Dartford Labour Group’s six female councilors are celebrating the first International Women’s Day since being elected last May. The date holds particular significance for the six women as their elections meant that the group went from having only one female councillor out of seven to six out of ten.
Now the women want to tell others about their experiences in the hope of encouraging others to stand for office.
Nationally only 34% of councillors are women and a staggering 96% of councils are male dominated. This is significant as councils need to be representative of the people they seek to serve. A research paper by Joni Lovenduski, Professor of Politics, Birkbeck, University of London showed that ‘’as membership of women increases so does the sensitivity of the males to the range of women’s concerns. So men can act for women, but they may be more likely to do so when there are more women around.”
The women are particularly proud of their intersectional make up, with Victoria Oguntope and Romana Gosine being the first women from BAME (black and minority ethnic) backgrounds to be elected to Dartford council and five of them being part of the 15% of councillors nationwide who are under 40 years of age.
The group see their diversity as an asset, but believe more could be done to attract women into standing for office by accommodating the reality of their lives. With this in mind they have set about making their group meetings child friendly and allowing members to attend remotely where possible. They also followed Fawcett Society guidance and brought a motion to the council to have parental leave for councillors introduced. Although the motion did not go through on the night it has now become Dartford Council policy after being accepted by the Independent Remuneration Panel.
Swanscombe councillor Emma Ben Moussa who has long term health issues and is a mother of children with additional needs, reflected on the 10 months since her election and said
“Becoming a Councillor was a proud moment for me: not only did I get to represent my community I also got the support of 5 other female councillors within our group – women are the majority here. We make sure our voices are heard and we encourage each other. I hope to use my experience as a mother of disabled children to benefit my borough and highlight the issues that are unique to women that need to be recognised.”
Temple Hill councillor Victoria Oguntope said
“As a Councillor, it’s a privilege to serve my community by being a voice and advocating for the greater good of the community and holding their council accountable on areas it otherwise fails to address. Furthermore, it advances all women’s direct engagement in public decision-making and is a means of ensuring better accountability to women. I believe women’s representation in local governments can make a difference, it provides a platform to be part of a bigger conversation that needs to be had – we need to encourage more women to step up and be part of the decision making processes.”
Ebbsfleet Councillor and mum of four Romana Gosine said
“Being an Female Asian Cllr and a mother to 3 daughters, it’s a great achievement to be able to break down barriers for other BAME women who aspire to get into politics.
It’s challenging being a position of responsibility but it’s one I wholeheartedly embrace. History teaches us the oppression women have faced. Coming from an Asian background, I know there are many stigmas attached around this. But, we need to continue the fight especially in the workplace for equal rights and equal pay.”