August 26, 2014 Leave a comment
One of the travails of local Labour party organisers is the striving for gender parity in their representatives. We aspire to this in our internal organisations, we aspire to it in our council chambers.
Travails? Indeed – a laborious effort (pun intended). I have met no-one in my circle of activists and comrades who wants anything but more women involved in local politics, and yet I have met few who can claim success.
This table shows the numbers of male and female Labour councillors in the fourteen local authorities plus the county council in Essex. In eight of these authorities we have gender parity, including the council that I am a member of. Eight out of fifteen sounds like reasonable, if limited, success. Except, that of these eight, two have no councillors, four have just one, and a further one has only three Labour representatives. Only in Southend-on-Sea is there a reasonably large group that manages parity.
(Note: whilst parity means the same number of men and women, odd numbers of councillors mean that getting within one of equable numbers counts as parity.)
This failure is not through want of trying. It cannot be because women are not interested in politics – in general voter turnout is higher amongst women than amongst men. Women, in general, tend to favour Labour more than their male counterparts, so it cannot be that our (Labour’s) politics fails to attract females.
For whatever reason, and despite repeated entreaties to our female members, fewer women come forward to stand in elections than men, and fewer still are prepared to put in the hours of grind necessary for electoral success. We do not give up though, and whilst some of the reasons will be cultural, we should be able to encourage women to come forward as potential community leaders.
The picture in Essex will improve, of that I have little doubt. Will I ever live to gender parity everywhere? The honest answer is that I do not know. I do know that our rules insist that we keep trying, that we have women-only shortlists – and this not only vexes those male activist who feel shut out, it vexes those of us tasked with finding women to come forward.