While women make up 51 per cent of the community, they hold just 29 per cent of positions on South Australian councils.
Cr Clearihan says it’s important that men and women have an equal voice and opportunity to influence change in the community, and she is urging more women to consider nominating for election in the 2018 council elections.
While the proportion of women on councils has historically been low, many have made significant and memorable contributions.
The first woman to serve as a councillor in Australia was Susan Grace Benny, who became a member of South Australia’s Brighton Council (now City of Holdfast Bay) in late 1919.
The Adelaide Observer said at the time: “She entered the council from a sense of public duty, believing that there is work to be done in municipal life which will not even be commenced unless a woman undertakes it.”
Other high-profile South Australian female councillors have included Joy Baluch AM, who served as Mayor of Port Augusta for 29 years (which is believed to be an Australian record), and Wendy Chapman, who became the first female Lord Mayor of Adelaide in 1983.
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 in 2014.
“Grassroots politics has been the starting point for many influential leaders,” says Cr Clearihan.
“While it shouldn’t be seen as just a stepping stone, local politics provides a challenging and rewarding environment in which councillors learn about a wide range of topics and acquire important skills.
Councils manage approximately $22 billion of public assets and deal with a diverse range of matters from zoning, public health and waste collection to parks, sports facilities and libraries.
Councillors don’t need to know everything from the start according to Cr Clearihan, with a mandatory training program for new councillors and ongoing professional development opportunities to help develop the required skills.
A strong interest in the community and a commitment to learning are the most important attributes, she said.
Cr Clearihan says it’s not only important to see more women on councils, but also increased diversity from different cultural backgrounds.
“South Australia’s community is very diverse. Almost a third of our population was born overseas, with 17 percent of households speaking a language other than English at home. It’s important that public decision-making gives consideration to this diversity, and the best way to do that is to have representation from different societal groups on council.
“I’d also love to see nominations from both Aboriginal women and men, particularly in areas where indigenous people make up a significant part of the community.
“Nominating for council –as well as voting – is open to a wider range of people than state or federal parliament.”
The Local Government Association and various councils are running information sessions for potential candidates. To find out more go to this website.
Nominations for the next council elections are open now and close at 12 noon on Tuesday, September 18, 2018.
Voting in the 2018 council elections will be via postal ballot, with ballot papers distributed in the week commencing October 22 and voting closing at 5pm on Friday, November 9.