There are 19,689 councillors across England and only 168 of them are ethnic minority women, which is less than one per cent, despite the fact that ethnic minority women make up 4.6 per cent of the UK population. Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equalities, has called for more ethnic minority women to take up roles in public life and wants the number to rise to around 1,000 to make councils fully representative and strengthen local democracy.
Being a councillor is still seen as a white, middle class hobby for men according to new research by the Government Office of Equality and the Fawcett Society. Local political parties’ commitment to diversity remains weak and ethnic minority women potential candidates face poor support and even discrimination from parties. The research also showed that local parties are not bridging the distance to ethnic minority women. Most of the ethnic minority women councillors interviewed had become a councillor because somebody asked them. But not enough ethnic minority women are being asked.
Despite the barriers they face, the research reveals reasons why ethnic minority women find being a councillor rewarding. They include giving the opportunity to genuinely make a difference to the community, providing a personally rewarding experience and a sense of fulfillment and being able to influence the council to ensure that it reflects the diverse community.
Senior Policy Officer at the Fawcett Society Zohra Moosa said:”Ethnic minority women councillors appear to be swimming against the tide. They are motivated and keen to make a difference but councils have not yet modernised to accommodate them. What we need is for political parties and local councils to wake up to the needs of 21st century local government by making use of all the talent that is available. In particular, they should focus on improving recruitment and training, and reviewing working hours and remuneration to ensure those aren’t a barrier to involvement.”