female representation – from 31% to 29% – in its local seats. Labour’s share of women councillors grew from 40% to 45%, while the Lib Dems rose from 34% to 36%.

Of the 151 councils that held elections this year, 46 returned fewer women than in 2017, while 23 remained unchanged. Just over 80, however, saw the proportion of women increase, with the biggest gains seen across Hastings, Kingston upon Thames and Islington – the latter of which recently appointed the UK’s first-ever women and girls champion.

Sam Smethers, Fawcett Society’s chief executive, said the figures painted a “really disappointing” picture of local government.

“We are literally crawling along,” she argued. “As we mark the centenary of women's suffrage, women’s representation across local government is stuck in the past

“It is time for a strategic response. We call on government, political parties, and local councils to act on the recommendations of the Local Government Commission, remove the barriers to women’s participation and make local government fit for the 21st century.”

Alongside the LGiU – whose policy researcher Jennifer Glover wrote about this for PSE last year – the equality think tank called on a series of recommendations, including introducing maternity policies for councillors or cabinet members (just 4% have a formal policy in place); ensuring all authorities have comprehensive support for childcare and adult care costs; and embedding codes of conduct against sexism and an effective Standards Committee to enforce it.

Smethers and the LGiU also called on local authorities to commit to a gender-balanced leadership team in their cabinet and committees in an effort to “eradicate ‘girl jobs and boy jobs’ in those roles.”

This time last year, the government was lambasted for “lacking ambition” in driving gender equality after Downing Street altogether rejected six proposals to improve women’s representation in local government and in the Commons.

The Women and Equalities Committee had recommended, amongst other things, that women should make up 45% of councillors and MPs by 2030.

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Image credit: pixelfit


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