GUEST BLOG from Cllr Carla Denyer: 50% Women on Bristol City Council in 2016 – a view from a Green Woman

50% Women on Bristol City Council in 2016 – a view from a Green Woman
Guest blog from Cllr Carla Denyer (Clifton East)

Yesterday I attended the launch event of Bristol Women’s Commission’s 50:50 campaign, and got photographed holding a balloon. (The balloons spelled out “50 50” – not “so so” for anyone who was wondering!)

Photo credit: Cllr Helen Holland (@helenhbristol)
Photo credit: Cllr Helen Holland (@helenhbristol)

BWC is challenging all parties to field at least 50% women candidates in winnable seats, and encouraging individual women to come forward. I am supporting this campaign because I know that for democracy to work well and good decisions to be made, you want a diverse group of decision-makers. If a majority of the decision-makers (whether in a democratic setting or a commercial one) have similar backgrounds or life experiences, ‘groupthink’ can become a real problem. Diversity brings a variety of lived experiences, and a variety of ways of looking at problems, and solutions. So even if you don’t care about equal rights, and care only about the Council making sound and rational decisions, you should still support equal representation.

The Green Party now has 14 councillors on Bristol City Council; 7 male and 7 non-male (one identified as genderfluid). And we are pretty proud of that. However, I am the first to acknowledge that this was partly down to fortune with who got elected and who didn’t.

We did not achieve this with all-women shortlists (which is Labour’s strategy nationally) or quotas, but (aside from the good fortune) simply by everyone in the local party putting effort into encouraging women, young people, black and minority ethnic (‘BAME’) people, and people from other underrepresented groups to step forward.

The 50:50 target for winnable seats in the “all up” elections next year (all 70 councillors, the mayor and the police commissioner are all up for election in May 2016) still represents a challenge for us though. This is especially the case because, based on past experience, women are often more hesitant to stand in winnable seats because of the time commitment involved in both the campaign and the councillor role itself. Such a time commitment is, for some, incompatible with the caring responsibilities that women still generally carry more than men.

Personally I’m not a fan of the ‘hard’ style positive discrimination of all-women shortlists, I believe the way forward is a ‘softer’ but energetic encouragement, coupled with providing really substantial support to equip people with what they need to stand for election, which could be public speaking or leadership training, or a flexible campaign strategy that fits around candidates’ other commitments.

So we’ve still got a way to go. Not to mention that the 14 of us are pretty white (although count several with immigrant backgrounds in our number) and predominantly middle-class; definitely two more areas to work on in 2016!

But I want to take this opportunity to highlight a coincidence, one that makes me proud to be a Green. Yesterday afternoon in Bristol we clutched “50 50” balloons, and the Mayor joked about the idea of a “job share mayor” as the only way to encompass 50:50 representation in his role. Meanwhile, two Green Party members in Basingstoke prepared for a hearing with a high court judge in their push to ensure equal opportunities for women and those with disabilities to stand in parliament, by allowing MPs to job share.

Green Party members Sarah Cope and Clare Phipps’ request for joint candidacy was rejected by the Electoral Returning Officer at Basingstoke and Deane Borough Council on the grounds of a ban on job-shares for MPs.

It is shocking that the total number of women who have ever been elected to the House of Commons over the last century are still outnumbered by the number of men sitting as MPs today. Many of those, like Sarah and Clare, who would be amazing MPs have children, family responsibilities or have disabilities, which means that they can’t be a full time MP. Allowing MPs to job share would unlock the potential of these disadvantaged groups, and allow for people from a wide range of backgrounds and with a variety of skills to contribute to our society.

If you are non-male and inspired by Bristol Women’s Commission’s campaign, feel free to get in touch with me to discuss what being a councillor entails.

by Carla Denyer, Green Party Councillor for Clifton East

@carla_denyer

carla.denyer@bristol.gov.uk

Notes:

  1. Gender isn’t binary, so if it were up to me I’d rephrase this campaign, calling for at least 50% non-male councillors. It may not be as catchy, but it’s more inclusive.
  2. Female:male:non-binary gender ratios by political party on Bristol City Council, July 2015:

Green Party: 6:7:1      (43% women, 50% non-male)

Labour: 14:16:0  (47% women)

Liberal Democrats: 2:7:0     (22% women)

Conservatives: 2:14:0    (13% women)

UKIP: 0:1:0     (0% women)

Total: 24:45:1  (34% women)

  1. You can read more about Sarah and Clare’s legal challenge here: http://www.crowdfunder.co.uk/jobshareMPs
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