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Suffragette100: Leading female councillors say more work needs to be done

PUBLISHED: 09:23 06 February 2018 | UPDATED: 10:04 06 February 2018

Deputy leader of North Devon Council Pat Barker and Torridge District Council leader Jane Whittaker.

Deputy leader of North Devon Council Pat Barker and Torridge District Council leader Jane Whittaker.

Archant

A century on from women gaining the right to vote, two of North Devon and Torridge’s leading female councillors say more still needs to be done to close the gender gap on councils.

It may be 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was introduced, but there’s still more work to do according to two of North Devon and Torridge’s leading female councillors.

While the right for women to stand for county and borough councils pre-dated the 1918 act – it was introduced in 1907 – there remains a gender gap on councils across the two districts.

Just one of the county, district and town councils has more women than men, with Torrington’s 15-member town council having nine female members.

At district level, 30 per cent of North Devon Council are women, slightly more than Torridge District Council’s 25 per cent.

North Devon Council’s deputy leader Pat Barker believes the gap is down to belief.

She said: “Sadly women haven’t had the confidence to stand in the past, mistakenly believing that they won’t be heard.

“This is changing now, I see more and more women taking an interest and succeeding.

“Personally I think on the whole women are better at getting things done - they are less confrontational and have greater empathy with people around them and are less egotistical.

“We have tried very hard to get more women in North Devon to stand; I believe that the more they see our achievements, the more chance they will think that they too could do the job, maybe even better.”

That message is echoed by Torridge District Council leader Jane Whittaker, who is one of the 17 per cent of female council leaders in England and the only woman to sit on Northam Town Council.

“The commitment is considerable, even at a local level, family demands and financial pressures can inhibit their aspirations is this respect,” said Cllr Whittaker.

“If more woman feel able to put themselves forward for selection then ultimately more will be elected.

“We can do no more than what we are doing now. Women have to want to undertake the role of a councillor and have the time and support of their families to do so.”

Councillor Whittaker said there was still some way to go, but stressed the importance of using your vote, 100 years after the suffrage breakthrough.

“A number of very brave and committed women fought for something for all women, not just for their benefit alone.

“Things have changed dramatically but there is still some way to go.

“If you don’t vote then you have no influence on any decision made, no matter how small.”

Councillor Barker – who was elected to council with a winning margin of three votes – said using your vote is an opportunity to change things.

She said: “So many women think that their vote won’t mean anything. It does though and if you aren’t happy with something then this is your opportunity to change things - every vote counts.

“Many very brave women campaigned to get the vote for us, some died for their efforts.

“I have always held the belief that it is our duty to vote and to remember that they gave us the opportunity to have our say.”

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