It’s been more than 100 years since women were given the right to vote in the UK, but local politics is still heavily populated by men.
In Caerphilly County Borough Council, just 27% of councillors are female. Across Wales, this stands at just 28%.
Of Wales’ 22 council leaders, just five are women. Caerphilly County Borough Council’s leader Philippa Marsden is one of them.
Cllr Marsden became the first woman to lead Caerphilly Council on a permanent basis when she replaced Cllr Dave Poole as leader in 2019.
The council also has a female Chief Executive in Christina Harrhy.
St James ward councillor Barbara Jones, a former deputy leader and interim leader of the council, said she was “delighted” to see a woman lead the authority.
She added: “It was very male-dominated when I became deputy leader of the council, and I wasn’t particularly happy about that.”
Cllr Jones has been a Labour councillor for nearly ten years. She described becoming deputy leader in 2014 as “intimidating”.
She admits: “I didn’t think I would get it to be honest, I was doing it to prove a point to the women in my group that, as women, we have to stand up and be heard. But I won, which was exciting – but I was also very frightened.”
Despite being nervous to begin with, Cllr Jones said her colleagues were patient and helpful and she loved being deputy leader – a role she held until 2020.
Cllr Jones has been surrounded by local politics throughout her life. Her mother was a community councillor and chair of a women’s institute, while her father was a shop steward and a trade unionist.
As women’s officer for the Labour Party, Cllr Jones often encouraged women to get in to politics and said she continues to do so.
Offering advice to women thinking of getting involved in politics, Cllr Jones said: “Definitely do it. Don’t try and be a man – be yourself and hustle.”
Cllr Jones said the structure of the role as a councillor makes it difficult for women, especially those with young families, to get into local government, as it doesn’t fit around their lifestyles.
Council leader Philippa Marsden said: “Looking across our group we are very conscious that we need to encourage as many women to stand for election next May. We will certainly be promoting as many of our Labour members that identify as female to look at standing.
“Very often there is a perception that it is not for them, so we need to bust the myths on what it means to be a councillor, we also need to inspire people to stand across all the equality strands to get true diversity.”
There are many reasons for women not getting involved in local government, according to a report into women in local government by the gender equality charity The Fawcett Society.
Among those reasons are the abusive messages female councillors receive online and the lack of childcare policies in local governments.
According to the same report, it will take 82 years for local governments in Wales to reach gender equality if they continue at the rate they currently are.
The report adds that local councillors and parties should be actively reaching out to women in the community and encouraging them to stand in a local election.
Out of 18 Plaid Cymru councillors in the borough, less than a quarter are women.
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Cllr Colin Mann, Plaid Cymru leader, said: “Plaid in Caerphilly is encouraging women and those from diverse backgrounds to play a greater role in the party, including putting their names forward as council candidates ahead of the 2022 council elections.
“We already have some very popular effective women members who work hard for their communities and regularly hold the ruling Labour administration to account.”
Currently, there are no female Independent councillors.
Leader of the Independent Group, Kevin Etheridge said: “We will have a number of candidates at the May 2022 elections. I am currently discussing with a number of women standing in wards as we wish to encourage everyone and totally support equality.”
Deputy Leader of the council Jamie Pritchard said: “All parties need to do more to improve diversity, and this is what we’re determined to do.”
Meanwhile, Monmouthshire County Council is the first council in Wales to commit to gender parity, meaning it aims to have an equal number of men and women in the council following next year’s election.
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