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GUEST POST: Supporting women to stand for political office

Purple graphic that reads: We’re definitely not short  of women who care about helping their communities  in Scotland, but we can  see so far they’re not all  being represented.

Between now and the local elections on May 5th, we will be publishing a series of blogs from the Equal Representation Coalition. They’ll be taking a look at the state of equality in our politics at the moment, discussing their work in tackle barriers to participation, and will be exploring the crucial role that accurate data plays in achieving equal representation in our councils and parliaments and why we need more of it.

In this post, Hannah Stevens, Chief Executive, and Rosie Trevill, Community and Communications Officer at Elect Her discuss their work supporting women to get involved and stay involved in politics - and why understanding whose voices are missing is essential to creating solutions to women’s underrepresentation in councils and parliaments.

Elect Her is a tiny but mighty organisation that works to motivate, support and equip women in all their diversity to stand for elected office in all spheres of government, providing them with the knowledge, confidence, and skills they need on their journey.  Elect Her is committed to creating safe spaces for women to explore their futures as leaders, legislators, and champions of Scotland’s political governance, nurturing an intersectional community for women in Scotland in the process.

Just 29% of the current cohort of councillors in Scotland are women, although women make up over 50% of the population. It isn't a true democracy until the full breadth of our society is represented in local, devolved and national governments.

Research published last year by the global Institute for Women's Leadership at King's College confirmed that when “women are able to exercise political leadership, there are gains not just for women and girls but for the whole of society.”  It’s in everyone’s interests to ensure that women are being selected and elected in equal numbers to men. We hope we will see an increase in the percentage of women in local government after May’s elections, but stories of many female councillors standing down after just one term sadly does not fill us with hope that the numbers will improve in the substantial way that they need to.

We are currently providing support to 57 women from across Scotland who are preparing to be candidates in the upcoming local elections. We’re supporting women from all political parties, and none, who are committed to having their voices heard in local decision making. We’ve provided campaigning toolkits, skills based workshops, peer support and access to funding opportunities to support these women in the next and vital chapter of their journey into political office. We are cheering them on as they take on this tough challenge and we want to see them thrive through their campaigns and once elected.

But it is hard work. 

We hope that the women elected in May find themselves welcomed into modernised local councils with cultures committed to ensuring women feel able to voice their ideas. There are a number of ways local councils can ensure accessibility and inclusion for all women, including:

  • Maintaining a level of virtual access to council meetings;
  • Introducing formal parental leave; 
  • Introducing work and travel policies that consider caring responsibilities;
  • Tackling culture that enables sexist, racist, ableist and homophobic attitudes to persist;
  • Creating non-aggressive spaces. 

But we still need more women to be stepping forward for the role whilst that cultural transformation is happening, so of course it is a long-term project. It’s a long-term project worth committing towards however, because when women step forward and encourage these changes, it’ll benefit women for generations to come.

We need reliable and consistent data about who is stepping forward as candidates, not just those elected, so that we can identify - more importantly - who isn't coming forward. We’re definitely not short of women who care about helping their communities in Scotland, but we can see so far they’re not all being represented.

We need a wide range of policies and initiatives from national and devolved governments, local councils, civil society groups like ours and political parties to ensure that the very best people with the widest variety of lived experience see a political future as an appealing and positive way to contribute to their communities. These policies and initiatives can’t be adequately designed until we have a clearer idea about who is missing from our political representation. Data leads to transparency in politics.

From the thousands of conversations that we have facilitated through our live and online workshops, events and training programmes, we hear the voices and needs of women and design our programmes in response to those conversations. We want to provide space for women across Scotland to learn more about their democratic rights, how they can join the conversation and make plans for their own participation. Our programme of support demystifies politics and political processes, so you can find out what a local council actually does, how to join a political party, or how to stand as an MSP.  Our support continues from the very beginning of your journey in understanding what politics is, right through to getting selected and elected; we’ll be right behind you along the way. Our support is a mixture of live online workshops, so you can build a supportive network of women also on their political journey, as well as self-paced online learning resources, so you can fit the work into your busy schedule. What’s more, everything we provide is absolutely free. 

We welcome any woman in Scotland who is interested in exploring their own political future, to join us to learn more about how they can contribute to politics in Scotland. Find out more on our website here.

Guest posts do not necessarily reflect the views of Engender, and all language used is the author's own. Bloggers have received some editorial support from Engender, and may have received a fee from our commissioning pot. We aim for our blog to reflect a range of feminist viewpoints, and offer a commissioning pot to ensure that women do not have to offer their time or words for free.

Interested in writing for the Engender blog? Find out more here.

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