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Government Announces BAME Women Councillors Taskforce Pilot Event

Government Announces BAME Women Councillors Taskforce Pilot Event

CABINET OFFICE News Release issued by The Government News Network on 23 July 2008

Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) women from across London will take part in the first in a series of Government events today, which aim to encourage them to become councillors in local government - ultimately making councils more representative of the communities they serve and enable more informed decision making.

Harriet Harman, Minister for Women and Equality, recently launched the Taskforce - a working group of 14 current and former councillors from across Britain, each from different ethnic backgrounds and political parties.

The Taskforce is chaired by Baroness Uddin - the first Muslim woman in the House of Lords and a prominent figure in the Black and Asian community. It aims to take practical steps to help women from ethnic minority groups enter public life. The Taskforce members are fully committed to supporting and advising women interested in becoming a local councillor.

The pilot event, being held in the Borough of Tower Hamlets, East London, is the first in a series of regional events across the country, which aim to raise awareness of the role and benefits of being a local councillor, encourage more Black, Asian and minority ethnic women to consider stepping forward, and providing advice on how to find out more about becoming a local councillor.

Launching the event, Barbara Follett, Deputy Minister for Women and Equality said, "We need our local councils to better reflect society. This is not only because BAME women are vastly underrepresented as local councillors - there are only around 168 across England, when there should be about 1000 - but also because we'll have more informed local decision making if all members of the community are involved.

"Today's event is just one of a number of ways in which the Taskforce will encourage and support minority ethnic women to become a councillor - but it's not just about getting them involved, it's also about making sure they have an ongoing support network and mentoring which this taskforce will provide."

Theresa May MP Shadow Leader of the House of Commons and Shadow Minister for Women, commented, "I am delighted to support this excellent event. It is vital that we encourage people from all backgrounds to get involved in politics at every level and make government, whether local or national, representative of the communities it serves. I am sure this will be a very successful event and look forward to more in the future."

Baroness Uddin, said, "Whilst there are over 2.3 million ethnic minority women in this country, the number in local government roles is shockingly low, with around 168 BAME women councillors out of 20,000 in England. One of the Taskforce's actions to address this under-representation is to develop outreach programmes such as events in the community to raise awareness and understanding of the role of a councillor, explain the skills involved and encourage women to step forward to become councillors.

Cllr Meral Ece from the Liberal Democrat Party, said, "This event is the first in a national series of events to be rolled out shortly. It highlights the importance of engaging with a wide and diverse group of women from local communities. The Taskforce plays an important role in bringing forward more BAME women to play roles in public service life. I am delighted to be part of such a valuable programme."

Commenting on behalf of the Green Party, Cllr Maya de Souza, said, "The Green Party strongly believes in the importance of our Councils and parliament reflecting our society much more closely. This means having more women and more ethnic minorities in our Town Halls and in Westminster. It will help ensure that the needs and priorities of all sections of society are understood and taken into account. It will also ensure that important sections of our society are not left feeling marginalised and alienated - this is a major problem in our society today. Having more BAME women councillors in our Town Halls is not only good for local democracy but this is an important stepping stone for greater engagement in politics on a national level. We strongly support this initiative and believe it is an important and positive step forward in terms of strengthening our democracy."

This event is the first of many around the country. A number of other similar free events will take place nationwide. Dates will be announced shortly on http://www.equalities.gov.uk

For further information on how to become a councillor women should contact womencouncillorstaskforce@geo.gsi.gov.uk

The taskforce is taking practical action to address under-representation, such as:
* Provide mentoring to women interested in becoming a councillor
* Hold outreach events in communities to make the role of councillors more widely known and better understood
* Work with organisations such as the Local Government Association, Operation Black Vote and the Fawcett Society to develop awareness training and to encourage more women to step forward for roles in public life.
* Establish networking groups
* Support building stronger data on BAME women councillors
* Work with local councils, political parties and organisations like IdeA to improve the recruitment, training and selection and support given to candidates

Ms Harman announced in July last year that increasing representation in public life of Black, Asian and minority ethnic women was one of the Minister for Women's priorities. The other two are: supporting families, particularly as they bring up children and care for older and disabled relatives; and tackling violence against women and improving the way we deal with women who commit crimes.


Notes for editors:

1. Today's event is being held at Rich Mix Cultural Foundation, 35-47 Bethnal Green Road, London E1 6LA

2. The Taskforce's Terms of Reference and Written Ministerial Statement are available on request on http://www.equalities.gov.uk

3. Members of the Councillor's Taskforce include:

Cllr Lurline Champagine (London: Harrow), Cons, Black

Cllr Maya de Souza (London: Camden), Green, Asian

Cllr Meral Ece (London: Islington), Lib Dem, Turkish

Cllr Anwara Ali (London: Tower Hamlets), Lab, Asian

Cllr Humaira Javed (South East: Windsor and Maidenhead), Lib Dem, Asian

Carol Francis, (Former Cllr South West: Gloucester), Lab, Black

Cllr Mimi Harker (East of England: Chiltern District), Cons, Asian

Cllr Manjula Sood (East Midlands: Leicester City), Lab, Asian

Cllr Salma Yaqoob (West Midlands: Sparkbrook, Birmingham City) , Respect, Asian

Cllr Svetlana Rodgers (Yorkshire & Humberside), Lib Dem, Eastern European

Cllr Mia Jones (North West: Chester City), Lib Dem, Chinese

Thea Khamis (Former Cllr North East: Derwentside), Lab, Palestinian Arab

Yvonne Jardine (Former Cllr Wales: Swansea), Lab, Black

Neelam Bakshi (Former Cllr Scotland), Lab, Asian

4. The number of BAME women councillors increased from 0.6% in 1997 to 0.9% in 2006, meaning it could take more than 130 years for councils to reflect society.

5. A fact-sheet on BAME women councillors, women in public life, ethnic minority women in the UK and a chronology of key dates in politics are also available on request or on http://www.equalities.gov.uk

6. This year marks two important dates for women's suffrage. The 90th anniversary of women over 30 getting the right to vote and the 80th anniversary of women getting the vote aged 21 on a par with men.

7. The Councillors Commission published its recommendations in their report 'Representing the future' on 10 December 2007. It was set up by the Department for Communities and Local Government as an independent review to look at the incentives and barriers that encourage or deter people from standing for election as councillors, and to find practical ways to substantially increase the number of BAME women councillors. The Government published its response on 9 July. It can be viewed at http://www.communities.gov.uk/publications/communities/councillorscommissionresponse

8. Research published by the Government Equalities Office and Fawcett Society last October identified the top barriers which stop Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic women becoming councillors as:

*Being a councillor is still seen as a white male middle class hobby Gate-keeping political parties: ethnic minority women get poor support and even discrimination from local political parties

*Lack of recognition: the skills and experience of black and Asian women are often ignored

*The hard work of bringing up a family and making a living: Women have most of the work to do at home, caring for children and elderly relatives, going to work and have the least of the money available
The final report 'Routes to Power' can be viewed at http://www.equalities.gov.uk/research/index.htm

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