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Sexism in the council chamber


Fawcett Society interim report, survey of councillors, sexism, harassmentDiscrimination is commonplace in local government’.

A survey of over 2,300 councillors has found that one third of women councillors have experienced sexist comments in the council chamber and one in ten, have experienced sexual harassment from other councillors.

And 43 per cent said they are held back by assumptions about their capabilities because they are women, according to a report released by The Fawcett Society last week.

Discrimination is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten women councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party, according to the report.

The findings are part of a year-long study led by the Fawcett Society, in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, which asked ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’

The Fawcett Society launched a year-long Local Government Commission, jointly chaired by Labour’s Dame Margaret Hodge MP and Conservative councillor Gillian Keegan, director of Women2Win, in April.

The report also revealed new data on women’s representation in local government.

The picture is one of very slow progress.

Only 33 per cent of elected local councillors in England are women, an increase of just five percentage points since 1997. Yet over the same period, the proportion of women in Parliament has increased by more than half, from 18 per cent to 29 per cent.

The Commission found that slow progress is exacerbated by many councillors remaining in office for significant periods of time.

Of those who have been in office for 20 years or more, there were three men for every one woman.

And although some seats change hands at every election it was a relatively small number and never enough to create real change in the gender composition of local elected members.

There are significant differences by party.

42 per cent of Labour Party councillors elected in 2016 were women, up from 33 per cent in 2008, suggesting that their adoption of quotas and targeting women candidates in winnable seats is beginning to see dividends.

Over the same period the Conservatives have seen relative stagnation, going from 28 per cent to 30 per cent, and they continue to have the lowest representation overall.

The Liberal Democrats’ share of councillors elected who are women went into reverse, and has fallen from 37 to 33 per cent.

The remit of Fawcett’s year-long commission of experts has been to:

Gather and publish evidence on female participation and representation across local government and identify the barriers to women’s representation;

Make recommendations on how to advance women’s leadership in local government and establish a pipeline for power, including positive steps to support and inspire women to stand for elected office;

Demonstrate the impact of decision-making at the local level for women’s lives; and

Reinvigorate the role of women in local government and encourage more women to stand and participate.

The statistics released are from an interim report. A final report is due in the summer. This final report will make recommendations on how to address the key issues faced by women councillors and the barriers to women’s representation in local government.

To read the executive summary click here.

To download the full report, click here.

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