Just 33% of councillors are women, with this figure dropping to 17% amongst council leaders, according to a new study by the think tank the IPPR.
The study, Power to the people? Tackling the gender imbalance in combined authorities & local government, also states that in the new Mayoral Combined Authority Boards only 4% of constituent members are women and all six are led by men.
It finds that women face a number of barriers particularly in entering local government and progression into leadership roles, including a flatlining of female candidates selected by political parties to stand in council ward elections [compared to a rise of 9% between the 2015 and 2017 general election for those standing for Parliament]. It says at the rate of increase in female numbers seen over the last 20 years it will take 68 years to reach gender parity and over 12,000 women coming forward in order to get the 3,028 elected which will ensure a 50/50 gender split in numbers of councillors.
The report says that political parties are failing to engage more young women into party politics despite an increase in female voters. Men are currently more than twice as likely as women to be political party members, meaning women are also less likely to go on to become local councillors, it states.
The report argues the UK should follow other countries like Germany, the USA and Canada in adopting more radical reforms to get more women into local politics. IPPR’s report calls on the leaders of political parties to:
It also calls on local and combined authorities to voluntarily make a commitment that no gender is represented by less than 45% of representatives on combined authority boards and to appoint a deputy chair to combined authority boards (where this position does not already exist) and commit to the two top positions (chair and deputy chair) being filled by a man and a woman.
The report states that if significant progress towards greater gender balance in local government and combined authorities is not achieved through these changes, then legislation should be introduced requiring local government elected positions to be filled equally by genders with a split of 40:60 or better.
Clare McNeil, IPPR Associate Director, says: “Radical change is needed if devolution is to be about bringing power to the people, rather than consolidating it among white middle-aged men.
“Political institutions and parties must introduce more ambitious quotas to improve representation in the short term. And local government should do more to encourage women to stand and support them effectively once they have been selected. Without these measures representation will continue to be deeply unequal.”