STAND FOR WHAT YOU BELIEVE IN

Cllr Saima Ashraf – Barking and Dagenham

What does the role of councillor mean to women today, and what are the challenges faced and importantly the rewards, in standing for elected office?

The equal participation of women and men in local politics, as our elected councillors and as our leaders, is an important condition for effective democracy and good governance. Representative councils are best able to speak to, and for, their communities and to support the effective business of local government.

2018 was the anniversary of the 1918 Representation of the People Act, giving women over 30 the right to vote. To commemorate the celebrations and continue to legacy, this page includes case studies of female councillors and their tips and stories about being an elected representative.

Meet Her

I love being able to bring skills, experience and local understanding to help our communities thrive and help councils make decisions that really improve people’s lives. I enjoy working with others to bring resources into the area to create cohesive, active communities where people feel they have a high quality of life. This includes lively, low-cost activities for all ages, thriving small businesses, good public transport, local facilities and a well-kept environment.’

Councillor Marianne Overton

Independent, North Kesteven District Council and Lincolnshire County Council

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Initially when campaigning in my first mid term by-election for Launceston, I had a few comments firstly on my age and sex. (At the time, our council was very male dominated with a much older average age than it does now.) A lot of residents seemed intrigued as to why I was standing? I explained this was one of many reasons! I felt if you want to see change, you have to make changes. To have a clear mixed voice for our county, we need a more varied council representing to give a broader perspective for all residents. I was thrilled to see, the following year, during the 2017 elections, the demographic of the council become more varied with a more extensive mix of elected representatives for Cornwall.

I love being a councillor. I feel honoured to be able to represent the residents of Launceston and Cornwall as a whole. It means being fortunate to work with a variety of organisations both within local government and also external groups and organisations of whom I would not have had the chance to learn from before. I feel it is an opportunity to make a difference, to get more involved in not just the immediate area, but the decisions made for the entire county. I have a 6 year old daughter and I aspire to show her that anyone can make a difference in their community if they work hard enough and really want to!

There are many opportunities for women within local politics. At present Launceston Town Mayor is a highly regarded female councillor, so too is Cornwall Councils Chair, a fellow female county councillor. You just have to look for the opportunities presented to you, I feel actions speak louder than words, if you want to get involved, just do it!

Councillor Gemma Massey

Liberal Democrat, Cornwall Council

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I was a mum who lived a quiet life, had never engaged in politics and was not a well-known local character – who would vote for me anyway? 11 years later I am deputy leader of a County Council enjoying my role and developing with the challenges it brings.

With persistence and drive every woman has the opportunity to stand and make a difference in their community. It’s often not the large well publicised events that impact the most, but it’s the small actions that really can make a difference and have a long lasting effect on both yourself and those that you serve.

Councillor Mandy Chilcott

Conservative, Somerset County Council / West Somerset District Council

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I became a councillor in 2003, when my youngest child was 5. I took some persuading to put myself forward, the local party was encouraging but barriers of self-belief and the time commitment concerned me.

Juggling 3 children, part-time work and being a councillor did take some organising. Initially I was put on committees which met at school pick up and drop off times.  I made use of after school clubs, claimed the expenses and requested other committees in future.

I love getting things done for residents. I love being involved in my local community.  I’m less keen on the meetings where little is achieved except hot air, but I enjoy those committees where we make real change.

I would encourage more women of all ages to stand as councillors. Councils need to be representative and can only be so if people stand up.  My daughter’s now putting herself forward as a councillor. Voices of the young, of women and from all backgrounds, need to be there having a say in running our Councils.

Councillor Fay Howard

Labour, Swindon Borough Council

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I was persuaded to stand as a councillor nine years ago, and have not looked back since. I saw it as a great opportunity to get stuff done for my community, to make life a little bit easier, better, and fairer. Local government has its frustrations for sure, but I have found it rewarding as I bring my unique perspective as a BaME woman to the table, and use my engineering background to think creatively in find solutions to the challenges my communities face. I encourage women to become councillors, it’s about making our communities work as one big family.

Councillor Tumi Hawkins

Liberal Democrat, South Cambridgeshire District Council

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In 2018, as a part of the centenary celebrations for the votes for women, I was heavily involved in organising a centenary march in Bishop Auckland that coincided with the national centenary march in February that took place before Durham Miners Gala in July.

I also run a Facebook page called Suffragette Centenary Celebrations where I promote local and national opportunities and I use the page to display some of these videos and pictures.

Councillor Joy Allen

Labour, Durham County Council

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As a newly elected councillor, it is shocking to learn that there are nearly twice as many male councillors as female in this country. We all need to encourage women to stand and give them the support they need.

At a time when so many people are disillusioned with politics, it doesn’t make sense that half the population are under-represented. Getting more women councillors could change the conversation in town halls around the country.

Becoming a Councillor is a great opportunity for women. We all need to get out there and #AskHerToStand.

Councillor Geraldine Coggins

Green Party, Trafford Council

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I became a Councillor because of my job with a Family Support Charity and have been lucky to have the full support of my family, my employer and my Party.

I have loved being able to make a positive difference to the lives of children in the area. As a Mum I am a great believer that they should all be given an equal opportunity to succeed.

Unfortunately, at present there is not enough diversity in people becoming Councillors and we need to change this. I feel strongly that we need to do more to enable people to get involved, particularly those that work. Simple steps like changing meeting times and enabling virtual meetings would make a huge difference.

Councillor Lynne Doherty

Conservative, West Berkshire Council

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The Equalities Toolkit has been developed to help councils create the underlying policies, procedures, ethos and environment that encourages and empowers women, parents and carers to become local councillors and take on leadership positions.