It was the first time I’d ever been in the chamber of my local council. As a disgruntled resident, I was standing up to speak on behalf of my community, against a planning application. As I argued against the unsuitable proposal, I looked at the table of decision makers in front of me. Unbelievably, every one of the nine councillors was a man. So was the CEO and the four Directors. It was a sea of suits. Fourteen men; all making decisions on my community’s future and not a woman in sight.
With forceful arguments that evening in the chamber, our community won that planning battle. A few weeks later I met the Mayor down the street, and queried him “How can you blokes make good decisions for our community when there are no women councillors”? His reply galvanised me; “We want more women councillors, but they never stand”.
I decided then, that at my next local government elections, I would ‘Lean In’ and stand for council.
As chance would have it, a by-election was soon announced for my local ward. I nominated, campaigned hard and got elected. Yay! But now, it was me and 13 blokes around that council chamber. At times, it was tough being the only woman. But I loved it and successfully juggled my councillor role with raising a family of three with the support of my husband, while sustaining my career and volunteer roles. I became passionate about encouraging and supporting more women to stand for council. The following election, four women got elected and my local council now wins awards for its gender equality initiatives.
Women councillors to the rescue
It’s no secret that Australians are disenchanted with politics. An ANU survey this year found three in four Australians agreed or strongly agreed with the statement: “I am disillusioned with politics in this country.”[i]
The response to this disillusionment is to get more women leaders into politics, starting with local government. Increasingly women are looking around their council chambers and thinking to themselves “I can do a better job than him”. The upside of this is that more female candidates are being elected as local councillors, from a range of diverse backgrounds. Grandmothers, career women, mums, sole parents, sisters, daughters, female business owners, aunties, sassy young women …. a fantastic variety of women from the more than 500 local councils across our nation representing all walks of life. Women just like you or your wife, mother, daughter, sister, colleague.
Ordinary women, doing an extra-ordinary thing and becoming a politician.
Last October, the Victorian council elections saw a record number of 243 women, elected as councillors (38% of total councillors). When you compare this figure to only 29% women in the 45th Federal Parliament and 36% in Victorian State Parliament, local government is a place for women to shine. These women are bringing diverse voices to decision making and reflecting the broader needs of the community.
Think globally; act locally
Many of us sigh when we think about the state of politics in Australia. However, I believe that if we want to change things, we need more women to become politicians. Join me to stop the slide into deeper cynicism about politics, starting with your local council. Reach out to women leaders in your community and support them to consider standing for council. Or, if you’re a woman, think about standing yourself. Don’t just get mad; get elected!
For more information on services Ruth provides in supporting women in local government see https://ruthmcgowan.com/services/