Cr Karen Eckermann holds the role of Vice President, Rural, for the Australian Local Government Women’s Association (ALGWA) of South Australia, and the organisation is determined to see more women elected to SA councils later this year – particularly in regional and country areas.
Cr Eckermann insists that as women make up more than 50% of the population, this should be reflected in the elected membership.
“We are not anti-men - but we would like to see more equality in the Council Chamber as women have a unique perspective to share.”
At present, Cr Airlie Keen and Cr Karen Eckermann are two female councillors in a group of nine at the Rural City of Murray Bridge and this type of percentage (22%) is pretty common around country South Australia. Coorong Council has 3 of 8, Mid Murray has 2 of 8; Karoonda 2 of 6; and Alexandrina 3 of 12. The state overall averages 31% of elected members as women; that means 69% of the decisions in South Australian councils are made by men.
“So, how can that skewed makeup be a true representation of the community? I don’t advocate quotas, but I do believe that equality of representation should be pursued by encouraging women to stand for election and to persist.” Cr Eckermann says.
There are many reasons why women aren’t elected to local government, including that they don’t nominate and run in the first place. Research shows that women are less likely than men to be encouraged by parents, children, work colleagues and friends to run, and they are more likely to underestimate their abilities and assume they need to be much more qualified than men to run for local office. Many women fear that they might not win and will be embarrassed at the attempt, and others worry they wouldn’t be able to give the role enough time, or don’t have the political networks to support them in the position.
“With an election looming, I know that encouraging other women to run might mean more competition for me! That potential does sometimes stop women encouraging other women, for sure - but I think it’s worth the chance of being usurped to ensure there is serious female representation in our Chamber.”
There are some initiatives in place to encourage women to local government, including reimbursements for childcare to attend meetings. ALGWA also offers councillors mentoring support and regular networking and educational opportunities. The group ran a number of ‘Getting Elected’ information and advice sessions a few months ago which were well attended with plenty of interest shown.
However, Cr Eckermann remains concerned that women too often hesitate to step up for nomination, and that men should encourage the women in their lives to do so.
“Getting women elected should be part of everybody’s agenda – not just a women’s agenda.”
Nominatons open on 4th September 2018.