Women under-represented on boards

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by Greta Yeoman

Just under 30% of candidates standing for Timaru District Council and its associated community boards are women.

The balance is only slightly higher in neighbouring Waimate, with women accounting for 31% of the 16 candidates in its district council roles.

While this jumps to 48% of candidates in the Mackenzie district, only two of the 12 women candidates are standing for the council itself.

However, the low number of women standing for local government in South Canterbury is not out of the ordinary, University of Otago politics professor Janine Hayward says.

It is a similar situation across New Zealand, for both urban and provincial councils, she said.

Prof Hayward said while fewer women stand for local government, the “interesting thing” was that they were more likely to get elected than their male counterparts.

She was unsure if there was any particular reason for this, except for the fact the women clearly demonstrated themselves to be good candidates.

Of the five women standing for the Waimate District Council, all except one of them is a current councillor.

Incumbent Lower Waihao Ward councillor Sheila Paul stood uncontested for her seat, while Fabia Fox is the sole woman presently not a councillor running for a seat in the Waimate Ward.

Of the 47 candidates standing for the Timaru local government roles, just 14 are women and only three of the women are standing for council.

Former Timaru mayor Janie Annear is the only woman standing for the mayoralty across the Timaru, Waimate and Mackenzie districts.

However, despite the small number of women standing for council roles across South Canterbury, the numbers increase substantially when it comes to community boards.

“[It is] critical
that councils
make politics
visible.”
– Prof Janine Hayward

Prof Hayward said there were a range of reasons for this, particularly to do with women putting themselves for promotions and other roles higher than their current jobs, the existing lack of representation on councils, the fact there were longstanding incumbent councillors who frequently got voted back on and that the lifestyle of local government representatives was not seen as being “very family-friendly”.

Five of seven people running for the Temuka Community Board are women, as are four of the nine Geraldine Community Board candidates, and two of six people running for the Pleasant Point Community Board.

Of the five people running for the Tekapo Community Board, four are women.

There are also five candidates standing for the Twizel board, four of whom are women.

Three of the five people in the running for a seat on the Fairlie Community Board are women.

Prof Hayward said one of the other issues of representation was the electoral system.

The majority of councils around New Zealand, including all three of the South Canterbury district councils, use First Past the Post, which asks voters to tick the name of the candidate they prefer.

The alternative is the Single Transferable Vote (STV) system, where candidates are ranked and get a seat on council if the number of votes they receive reaches a set quota of votes.

“A greater diversity
of people get
elected [using STV].”

Prof Hayward said the STV system provided a more balanced representation on councils, because a person’s second preference was also recognised if their top candidate had met the quota.

“[FPP] is known to be disproportional.”

“A greater diversity of people get elected.”

The only vote that uses STV in South Canterbury is the South Canterbury District Health Board.

Representation was also an issue regarding voter disengagement, Prof Hayward said.

Many people were disconnected from their councils, particularly if they were “young and not Pakeha”, she said. Even if younger candidates ran for councils, they had to engage the older demographic because they were the largest voting group.

This then caused people to not be interested in voting because they could not see themselves and issues facing them represented at the council table, she said.

However, ways to engage voters included policies and issues that voters felt were important to their community – Prof Hayward highlighted the 2013 Dunedin election issue of the Forsyth Barr Stadium spurring people to vote, as well as a close election between candidates.

Despite the fact local government played a big role in resident’s lives, people were not often that connected to their councillors, something that needed to improve, Prof Hayward said.

“[It is] critical that councils make politics visible.”