Recent research published by the Fawcett Society and Democracy Club has revealed that the vast majority (95%) of local authorities across the UK are dominated by men, while only just over a third of local councillors are women, according to figures that highlight the ongoing gender disparities of local government. Based on the current rates of change for female councillors, 50:50 representation will not be achieved until 2050. With the May local government elections fast approaching, the research reveals only 18 of 382 councils have achieved gender representation parity.
Across the UK the differences are stark- London the highest at 45% female, and Northern Ireland the lowest, at 26%. The research also shows that the proportion of women in councils in 2022 was only 2 percentage points higher than in in 2018.
The highest proportion of local councillors who are women, broken down by party, is Labour (47%) followed by Green (43%) and Scottish National Party (41%), while the lowest proportion is found in the Conservative Party (29%), the SDLP (29%), DUP (21%) and Ulster Unionist Party (20%).
According to previous Fawcett research, the low levels of female representation in local government can be attributed partially to sexism and harassment having been shown to be widespread throughout local councils. A lack of support for those with caring responsibilities has also been revealed by earlier research, with only a quarter of local councils offering formal parental leave policies.
Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Women are significantly impacted by decisions made at the local level and are more likely to rely on the services our councils run from social care to social housing. Yet progress on women’s representation in local government is moving at a snail’s pace.”
“That such a vast majority of local councils are male-dominated diminishes public life. Government, local authorities and political parties need to take action and record diversity data, set targets for women’s representation alongside other protected characteristics, and make being a local councillor more accessible to those with caring responsibilities.”
Frances Scott, the director of 50:50 Parliament, a charity taking action to build a better democracy, said the report demonstrated that democratic systems in the UK were “inaccessible or unattractive to most people”.
She added: “This matters because representation shapes policy and we want our elected bodies to draw upon the widest possible pool of talent and experience, including that of the 32 million women who live and work in the UK.
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the vice-chair of the Local Government Association, said it was important that local governments reflected the communities they serve and their experiences.
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