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Ensuring Women’s Safety in Elected Roles is Crucial for Better Representation in Local Government

Credits: Teen Vogue

Two years ago, I wrote about the importance of increasing the number of women elected as councilors and how the Labour Party could achieve this.

Despite efforts from various organizations, including the Labour Party, the LGA Labour Group, and the Labour Women’s Network, there has been little progress in women’s representation.

The lack of progress is not due to a lack of effort but reflects broader challenges in politics and society. Women still bear the greatest responsibility for caring for children and family members, and they are less likely to believe they can stand for elected office or take on leadership roles.

Traditionally, these attitudes, coupled with more traditional views on women’s roles, have deterred women from running for office.

Women’s Safety in Politics (Credits: SDG Action)

Ironically, as attitudes change and more support is provided to women entering politics, the increasingly hostile political culture is discouraging many good people, especially women, from standing due to increased threats to their safety.

Abuse and harassment in politics are sadly nothing new, but recent events, including Brexit, Covid conspiracy theories, and conflicts such as that in Israel and Gaza, have led to a marked increase in abuse towards elected representatives.

While threats against MPs have been highlighted, little attention has been given to the challenges faced by councilors, particularly women councilors, who are often closer to their communities and thus more vulnerable.

Many councilors, especially women and those from ethnic minorities, have faced stalking, threats to their safety and that of their families, racism, and other forms of harassment.

The Jo Cox Foundation’s Civility Commission report, released in January, makes several recommendations to address this issue. One key concern raised by councilors is having their home addresses on the council’s Register of Interests, which can leave them feeling unsafe.

Without government direction, many councils are unwilling to remove home addresses from the Register, putting councilors and their families at risk. Some councilors have had to install security systems in their homes due to the abuse and harassment they face.

The government recently announced a £31 million package to provide extra security support for elected representatives, including councilors. However, this funding could be better spent on public services.

There is a duty on all activists to challenge abuse and harassment within the Labour Party and peer groups. Supporting those facing abuse and setting a good example can create a welcoming culture where everyone feels they can be counselors.

Passing a parental leave policy and providing support for carers can signal that your Labour Group is welcoming to all. Selecting candidates who represent diverse backgrounds can strengthen your Labour Group and local party.

If a Labour Government is elected, they can tackle abuse and harassment of councilors by giving stronger guidance to councils to redact councilor home addresses from the public Register of Interests and introducing legislation for hybrid council meetings where appropriate.

Engaging with campaigns like the LGA’s Debate not Hate and implementing recommendations from reports like the Civility Commission can also make politics more welcoming and accessible.

Ultimately, we need to move towards a less hostile environment in politics and local government. Positive changes are desperately needed, and I hope we can write about them in the next couple of years.

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