The vast majority (95%) of local authorities across the UK are dominated by men, while only just over a third of local councillors are women, according to figures that highlight the gender disparities of local government.
The analysis, conducted by the Fawcett Society and Democracy Club in the run-up to local elections in May, reveal only 18 of 382 councils have the minimum gender representation parity.
The data also shows that at a regional level, no council has gender parity – with London the highest, at 45% female, and Northern Ireland the lowest, at 26%. It also found that the proportion of women in councils in 2022 was only 2 percentage points higher than in a snapshot taken in 2018.
The highest proportion of local councillors who are women, broken down by party, is Labour (47%) followed by Green (43%) and Scottish National party (41%), while the lowest proportion is found in the Conservative party (29%), the SDLP (29%), DUP (21%) and Ulster Unionist party (20%).
The low levels of women in local government can be attributed partially to sexism and harassment having been shown to be widespread throughout local councils, according to previous Fawcett research. A lack of support for those with caring responsibilities has also been revealed by earlier research, with only a quarter of local councils offering formal parental leave policies.
A lack of women in local politics is a recurring issue: In 2021, concern was raised after data revealed that only one-third of candidates in the English council elections were women.
Jemima Olchawski, the chief executive of the Fawcett Society, said: “Women are significantly impacted by decisions made at the local level and are more likely to rely on the services our councils run from social care to social housing. Yet progress on women’s representation in local government is moving at a snail’s pace.
“That such a vast majority of local councils are male-dominated diminishes public life. Government, local authorities and political parties need to take action and record diversity data, set targets for women’s representation alongside other protected characteristics, and make being a local councillor more accessible to those with caring responsibilities.”
Frances Scott, the director of 50:50 Parliament, said the report demonstrated that democratic systems in the UK were “inaccessible or unattractive to most people”.
She added: “This matters because representation shapes policy and we want our elected bodies to draw upon the widest possible pool of talent and experience, including that of the 32 million women who live and work in the UK.
“50:50 Parliament is a charity taking action to build a better democracy. We work together with the Fawcett Society and all the political parties to help women progress in politics, to ensure women have rightful representation.”
Cllr Izzi Seccombe, the vice-chair of the Local Government Association, said it was important that local governments reflected the communities they serve and their experiences.
Seccombe added: “We work with councils towards being representative of the communities they serve, including campaigning for the continuation of virtual council meetings, challenging abuse of councillors through our Debate Not Hate campaign, encouraging the provision of parental and carers leave and running our Be a Councillor campaign.
“We know many prospective councillors are put off standing because of their already busy lives. We want to see more women, parents and carers stand for election and encourage them to step up to leadership roles in local government, while still being able to live their lives outside of the council chamber.”