Gender balance fail: Women fewer than a third of total elected councillors


SNP and Greens make progress towards gender equality of councillors elected

SCOTLAND’S COUNCILS remain male-dominated despite a slight improvement in the diversity of candidates elected in last week’s local elections. 

Fewer than one in three of the total number of councillors elected were women, with a five percent increase in the overall number of women elected from 24 per cent to 29 per cent. 

Figures compiled by Meryl Kenny, lecturer in Gender & Politics at the University of Edinburgh, identified a stark difference in the number of women elected by party – with the Scottish Greens and SNP making the most progress, with the Scottish Tories going backwards since the 2012 election. 

The percentage of women councillors still trails gender balance in national parliament elections, where 34 per cent of Scotland’s MPs elected in 2015 were women, and 35 per cent of elected MSPs in 2016 are women. 

“Change is possible, but without commitment for action from all parties across the board, progress will continue to be glacial.” Meryl Kenny, lecturer

Kenny told CommonSpace: “I’d say overall 2017 is another missed opportunity to achieve equal representation in Scottish politics. Some progress has been made, but less than 1 in 3 Scottish councillors is a woman, and the overall face of Scottish local politics remains male, pale and stale. 

“In 2017, the same patterns persist – with some parties (the SNP, the Greens) taking women’s representation seriously, whilst others (Scottish Conservatives) lag well behind. The Tories laissez-faire approach to women’s representation in the context of significant electoral gains for the party has cancelled out many of the improvements made by other parties. Change is possible, but without commitment for action from all parties across the board, progress will continue to be glacial.

“In terms of why it matters, I think, as we’ve written elsewhere, it is crucial that women’s voices and perspectives (in all their diversity) are included in our political institutions – particularly in times of austerity. This is especially the case at the local level, where difficult decisions are made and cuts hit hardest – legislation stands or falls at local level where it is implemented on a daily basis. We need councils that look like the communities they represent and draw upon all talents.”

Change in women councillors v 2012:
Greens 47% (+18.5%)
SNP 39% (+15%)
Liberal 36% (+/-0)
Labour 28% (+2%)
Tory 18% (-6%)
Overall 29% (+5%)

The Scottish Greens came closest to gender equality in its elected representative, while the SNP had the second largest increase in elected women candidates. Former government minister Marco Biagi said that a selection process had been chosen which encouraged the selection of more women at council level. 

However, the Tories returned several all male council groups – including in Stirling and Glasgow – meaning that national progress was limited. In the Western Isles council every one of the 31 councillors elected was male.

Talat Yaqoob, chair and co-founder of Women 50:50, a campaign for at least 50 per cent representation of women in Parliament, councils and public boards, said: “With gender equality and representation so high up on the political agenda, these elections were a chance to put rhetoric into action, but it was not a chance taken by all parties. 

“The outcome of a mere 29 per cent of councillors being women illustrates yet again, why we need legislated candidate quotas. Without action, at the current rate of change, it would take over 25 years to reach fair representation for women. That is simply not good enough.”

The impact of gender in politics, and in policy making, was highlight by the Tory Rape Clause scandal – where the cap on support for child benefit support meant that mothers of a child conceived of rape or coercion must apply for an exemption form. The policy has led to an outcry from feminist and women’s campaign groups, who want the UK Government to pursue a more humane policy. 

Picture courtesy of Astoller

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