As a councillor first elected to Shoalhaven City Council in 1987, I was often the lone female voice in the Council chambers.
At the time I was a mother to three young children and a teacher at the local high school, juggling (or attempting to) a busy job with a busy life.
From inflexible meeting times to little support around carer responsibilities – there were some serious challenges that needed to be overcome.
Years later, many of the same challenges remain.
And it’s often these barriers that discourage so many talented female political aspirants from running for public office.
So much so that currently in NSW, women represent less than a third of all councillors and mayors.
It goes without saying that organisations flourish when they have gender parity and our councils are no different. Strong, effective councils are those that reflect the diverse communities they serve and represent.
So with local government elections next September, we’re hitting the road to hold a series of statewide workshops to equip and empower women to run for election.
We’ve already hosted a series of successful online workshops partnering with Women for Election Australia. Participants surveyed felt twice as prepared to stand for public office after completing the workshop.
Our recently launched webpage containing dedicated campaign resources and information continues to be the most visited page on the Office of Local Government website.
And our ten Champions of Change – inspirational former and current female councillors – have been deployed to share their stories to encourage more women to stand for their communities.
We’re also reviewing dated policies which deter many women from putting their hand up for election including making changes to meeting practices and mandating support to councillors with carer responsibilities.
We’re taking these steps because we know this is what it takes to move the dial.
Take a look at the recent council election results down in Victoria.
Following the Victorian Government’s It’s Our Time campaign, a record number of women nominated to stand for election.
Of the 2,186 candidates who nominated for election to a Victorian council, 851 or 39% were women, an increase of 5% from four years prior.
October was the turning point for Victoria with 272 female councillors elected, bringing women’s representation in local government up to a record 43.8 per cent – the highest in the country.
It is with this in mind that I call on all NSW women to consider running in next year’s local government elections.
Serving on your local council provides a meaningful way to have positive impact on issues that are important to you. It also provides a foundation for both a career in the corporate sector, or going on to represent your community at a state or federal level.
It is my firm belief that if we make headway into gender equality within our councils, this will flow on to address the underrepresentation of women across every other level of government.
So, if you have a strong sense of community and are keen to make a difference in your neighbourhood we need you.
2021 is our year.
To all women in NSW, it’s time to stand up – in numbers too big to ignore!