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Push to get more women elected to SA's local councils

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Journalist and advocate Tracey Spicer AM will launch a masterclass to help women campaign in the upcoming South Australian council elections, in an effort to address the gender imbalance in the sector.

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Less than a third of South Australian local councillors are women.

Female representation is even lower – 26 per cent – at state level, with 18 women in state parliament out of a total of 70.

Local Government Association SA president Sue Clearihan told InDaily female representation on councils had been steadily increasing over the past several elections but more needed to be done to encourage female nominees.

“The number of women running for council in South Australia has steadily increased at every election between 2000 and 2014, rising from 288 candidates in 2000 to 381 candidates four years ago,” she said.

“Two hundred and six women were elected at the 2014 council elections, which was an increase from 193 women in 2010.

“(But) it is clear that more needs to be done to encourage women to run for council.”

Clearihan sits on the Adelaide City Council which achieved equal male and female representation for the first time at the 2014 election.

She said there were a variety of ways in which councils could help encourage more women to nominate.

“Some of the things our sector can do to improve diversity are increasing knowledge of local government and council processes in the community, running specialised training sessions for potential candidates, providing mentoring and support services, setting diversity targets, and considering arrangements for council meetings such as remote meeting technologies and more flexible childcare provisions,” she said.

Tracey Spicer, a leading advocate for the #MeToo movement against workplace sexual harassment and assault in Australia, will join presentation and media consultant LJ Loch and Adelaide journalist Louise Pascale to deliver a masterclass next week for women looking to enter local government in SA.

Spicer told InDaily there remained significant barriers to women sitting on local councils.

“Historically, women have been seen as somehow unsuited to leadership,” she said.

“Fortunately this notion has evolved, but there are still many barriers to women in leadership.

“In local government in South Australia, it manifests in many ways, such as comments about how a woman dresses, the pitch of her voice, or an assumption that she’s somehow not as qualified for the job as a man.”

Spicer, who this year launched the not-for-profit workplace harassment victim support service NOW Australia, said many women have been trained to believe they don’t deserve to be heard, and find that they are talked over and have their ideas dismissed.

“Even further, some women don’t feel confident enough to take up space on a stage or in a meeting, making themselves seem smaller,” she said.

Spicer said the ‘election-ready masterclass’ would inform women about “all aspects of messaging, the power of influence including voice, body language and gestures, stakeholder and media engagement”.

“We need more women and more diversity in politics,” she said.

“To achieve that we need women to have confidence in their ability to be heard and to prepare for the reality of an election campaign – and what comes after that.

“Diversity of gender, culture and thought results in better outcomes for all Australians.”

Spicer said the class would also help women develop strategies to deal with gendered personal attacks and abuse on social media.

Nominations for the next local government elections open September 4.

The masterclass will be held next Saturday, August 18, at the University of South Australia’s Hawke Centre.

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