I will be honest and say I am writing this in anger. One of my fellow councillors is a mother of two children with additional needs. I won’t go into details, but yesterday someone saw fit to question whether it was appropriate for her to be a councillor in her circumstances.
I am so sick and tired of people thinking women must justify their choices.
When I decided to run for council people asked me what my husband thought. I am certain no one has ever asked him what I thought of his career choices.
Then there are the constant insinuations that places of power are not suitable for mothers, as if they lack something or bring strain on institutions by their very presence.
This attitude that women with children are somehow a burden to an organisation is pennicious and harmful.
In fact I will go as far to say its advantageous for councils to have women on them.
It is well documented that the cuts the Tory government have made to council budgets have disproportionately hit women and children. For example, earlier this year The Women’s Budget Group launched a report entitled Triple Whammy (authored by Heather Wakefield, the former head of local government at Unison) which looked at the impact of local government cuts on women.
It found the network of local government services which are vital to women’s lives as workers, mothers, carers and citizens have been torn apart by central government cuts to council funding since 2010.
Ms. Wakefield commented
‘Women’s refuges, public transport, street lighting, libraries, adult education, social care, youth services and community centres have all been affected, leaving women less safe, unable to access learning and leisure facilities and increasingly having to fill the gaps in care provision.’
And of course, when care services are rolled back its typically women that end of stepping in.
With only 32% of elected councillors being women, and only 14% of all councillors being under 45, is it not inevitable that services used primarily by those groups are the ones that will be lost ?
I’m not saying councillors cannot act for all groups and demographics they are not part of – of course they can. But, bringing up children today is vastly different to 20 years ago. With my oldest child now being 13, I’m aware that I became a mother at a very good time – when Sure Start services were at their peak, breast feeding support services had not yet been dismantled and Health Visitors were accessible to all mums. Just over a decade later and it’s a very different situation. My experience is not fit to base current judgements on. It is simply out of date. Of course I talk to lots of people in my ward who are experiencing these services (or lack of them) but having diversity in the room makes a difference, and its hardly like mothers of school age children are a rarity so why are they a rarity in councils?
We need people on councils who are experiencing services – and cuts – first hand, who understand their impact.
Furthermore it’s no coincidence carers are largely missing from policies – because their presence is missing from the decision making processes.
I’m sick of people who are carers – for children, older people, ill people, or whoever – being made to feel they don’t belong. It’s indicative of the attitude this country takes to carers and it’s indefensible. I want to hear the voices of those living with these roles. Until we do they will remain ignored.
So why do people take the attitude mothers dont belong in places of power? I wish I had an explanation. But let me say this, those who cannot appreciate the hard work and the importance of the role taken by mums who are councillors are seriously lacking in empathy and basic common sense and must be challenged whenever they spout these nonsensical opinions. Not just for the sake of those they criticise, but for the sake of all people that lose out when other mums are deterred from standing and we have councils which are not representative of the people they serve and there is no one advocating for those people who are not represented.