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Fawcett Society interim report finds little progress for women in local government

Discrimination is commonplace in local government with almost four in ten women councillors having experienced sexist comments from within their own party, according to a report released by The Fawcett Society 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 their capabilities because they are women. And one in ten have, according to the report, 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?’ The statistics released today are from the interim report, with a final report due in the summer. This will make recommendations on how to address the key issues faced by women councillors and the barriers to women’s representation in local government.

The Commission today, is also publishing new data on women’s representation in local government. The picture is one of very slow progress. Only 33% of elected local councillors in England are women, an increase of just five percentage points since 1997. Yet over the same period, the proportion of women in Parliament has increased by more than half, from 18% to 29%.

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. Although some seats change hands at every election this is a relatively small number and is never enough to create real change in the gender composition of local elected members.

The remit of Fawcett’s year-long Commission of experts has been to:

• Gather and publish evidence on female participation and representation across local government and identify the barriers to women’s representation.

• Make recommendations on how to advance women’s leadership in local government and establish a pipeline for power, including positive steps to support and inspire women to stand for elected office.

• Demonstrate the impact of decision-making at the local level for women’s lives.

• Reinvigorate the role of women in local government and encourage more women to stand and participate.

Read the full report.
Read the executive summary