Women councillors ‘face sexism in local government’

Almost four in 10 female councillors have experienced sexist comments from within their own party, according to a report released today.

The survey of over 2,300 councillors also found that a third of women councillors have experienced sexist comments in the council chamber and 43% say they are held back by assumptions about what they can do just because they are women.

And one in ten have experienced sexual harassment from other councillors.

The findings are part of the Local Government Commission – a year-long study led by the Fawcett Society in partnership with the Local Government Information Unit, which is asking ‘Does Local Government Work for Women?’


Dame Margaret Hodge MP, co-chair of the Commission, said: “We are seeing a culture in some parts of local government which would not be out of place in the 1970s. This in turn is linked to the under-representation of women in local government where we have seen very little progress over the past 20 years.”

The Commission has published new data on women’s representation in local government which shows only 33% of elected local councillors in England are women, an increase of just five percentage points since 1997. The number of women council leaders has only increased from 14% to 17% in 10 years.

The Commission finds that slow progress is exacerbated by many councillors remaining in office for significant periods of time. In 2016 men were 1.6 times more likely to be long term incumbent than women. Of those who have been in office for 20 years or more, there were three men for every one woman.

Cllr. Gillian Keegan, co chair of the Commission, said: “Women’s under-representation combined with the slow turnover of male councillors is acting as a barrier to culture change. We also see women more likely to experience barriers such as lack of childcare, clashes with caring responsibilities and a lack of access to informal networks.

“As we now start to think about solutions we have to focus on how we remove some of these barriers to progress, such as through embracing new technology.”


Other key findings from the report include:

• Women were most underrepresented in the 18- 34s, where there were 3.5 times as many men as women. 35% of councillors are aged between 65 and 74 and in this age group there were two men for every woman

• Women are most likely to be elected to their local council in the north east and least likely in the south east

• 28% of women reported childcare as a barrier, compared with 18% of men.

• 47% of women reported clashes with other caring commitments, almost double the proportion of men at 26%

• 43% of women councillors experienced assumptions about what they could do based on their gender, compared with only 11% of men

• women councillors are not less ambitious than men, with 45% of women and 47% of men saying they want to progress to a more senior job in the council

• 44% of Labour women councillors report experiencing sexist comments from within their own party compared to 33% of Conservative and 29% of Liberal Democrat women councillors

• One third of women councillors said sexist comments from other councillors was sometimes or often a barrier to them fulfilling their role

• 47 percent of women said that a lack of access to informal networks was a barrier to them as councillors, compared with 36 percent of men.

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