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Politics 100 years since the vote: Women make up just 30 per cent of councillors

PUBLISHED: 08:00 12 February 2018

Helen Hunt was the first woman chosen to stand for election in Weston in five cycles.

Helen Hunt was the first woman chosen to stand for election in Weston in five cycles.

Archant

Women died for the right to vote. They endured force-feeding, threats and violence, and went on hunger strikes. Securing the right to vote, and to stand in elections, has not automatically led to political equality in Weston-super-Mare and North Somerset, however.

Research conducted by the Mercury shows how our contemporary parish and town councils are predominantly led by men, who make up almost 70 per cent of councillors. Out of 26 councils surveyed, a woman was chairman of just five of them.

Mayor Jos Holder is Weston’s eighth female mayor since 1937, and the fifth since 2000.

She has been involved in local politics for 15 years, and has been on Weston Town Council for 12 years.

She said: “It can be difficult for women to get involved in local politics as they are often already juggling work with childcare.

Cllr Jos Holder and Cllr Roz Willis. (Picture: Simon Parry). Cllr Jos Holder and Cllr Roz Willis. (Picture: Simon Parry).

“In addition politics, both national and local, is often seen as being male-dominated, but there are more and more women getting into politics now and that is to be encouraged.

“I think my background as a nurse has helped me as I am used to fighting my own battles, and if I set my heart on something I go for it and don’t stop until I succeed.”

MORE: First female Wells MP Tessa Munt – ‘Don’t let anyone stand in your way’.

Cllr Holder said she has never experienced sexism or sexist attitudes in local politics.

She said: “Attitudes to women in politics are changing as we have more women taking high profile roles in the Government, and in the cabinet office.

“Women are respected for the skill and experience that they can bring to the roles.

“I would suggest anyone interested in getting involved in local politics goes to a council meeting, so they can see for themselves that men and women are treated the same, and have the same rights.”

When Helen Hims represented UKIP in the General Election last year, she was the first woman to stand as a parliamentary candidate in Weston in five election cycles.

The last was Margaret Daly in 1997, who finished second. Each time a woman has stood as a parliamentary candidate for the town, they have been the only woman on the ballot.

None of Weston, the former Woodspring constituency, and North Somerset have ever had a female MP.

A survey of 2,000 people conducted by the Mercury suggests 58 per cent of women in the South West always use their vote in elections.

This drops to 49 per cent for young women aged 18-34, with 23 per cent of them saying they never vote.

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