Ahead of an event to encourage women to become councillors, we ask three current councillors about their experiences. Four of the nine Kyogle councillors are female. Richmond Valley Council has two out of seven.
Kyogle councillor Maggie May
Maggie May became a councillor because she thought she could make a contribution with her experience and knowledge.
“I particularly wanted to influence the direction of our council on addressing climate change,” she said.
“As a woman I have to be aware that the culture of local government has been male-centric, and I find positive ways to challenge and change this.
“I think I am attuned to what the women in the community are talking about. For example, I successfully got the toddler park in Kyogle fenced because of listening to the discussion of women who took their little ones to the park.”
Maggie’s advice to women seeking to be a councillor is to have a thick skin.
“People who have never met you will openly criticise you. Make like Tay Tay and shake it off!”
Federal and state governments should reflect the community in terms of gender balance.
“Women make up slightly more than half the population. Our representatives in government should be the same.
“However, I’d also have no problem if women were in the majority, after a century of male domination. It’s inspiring to see the women leading countries like Iceland, Estonia, Finland and New Zealand.”
Richmond Valley councillor Jill Lyons
Jill Lyons saw being a councillor as a chance to make a difference.
“I was encouraged by the community to stand,” she said.
“I’m a firm believer in the best person doing the job.”
Being female did not impact her role, she said.
Yet Jill didn’t apply through three elections because she wanted to be there for her children.
When she finally put herself forward in the local government elections, she found the approach by Richmond Valley Council refreshing.
“We’re all independent, a group of councillors who want the best for their community.
“Our gender doesn’t come into it.”
Kyogle councillor Janet Wilson
Janet Wilson said women can bring a different perspective in decision making because women are the natural carriers of important cultural and family needs.
“I try not to allow gender to impact on my role because I have an expectation of respect for what I bring to the table. Kyogle Council has made significant steps forward in regard to respect and opportunity in recent times,” she said.
Her advice to women wanting to be a councillor is to read the Local Government Act and become involved in training and development about the instruments of council, teamwork and develop useful networks and good communication with the administration.
“Learning about the role of a councillor and the role of council is critical to being successful. Start now to read and join mailing lists of local government bodies. Speak to sitting councillors.”
Gender balance in councils would ideally reflect the gender balance in the community that people are elected to serve, Janet said.
“The system is not quite there yet in terms of being able to attract women who may be interested because of issues around meeting times, care of children or other family members.
“The issues are much the same for state and federal governments.”
Go to olg.nsw.gov.au then click on the For Council tag then on the Councillors menu item to get to a swag of info.
Be a Councillor! An information day for prospective female candidates.
Women in Local Government Forum – Saturday, March 6, Lismore City Hall, 9am-noon. This is open to people outside of Lismore as well. Registrations at yoursay.lismore.nsw.gov.au or call 1300 878 387.
This article appeared in the Richmond River Independent, 17 February 2021.