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Politics needs women – a personal view

by Sam Riches

sam richesAs a county councillor in Lancashire I sit on a number of committees, and I recently witnessed a sub-committee being set up which was entirely composed of men, both elected members and co-opted representatives of outside bodies.

When I questioned the committee chair about this, pointing out it is bad practice to include only one gender, I was told ‘I don’t notice anyone’s gender’. Not only is that almost impossible to believe, but it is also a sad reflection of the extent to which some people persist in seeing male as the default position for politicians and female as a variation of the norm.

With the honourable exception of the Green Party of England and Wales, led by Natalie Bennett, the mainstream parties in England are all led by men, as are many of the smaller parties, and there is a strong masculine flavour in their elites as well.


Creating space on councils


This is true of local politics too: of 84 councillors on Lancashire County Council there are 18 women, only two of whom sits in the cabinet of eight. I would never argue that a woman should be elected simply because she is a woman, but it is important that women are present in the council chamber – as decision makers, not just as county council officers taking minutes and offering advice.

Even though I disagree with many of the views expressed by some of my fellow female county councillors, I fully endorse their right to be in the room, and I feel that it is vital that we strive towards greater gender parity. For example, sub-committees should automatically tend towards gender balance if the pool of potential members is less heavily biased.

In broad terms, women come to positions of authority through a different process to men. I frequently hear that men put themselves forward for election but women have to be asked, even persuaded that they are worthy. That is certainly true of me – I’m highly educated and reasonably articulate, a published author and frequent public speaker. The thought of elected political office had never crossed my mind until, as a relatively new member of the Green Party in Lancaster, I was asked to stand for selection to fight a County Council seat.


Coming forwards


I realised that I couldn’t legitimately complain about the lack of women in elected office if I wasn’t prepared to do it – if I wouldn’t, who would?  As I face a re-election contest I have three opponents in my division – all men. Two-thirds of the candidates in Lancaster District (ten seats) are men, and I doubt that many of them had to be talked into standing.

As a woman I bring a different aspect to the council. I’m visibly different – nearly all the male councillors wear a uniform of a suit and tie – and my voice sounds different too. The world of politics is filled with alpha males, but my presence, and my interventions in web-cast meetings, demonstrate that other people have a right to be heard too, not only women but also quieter, less assertive men and anyone who doesn’t fit the alpha mould.

I doubt the day will ever dawn when parliament or councils are genuinely reflective of wider society, in terms of ethnic diversity, disability, sexual orientation or age (this last one is a particularly thorny issue – at 45 I think I am the third youngest member of my council when I should be somewhere in the middle of the age range!). But we can all do something to promote women in politics. My gender group forms 51% of the population, and if your local council does not have a majority of women on it, then do something about it.

If you are a man, ask a woman to stand. If you are a woman – don’t wait to be asked.

6 Responses to Politics needs women – a personal view

  1. Lesley Hedges says:

    What a shame that when I posted this on facebook it came up with a cartoon picture of two men. Kind of proves Sam’s point. If politicians are seen as male they will continue to be predominantly male as women just won’t wee themselves in that role.

  2. Thanks Sam – that is all so very very true. The previous comment is right that the image of men that comes up when posting it to FB is ironic, to say the least.

  3. Alden says:

    I’m glad! It’s definitely not always a problem, for sure.

  4. manishta sunnia says:

    Agree with this piece. It’s worth mentioning that black & ethnic minority members/voters also need representation within the party/politics and working class community.

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