Cllr Eleanor Rylance

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Women in politics, and why politics needs us

by cllreleanorrylance on 20 June, 2018

In this sad anniversary time of the appalling murder of Jo Cox MP, there is much discussion in the media of why there are far fewer women in politics than men. Jo Cox’s murder was one of the reasons I decided to enter active politics. Because if entire sections of people are put off because of the threat of violence, then our politics will never be representative. I wanted the voice of women, especially mothers, heard.

There’s nothing special about me. I look around me at district council and I see many people who broadly have the same corporate/ business background. I have not had a corporate background. Like many women of my age, I’ve spent the last twenty-five years juggling my home and working life. And that is *precisely* why it’s important for people like me to do this. Unless we join in the fray, our voices will not be heard will not be heard and the culture of political organisations will continue to be articulated around older men. The current lack of diversity is a problem, not a model to follow.

I was hugely cheered at the March for Europe in March in Exeter, to see a young female city councillor on stage, a baby under her arm and a child at her side, on stage addressing the crowd. What a wonderful, practical role model for other mothers and young women! Because although we are busy, largely rushed off our feet, we also have enormous personal reserves of motivation, energy, organisation and a perspective that *needs* to find its voice.

Some of the barriers appear to be practical- it is very difficult to add yet another role into the usual juggling mix that most if not all women do already in their daily lives. The thought of going through a day’s work, doing all the things one usually does at home, and then going to meetings in the evenings can be enough to put many parents off. My district council, East Devon, is unusually sensitive to the needs of working parent councillors, even though there are not many of us. Other district councils nearby appear to run their activities more around the needs of retired male councils than ours does, with important meetings arranged at school drop-pff of pick up times. All I can say is that maybe they should examine their commitment to diversity if they still think this is a good idea.

If the last three years have taught us anything, it’s that a lack of cultural diversity in an organisation is largely a bad thing, If a monoculture sets the tone of any organisation it can in my view lead to a kind of group think, without proper challenge of the group’s assumptions. As we all know, ASSUME makes an ASS of U and ME. And look where assumptions have got us.

So what politics needs, really, really *needs*, even though some of the current incumbents may resist the idea, is for a much wider range of people to put themselves forward. It’s still difficult, especially for women, who can easily fall foul of some very unpleasant people simply by being women and trying to change things, but it’s extremely worth doing. Only by joining the fray can we help to make it adapt to a diversity of people. Join in!

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