20 Jul 2016

Govt puts out call for more women in local councils

7:20 pm on 20 July 2016

The government wants more women to stand for local councils to address a lack of diversity.

Associate Local Government Minister and Minister for Women Louise Upston said about 30 percent of those elected in the last local body vote three years ago were women, and she would like to see that increase.

Louise Upston

Louise Upston Photo: SUPPLIED

Ms Upston said local democracy could only work when everyone's voice was heard, and it was up to communities to encourage broader representation.

"One of the things is firstly identifying women who you think would be great at representing your community. I'd really encourage some shoulder-tapping because in some instances it's just not something they've thought of," she said.

Julie Hardaker

Julie Hardaker Photo: Supplied

Hamilton's two-term mayor Julie Hardaker is stepping down at the end of this election term to return to her law career.

She said local government was male-dominated, especially at mayoral level, but she did not think it was a gender issue putting women off. She believed the barriers were around more practical matters.

"Women are still traditionally the primary caregivers, they don't want the public or media exposure the same, it's money - the income you earn as a councillor in many places across New Zealand is quite low, so often they're the practical issues that put women off," Ms Hardaker said.

Ashburton community advocate Jen Branje said she had considered standing for election, but was busy enough and health matters prevented her taking on a bigger workload.

She believed male attitudes were entrenched, and they were putting women off.

Mrs Branje was a flag-bearer for Canterbury water issues, and said the "cronies club" abounded.

"My observations are that they have very little respect for women - we see that a lot in Parliament as well, y'know, the disrespect shown to women as they make a submission or a presentation. They're laughed at and jeered at and I just think it's absolutely disgusting."

Mrs Branje said women were great organisers, were adept at thinking about long-term benefits over short-term gains, and were well placed to disband the 'Big Boys Club' that existed around council tables.

Judene Edgar

Judene Edgar Photo: Supplied

Long-serving Tasman district councillor Judene Edgar, who was also stepping down, said it was different for women but not in ways people might expect.

She had a three-year-old when she was elected 12 years ago, and said a supportive husband allowed her to manage the long hours.

Women brought different perspectives to the table, they sometimes had to speak louder to get heard, but a well functioning council needed a diverse team, she said.

"I do think it needs to be the right people - the people who'll bring the dedication, good knowledge of the community and people who are prepared to put the work in. You need diversity around the table - that is the key."

Tasman mayoral candidate Max Clark said in the years he had watched the council, he didn't think women got a fair hearing. If elected he was prepared to appoint women with full voting rights, if not enough made it via the polls.

Hilary Calvert

Hilary Calvert Photo: Supplied

Dunedin city councillor Hilary Calvert was bowing out because of frustrations around the process. She said if you were not part of the "Greek Chorus" that now prevailed, it was hard to get anything done.

"The rules now are such that the mayor chooses the chairs of committees and it can create a natural grouping of people who are like-minded with the mayor, and those who aren't necessarily of like-mind have a lesser role to play," Ms Calvert said.

But Ms Hardaker said there were ways around the barriers, and women should not be put off raising their hand.

"If you're genuinely interested in having a say about your community and influencing the decisions that might be made about where you live, then you should give it a go."

Nominations close on 12 August, for the local body election in October.

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs