“As feminists and believers of equality in 2017, we didn’t expect to be asking a man to ‘give up his seat for a woman’ – but that’s what we are asking of you now."
This is the opening line of a letter written by Women's Leadership Group, a group of talented and diverse women in Liverpool public and business life who are working to tackle the lack of diversity in decision making structures in the Liverpool City Region. This letter was addressed to Metro Mayor Steve Rotheram and his cabinet that represent the Liverpool City Region.
The Liverpool City Region (LCR) cabinet, which makes decisions that affect the daily lives of the truly diverse Liverpool city region community, has a diversity problem. This is not uncommon in local government, where only 33% of councillors are women and make up only 17% percent of council leaders, but the Liverpool City Region cabinet fails to even come close to emulating those shockingly low figures.
The new mayoral combined authority boards were devised to bring power closer to the people it represents, and to promote a more diverse range of decision makers that more accurately reflected the interests and needs of communities outside London. This image of a true opportunity for positive change is a rosy one and one I can wholeheartedly get behind, but to believe it is to wear very rose tinted glasses.
Only 4% of constituent members on the new mayoral combined authority boards, members with full voting rights, are women. All six bodies are led by men. To make matters worse the West Midlands, the Liverpool City Region, Peterborough, and the West of England authorities are all without any female constituent members.
We have multiple democratic bodies who are tasked with representing the interests of 100% of their community, comprised entirely of members of a group that make up just 49% of their community.
The solution to this problem? The topic of the Women's Leadership Group’s letter. The Women's Leadership Group have proposed an answer both simple in its execution and revolutionary in its effect. #GiveUpYourSeat asks the male constituent members of the Liverpool City Region authority board to give their seat, and the voting privilege that goes with it, to a woman.
The current system allows members of a local government cabinet to nominate a deputy or substitute appointment. To achieve a 50:50 Liverpool City Region cabinet, three or four of the seven members of the combined authority would need to nominate a woman as their substitute appointment. As it stands only one member has nominated a woman, with five nominations having been made.
Following the rejection of all six proposals made by the Women and Equalities Committee to improve gender representation in British politics because of the ‘additional regulatory burden’ they would put on British political parties, we need to ask ourselves what we’re willing to do to close the gap.
We cannot sit around celebrating small successes in the battle for equal women's representation while we still have massively disparate rates of representation in local and national government. We are making progress. But the pace of that progress is far slower than its increasing necessity.
Campaigns like #GiveUpYourSeat, while asking for radical change, understand the necessity of that change, and the real world impact of it. Gradual changes in levels of representation have produced an ever slowing trickle-down state of affairs. For while we see a slowly increasing number of women elected to government, we lose sight of them as we move up the chain of power and the number of influential women declines.
Appointing more women into senior positions requires us to appoint more women in every rung of the ladder below those positions. Doing so will help give others the hand up they need to beat the current tragic odds of them ever reaching positions of seniority. Radical changes like those proposed by #GiveUpYourSeat offer opportunities to speed up the process.