Female voices are still underrepresented in Welsh politics – we all have a duty to change that
Jane Dodds, leader of the Welsh Liberal Democrats
Today is International Women’s Day, where across the globe we commemorate the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women.
In Wales we have many women to be proud of from teacher Betty Campbell, to designer Laura Ashley, actor Ruth Jones, Dr Frances Hoggan and political icon Megan Lloyd George; Welsh women have led and continue to lead in various fields and their achievements are immense and are often made in the face of adversity.
And while women’s rights have made significant progress over the last few decades, even in the present day, Welsh women continue to face challenges.
Presently, I am currently the only female party leader in Wales. Throughout the history of devolution, there has only ever been two other female Welsh political party leaders – my predecessor and Welsh Lib Dem Kirsty Williams and the former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood.
The two largest political parties in Wales, Labour and the Conservatives have still not had female leaders. And shockingly when so many other nations have made great strides 22 years after the introduction of devolution, we in Wales have still not had a female First Minister.
Adding to this, we have gone backwards in female representation in the Senedd. As of the 2021 elections, 43 per cent of Members elected to the Sixth Senedd are women compared to 2003 when 50 per cent of members were women.
It’s even direr within local government. After the 2017 local elections, just 28 per cent of councillors in Wales are women. Local government is still overwhelmingly seen as a job for white men over the age of 65 – and this can’t continue.
So this May I’m asking you to stand for what you believe in and make sure there are more female representatives in our Council Chambers – people from different backgrounds, different classes and different ethnicities.
If local government is unrepresentative of the population they serve, they cannot possibly hope to deliver for that community effectively.
All political parties in Wales have a duty to increase the number of women taking part in politics, both at the national and community level.
It may seem obvious, but my own political career wouldn’t have started had someone not asked me to stand for council elections. At the time, I had the same view of local Government that many women do, a club for white men over a certain age. I hadn’t thought of entering politics before because I hadn’t believed my voice would be listened to.
Of the structural issues we need to address, introducing more flexible schedules for council meetings should be the top priority.
Council meetings are often too long and involve unworkable and unsociable hours for those with family, caring and work commitments. In rural councils, large travel times to council meetings also have to be factored in.
Streamlining council meetings as well as making them available to attend online would not just benefit women, but also other underrepresented groups including the young, those from working-class backgrounds and those with disabilities.
Society works better when those making decisions are representative of the communities they serve and this International Women’s Day we must remind ourselves of what needs to be done to reach that.
Support our Nation today
For the price of a cup of coffee a month you can help us create an independent, not-for-profit, national news service for the people of Wales, by the people of Wales.