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GUEST POST: Gender representation within Local Authorities

Today we're publishing the second in a series of blogs from two student placements Engender is hosting from the University of Strathclyde Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods course. These blogs explore women's representation and decision-making around women's equality in local authorities across Scotland. You can see other blogs in the series here.

In 2020 Jennifer Robinson graduated with an honours degree in Society Politics and Policy from the University of the West of Scotland. She is now undertaking a Masters in Applied Gender Studies and Research Methods with a particular interest in feminist disability studies. She has previously written for the Glasgow Women’s Library and you can find her tweeting about feminism and disability on twitter @JenRobinson95.

Graphic with a bright teal background and left-aligned black quoted text which reads "Local councils make decisions which impact gender equality including areas such as social care, leisure, education and so on. However, men and women have diverse perspectives due to inequalities and differing gender roles." The quote is attributed to Jennifer Robinson, Student Placement, University of Strathclyde. In the top right hand corner is the Engender logo, a  black circle with an equals sign in the middle

I never imagined that I would be studying for a Master’s degree from the comfort of my own home in Paisley. One perk is being wrapped in a big cosy blanket and pouring myself endless cups of tea while I read about various feminist topics. I am also excited to be undertaking a placement with Engender as part of my degree.

The placement aims to build upon Engender’s Sex & Power report 2020 which showed an overrepresentation of men in positions of power. Particularly, the report found that women made up only 29% of elected councillors at the local authority level. Local councils make decisions which impact gender equality including areas such as social care, leisure, education and so on. However, men and women have diverse perspectives due to inequalities and differing gender roles. Therefore, if councils are dominated by men, they cannot provide diverse representation for their residents. The placement will include a gender audit of representation in local authorities and their policy areas. I will be investigating representation and policy within Renfrewshire Council (my own local authority) and Edinburgh council and documenting my findings through a series of blogs.

Firstly, I wanted to count the number of councillors who were women within Renfrewshire and Edinburgh and compare this to the numbers from the previous council election which took place in 2017. I then looked at the numbers of women in each party and each ward today. Gathering these numbers illustrates the lack of women’s representation within each local. I have broken down these numbers in the following sections.

Renfrewshire Council: The Numbers

In 2017 Renfrewshire council had 40 councillors 11 of which were women. Today in 2021, there are 42 councillors 16 of which are women.

Number of councillors by political party in 2021:

  • The SNP were the only party in Renfrewshire to have more women elected as councillors than men with 11 women and 8 men.
  • The Scottish Conservative party had 7 men and 1 woman.
  • The Scottish Labour Party had 10 men and 3 women.
  • The Scottish Liberal Democrats had 1 councillor who was a woman.
  • There was 1 Independent councillor who was a man.

The next step I took was to look at elected councillors for each ward. There are 12 wards in Renfrewshire. 5 out of the 12 wards had an equal gender representation. All other wards had one woman out of either three or four elected councillors. Both the council leader and depute leader are men.

Edinburgh Council: The Numbers

In 2017 Edinburgh council had 58 councillors 14 of which were women. Today in 2021, there are 63 councillors 23 of which are women.

Number of councillors by political party 2021:

  • The SNP has 10 men and 6 women.
  • The Scottish Conservative party has 14 men and 3 women.
  • The Scottish Labour Party has 6 men and 5 women.
  • The Scottish Green Party has equal representation with 4 men and 4 women.
  • The Scottish Liberal Democrats also have equal representation with 3 men and 3 women.
  • The Edinburgh Party for Independent Councillors has 2 men and 1 woman.
  • There are two Independent councillors with 1 man and 1 woman.

I then looked at elected councillors for each ward. There are 17 wards in the Edinburgh council area. Only 2 out of the 17 wards has equal gender representation. Three of the wards have no women elected meaning that the residents of those areas are represented by men only. The rest of the wards had one woman out of three of four elected councillors. Like Renfrewshire Council, both the Edinburgh council leader and depute leader are men.

Conclusions

It is important to note that these numbers are based on women and men alone and do not encompass the intersections of race, ethnicity, disability, sexual orientation and other groups. These numbers provide a snapshot of women’s representation in Renfrewshire council and Edinburgh council. Although there has been an increase of women elected to both councils, it is marginal. The continuation of men’s dominance in these local authorities is a disservice to residents as they are not provided with diverse representation. Furthermore, this could affect how women interact with councillors. For instance, women may feel uncomfortable discussing sensitive issues such as gender-based violence with men on the council. So, overall, it is disappointing to see the perpetuation of men’s dominance and underrepresentation of women at the local authority level.

I was also curious to see what would appear when I simply typed the word “gender” into the search bar of the council websites. In Edinburgh Council, their “Equality and Impact” documents appeared which included their policy on equal pay. In Renfrewshire council, their “No to Gender Based Violence Strategy 2018-2021” appeared. Interestingly, Renfrewshire was one of the first councils in Scotland to introduce a Domestic Abuse Policy for staff. I then searched the word “women”. In Edinburgh the following article appeared, “Putting the safety and wellbeing of domestic abuse victims at the heart of our housing approach” which describes Edinburgh council’s new Domestic Abuse Housing Policy. In Renfrewshire, information for Women and Children First appeared which included the referral process and contact details. I will continue to explore these policy areas further and I look forward to discussing them in my next blog posts.

Engender occasionally works with students as part of their placement requirements for university or college courses - this allows students to work with Engender on specific areas of our work for women's equality. Student blogs form part of their course assessment, and they do not receive payment from Engender.

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