Celebrating and encouraging women in local government

Women are consistently underrepresented in local government roles. According to the Ministry for Women only a third of local council representatives were women. Having more women in decision-making is vital if we are to ensure their voices are heard and councils are representative of their populations. As Statistics New Zealand states, “representative governments engage diverse communities, draw on skills of the broadest groups of people, and provide checks on the use of political power” (2014).

To demonstrate the range of women involved in local government and to give an idea of what it is like to be in this role, we asked women local body leaders for their perspectives and advice on entering local government. As Minister for Women Louise Upston stated, “we all have a role to play in making opportunities for women more visible”.

Help us encourage more women to stand. Nominations close on 12 August. Find out more at the Local Government NZ website.

Bronwyn Kropp – Porirua City Councillor

Bronwyn KroppWhy did you seek election?

I sought election in 2010 because 40% of the population of Porirua was below the age of 25 but the youngest Councillor was nearly 30, married and with children. I couldn’t see the voices of young people reflected around the Council Chamber. At the same time, I didn’t think the Council was making good long term decisions particularly with regards to underground infrastructure so instead of complaining about it, I stood for election to do something about it.

What was it like?

The campaign itself was a rollercoaster. Although I ran my own campaign I was lucky to have a couple of people with more experience who could look over my material. I met a lot of resistance because of my age, being only 19. It was particularly demoralising door knocking and having doors slammed in my face.

Tips and tricks for those contemplating standing?

It’s really important to surround yourself with good, supportive people. You will go through a lot of self-doubt, especially because there’s no way of knowing how you’re doing until the results come in. The campaign is just like Council though in terms of dealing with difficult people. People will criticise you no matter what so just stick to your guns and keep smiling on through it all.

From a gender equality perspective, what do you think women bring to councils and then specifically what do young women bring to councils?

We have been incredibly lucky in Porirua to have a number of strong, women Councillors (around half of the Council).I think women bring a much more long term focus as well as more willingness to be flexible in decision-making and solutions focused rather than getting stuck in the history of things as our male counterparts sometimes do. Three of our women Councillors were under 40 at the last election, which is young in local government. I think we represent the people that will inherit the city; our voices now are helping to ensure a positive future, especially with respect to the long term viability of our assets and the health of our environment.

Merepeka Raukawa-Tait – Rotorua Lakes Councillor

Merepeka Raukawa-TaitAs a citizen of Rotorua I have always taken an active interest in Council affairs. This is my city, my district, my responsibility. A few years ago I thought I could make a positive contribution at the council table. I did have a national and local profile because of the positions I have held. Nevertheless, it took me three attempts to make it onto the Rotorua Lakes Council. Interestingly in the next election I topped the poll. So I guess getting elected in the first place is the biggest hurdle for most people. Obviously as a councillor who is Maori, I can add value to council by having a good understanding of Maori thinking on a whole range of issues. This is important in the Rotorua district as much of the local natural resources remain in Maori ownership and control including the lakes, geothermal resource and large forestry and farming blocks.

I enjoy council work and I encourage women to put their names forward later this year at election time. Don’t forget the District Health Boards as well. We are needed there too. I am also an elected member of the Lakes District Health Board. As a councillor you have to keep abreast and up to date with what’s happening in the community. Citizens expect you to have an opinion and be prepared to state it. No sitting on the fence. You must make the time to do your reading and obviously turn up to most, if not all, meetings. The face that is seen is the face that is remembered.

I know that women bring a different skill set to local and territorial authority leadership. Yes we have the required business skills but there’s more. We listen with a willingness to understand. Normally we don’t hog the limelight and have an inclusive way of working. I believe we think strongly of the long term impacts of the decisions we make. Our children and grandchildren are always in our thoughts. Will the decisions we make enhance their quality of live at some stage in the future? The answer must be yes. Their future is ours to create. As a councillor, we have a wonderful opportunity to serve.

Celia Wade-Brown – Mayor of Wellington

Mayor Celia Wade-BrownWhy did you seek election?

I first sought election as a Councillor to make a difference to Wellington’s marine and terrestrial environment, preserve and improve social housing, introduce some high-tech ideas and make better transport choices.

After nine years as a Councillor since 2001, I’d achieved a number of things – all needing the support of enough residents, businesses, staff and colleagues to make them happen.

What is it like being Mayor?

However not much seemed to be changing in energy management, transport, distributed emergency systems for water, public advertisement for appointments, affordable housing near transport hubs nor obvious appreciation of diversity. After nine years apprenticeship, it was time to step up to be Mayor or find a different career, so I stood only for the Mayoralty, not as a ward Councillor.

The last five and a half years has been full of very varied, long days. I attend almost all committee meetings and keep up with our planning, residents’ views, central government legislation and innovative technology. As Mayor of the capital, there is responsibility to liaise with the Diplomatic Corps, national institutions like the National Library, Te Papa and welcome many overseas delegations.

It’s every Mayor’s responsibility to work with central government and international bodies to get positive investment into the city and region. It’s also wonderful to support and attend movie premieres, ballets, operas, get a kiss on the cheek from Richie McCaw, and see superb cricket at the stadium and Basin. I’ve welcomed Prince Charles and Princes William and Harry to our capital, and many other foreign dignitaries. I’ve also improved my Te Reo Māori and learnt basic Mandarin.

Sometimes all the hard work and heartache pays off with either a personal boost or, more importantly for me, we get a boost for this wonderful capital like being in the top two “small” cities in the Asia-Pacific (small is under 2.5 million).

There are some personal attacks if you do anything to change the status quo – or equally if you’re not seen to do enough. Remember you can’t change what people say but you are in control of your reaction.

Tips and tricks for those women contemplating standing for council?

My top three tips are:

  • Do a speed-reading course,
  • Have a low-maintenance haircut,
  • Keep the close friends you had before becoming a politician!

In terms of getting elected; be authentic, positive and connect with as wide a section of the public as possible. Different ethnic communities are very welcoming if you take the time to meet them, celebrate with them, listen to them, help them and involve them.

From a gender equality perspective, what do you think women bring to councils?

At a policy level, I’ve never found our Council divides along gender lines – whether it’s transport, road safety at schools, lower speeds, innovative urban design or living wage debates. We have women on both sides. However, they more consistently include wider input on debates.

I’ve enjoyed the ability of many women politicians – from local and central government – and diplomats to have fun together and support each other despite quite divergent political views.

Steve Chadwick – Mayor of Rotorua

Steve ChadwickWhy did you seek election?

I thought I was done with public life after 12 years of central Government politics, but in 2013 I decided to run for local government in response to a group asking me to challenge for the Mayoralty in Rotorua. This group and others wanted a style of leadership that would reinvigorate our city and district and give Rotorua’s residents belief in themselves and their city again.

What is it like being a Mayor?

I am the first female Mayor of Rotorua and I love it because you can get things done! It is the art of the possible with a good team behind you. In our team of councillors support is mixed but we all share a love of our place and our people. We add our individual life’s wisdom to the issues before us. I am particularly proud of our transparency, inclusion and honesty. We are achieving such a lot in partnership with our community “tatau tatau”.

Tips and tricks for those women contemplating standing for council?

My tips for women standing for council are to set your own systems in place to look after yourself once you are elected. Eat well and try to keep fit. Keep a sense of humour and value your dear friends!

From a gender equality perspective, what do you think women bring to councils?

I so value a women’s perspective at the Council table because we care about equity and fairness. In central government and at a local level, gender has never been an issue for me because I have been supported by people who thought I was able to network, hear issues and then find a way to get them heard. I have always enjoyed working with other talented and strong women and this is especially true in local government.

In regard to the art of politics I was fortunate to have the greatest teacher – Helen Clark. There were so many lessons I learnt from her but maybe the greatest was that governance is not a popularity contest. It is about leadership and vision.

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One Response to “Celebrating and encouraging women in local government”

  1. Louise Croot 10 June 2016 at 2:33 pm # Reply

    I encourage women to stand for Regional Councils. The plans policies and decisions made in this complimentary part of Local Government needs women to be part of environment and economic balance in decision making for future generations as well as the here and now. Regions have a need for a strategic overview that include matters related to water quantity and quality, air, pests, flooding and drainage coastal planning waste ,roading and public transport as well as the matters affecting rural and urban interdependence. Our future needs women in decision making on these key matters as climate change and sea level rise will impact on us all.

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