Why are there no women running for the city's top job?

Glenda Alexander.
Glenda Alexander.
I recieved my Local Elections 2010 voting papers earlier last week, ironically on the day in history when the first female member of Parliament, Elizabeth McCombs, was sworn in.

And paradoxically, the papers arrived just two days after we celebrated the 117th anniversary of New Zealand women winning the right to vote, so why, I wonder, is there not one single woman candidate standing for our city's top job?

Last local body elections there were four women who bravely raised their heads above the parapet, who endeavoured to compete on equal terms in what really remains a male-oriented culture and process.

Despite the challenges of the process, as one of the 10 candidates in the last mayoralty race, and a first-timer, I successfully polled third.

In an Olympic contest I would have received a bronze medal for the effort.

But instead of encouraging others to compete, we are put off by being told that we have only had one woman mayor and it will be a long time until that happens again.

Helen Clark, back in the country recently, was quoted as saying perhaps the golden hour for women leaders had passed, at least for now.

She went on to say women got their chance because there were very strong support movements of women backing those aspiring leaders.

Is the reason that we have no women mayoralty candidates because the support is not there or have women just given up having to do twice as well to be thought half as good?

Where is the equity in that picture when women represent 51.2% of the population? Kate Sheppard, one of our original suffragettes, had a vision of society where men and women took equal responsibility.

This was supposed to mean at all levels of society.

How are women able to take their place in leadership roles if the skills women bring are just not rated or recognised? It was suggested to me that, until maternity leave is viewed in the same way as military service, we won't get far.

A Swedish political article on women's involvement in politics argued that the presence of female legislators, cabinet ministers, prime ministers and presidents helps compensate for past and present injustice, provides a voice for overlooked interests and contributes to the overall legitimacy of democratic institutions.

Where there are female members in the legislature to provide positive role models, the result is greater participation in politics at all levels by women of all ages.

So do our democratic institutions militate against women's involvement; are we still only able to observe from the ladies' gallery in this city? Where is the support and recognition of the contribution that our women make? How do we encourage our women to step up and have a go? Our participation would ensure and encourage a problem-solving dialogue instead of black and white invective and debate.

It's clearly too late this time, but next time around I expect to at least have the option of voting for a competent woman to lead a city that is founded on strong traditions of pioneering spirit and pluralism.

• Glenda Alexander is the Otago convener of the CTU Unions.


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