International Women’s Day this past Wednesday was a chance to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of women here and worldwide. Women are amazing, terrific, talented – they rock! So why is it that they don't rule? I don't mean totally, I mean just in the same 50:50 proportions that make up society?
Of the three levels of government, ours should be the easiest to get this right, and perhaps provide pathways to other roles too. So what are we doing to improve, encourage and promote the participation by women in local government?
As the sphere of government closest to the community, it is important that councils reflect the communities they serve. The more representative councils are at the elected and senior management levels, the better and more relevant the quality of our decision-making will be. So it follows that, as a sector, we should make it a priority to promote greater participation by women in senior decision-making processes and political life.
I’m encouraged that our sector has shown its commitment to this goal and is involved in a range of practical initiatives and approaches. Work is already being undertaken by a number of state and territory associations to promote gender equality in the local government workforce, particularly in senior management roles.
A great example comes from the Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) which this week announced that it will introduce a new Gender Equity Workshop for the local government sector in Victoria. The workshop is part of the MAV’s Gender Equity Action Plan and will inform MAV employees and wider MAV member councils how to support diversity and gender equity.
And congratulations also go to Victoria for topping the national charts in female representation, now 34% after their recent elections.
With the theme of this year’s International Women’s Day being ‘be bold for change’, I encourage more women across Australia to be bold and become involved in local government. Furthermore, and equally importantly, I urge all councils to reflect on your representative role and invest in encouraging greater participation by those who are currently under-represented including but not limited to women, who despite forming half our national population are less than a third of our local government population.
It will be 100 years since Susan Grace Benny was the first woman elected to any form of government in Australia – Brighton Council in SA. After 98 years of slow growth, we are still only about two thirds of the way to proportional representation. Let's get on with it!
Mayor David O’Loughlin