15 June 2010
Communities Minister Andrew Stunell met with over 60 women from black and minority ethnic backgrounds yesterday, after they graduated from a ground-breaking mentoring scheme in the House of Commons on Monday 14 June 2010.
The BAME**(Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) Women Councillor Mentoring Scheme aims to encourage more people from diverse backgrounds to engage with their council. Sixty women took part in the scheme and eight were so inspired that they stood for election in the 6 May poll, four of them winning seats.
He spoke alongside Lynne Featherstone, Equalities Minister, at an event on Monday 14 June organised by the Government Equalities Office (GEO) and Operation Black Vote (OBV).
Andrew Stunell said: "Good representation is the key to making public institutions responsive to the needs of the people they serve. The Big Society and Localism are both about inclusiveness and fairness, giving huge potential for women and ethnic minorities to influence decisions. The more we give power back to local bodies, the more important this gets.
"Congratulations to all of the women who took part in the scheme. I'm looking forward to working with partners and Ministerial colleagues across government to push the race equality agenda forward and improve opportunities for people of all backgrounds."
The Ministers met women who took part in the scheme, launched last year by OBV and the GEO. It paired BAME women with local councillors over a six month period, from October 2009 to March 2010.
The scheme gave participants first hand knowledge of the roles and responsibilities of councillors, serving officers and an insight into systems and procedures. The aim was that upon completion, the leadership programme would equip and motivate participants to engage in party politics.
As the lead department for race equality, Communities and Local Government has worked closely with the GEO to deliver this scheme.
Participants were also encouraged to become Community Ambassadors under the Society of Local Authority Chief Executives (SOLACE) scheme funded by GEO, explaining and promoting the benefits of civic engagement and encouraging others to also become involved in community affairs.
Lynne Featherstone, Minister for Equalities said: "BAME women make up more than 5 per cent of the population but less than 1 per cent of councillors. Our democracy is supposed to be representative, rooted in the community. It won't be representative until more women like these are at the heart of decision making at a local and national level. We need all sections of society represented in politics so we can get decisions that can have a real effect on everyone.
"These new Councillors do not just want change; they have put themselves forward to make change happen. They are role models for equality - bringing a voice to decision making that has been missing for too long."
Francine Fernandes, OBV Head of Shadowing Schemes said: "The women have blazed a trail of political success. Within a very short period of time, they have moved from political bystanders to political leaders. Their collective journeys and achievements starkly demonstrate the wealth of talent within BAME communities and defy stereotypes about women and particularly BAME women. OBV are especially pleased that so many of the participants put themselves forward as candidates and are now local councillors. We celebrate their entrance into public life and commend the positive contributions which they are making to their local communities."
The cross-party **BAME Women Councillors' Taskforce was set up to find practical ways to increase the numbers of Black, Asian and minority ethic (BAME) women councillors. The 60 participants of the mentoring shadowing scheme were selected nationally and party pairings were based on the preference of candidates. The four mentees who were recently elected as local councillors were as follows:
Cllr Judith Best , Liberal Democrat, Lambeth
Cllr Pathumal Ali, Liberal Democrat, Sutton
Cllr Margaret McLennan, Labour, Brent
Cllr Dr Sheila D'Souza, Conservative, Westminister