Where are the women?

March 08, 2012

International Women’s Day was celebrated around the world this week so it seems appropriate to mention the NSW local government elections that will take place on September 9 and talk about the need for women to stand for and be elected to Council, and to all spheres of government for that matter.

After what will be more than eight years in the role, it will be time for me to step down, so I won’t be standing for re-election this year but unfortunately neither will Judith Turley. It has been a pleasure to work with her and have her support since 2008, and I know her absence will be keenly felt amongst the communities of Palerang with and for whom she has worked.

The way things are sounding there may only be one woman at most after the next election. In this day and age that is not acceptable, and no fun either; I spent four and a quarter years as the only woman on the newly formed Palerang Council so I can vouch for that. It’s a circular situation I guess – it’s no fun, so women don’t stand; women don’t stand, so it’s no fun. Not, of course, that one is there to have fun, but it does help to be able to.

Women make up more than fifty percent of the population, and were granted equal pay for equal work in 1969. However in 2010, women were receiving on average seventeen percent less pay for equal work or work of the same value and, in some sectors, like finance and insurance, this gap jumps to 32 per cent. Women are still noticeably absent in the boards, senior staff and parliaments of Australia.

As the WA Department of Local Government website says, “women make a valuable contribution to the local government sector and increase the diversity of decision makers to better reflect the interests and needs of our community.??“Local Government Managers Australia statistics indicate women represent only 5% of local government chief executives nationally and, according to Australian Local Government Women’s Association figures, in July 2009, women represented only 28.4% of the total number of councillors across Australia.”

The proportion of women in NSW parliament is 25%, the lowest in the country, and this echoes Australia’s ranking on the world stage. Rwanda is in first position, with 56.3%, Finland is seventh with 42.5%, Nepal 18th with 33.2% and Iraq at 36 with 25.2%. Australia is ranked 38th with a proportion of 24.7%. *

Women are no less capable than men, so the argument that the best person gets the job is without foundation. Women are often loath to come forward and when they do, find themselves up against the old ways of what have been very male-dominated regimes, with councils no exception.

So, sisters, this is my plea – please think seriously about taking on the councillor role for a term or two and come forward as soon as possible so you have time to become better known in your local government area in the lead-up to the election. Your community needs you, and so does your country!

* These statistics were sourced from Women in politics & public leadership Briefing Paper No 6/2011 by Talina Drabsch NSW Parliamentary Research Service

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