Call to consign sexism on East Devon District Council into ‘dustbin of history’ wins big backing from representatives

A call to end ‘sexist banter’ and ditch a freeze on allowances for representatives on maternity leave has been overwhelmingly backed by East Devon councillors. 

Members also backed swapping the term ‘chairman’ for ‘chair’ following a motion tabled by Whimple and Rockbeare representative Kathy McLauchlan.

Councillor McLauchlan, an Independent, wants to ‘end the sexist treatment of woman which was treated as banter’.

She said: “Sexism is commonplace and 38 per cent of councillors have received sexist comments in their own party.

“Sexism is viewed and tolerated as a part of political life, but this has to change and local government should be a safe and secure place for all.

“This is a chance to the right thing for current and prospective members of the council.”

Cllr McLauchlan added that government policy is to write in gender-neutral language and her motion also expressed disappointment that women make up just 30 per cent of members on East Devon District Council (EDDC).

The national average of 35 per cent.

She added: “Woman make up 51 per cent of the population so we have to make working as a councillor easier for them, and the lack of maternity support is a barrier and holds them back as a councillor.”

Exmouth Halsdon representative Cllr Paul Millar seconded the motion.

He added: “Why is it fair that a woman looking after a newborn should be removed from their position?

“As that is what the policy states, and it deserves to be thrown into the dustbin of history never to rear its ugly head again.

“The motion seeks to empower the role of women and younger women in local government, to encourage them to take up senior positions without the fear that starting a family will see them removed from the position, as wanting to start a family should never be a disadvantage.

“This, plus the clause in the code conduct about sexism, will be a safeguard against the minority with dinosaur-like tendencies.”

Cllr Eleanor Rylance said of using the term ‘chair’ instead of ‘chairman’: “It may seem a minor detail to those unaffected by it, but if you are a young girl and don’t see anyone like you or can relate to on a council, you will be put off applying.

“To continue addressing a role as chairman is putting people off applying and a step back before a step forward.

“It’s 2020, not 1970 – you don’t get away with casual sexism anymore.”

EDDC leader Cllr Paul Arnott said that ‘chairman’ alienates people who are sensitive to gender and diversity issues.

Conservative Group leader Cllr Andrew Moulding, who has sat on the authority for 33 years, told the meeting the term ‘chairman’ had long been used it will be difficult for him to change his ways.

“But change my ways I shall do, and I apologise if I forget to call a person by an inanimate object,” he added.

“It will be difficult for me and it will take some getting used to, but I will vote for it, and I am 100 per cent in favour of the matters around maternity, rebuking sexism, and encouraging more female councillors.”

Cllr Helen Parr said: “The most important parts of this are that we bring in proper maternity allowances and that as many women who want to stand are encouraged to and can do.

“It doesn’t matter to me if you call someone chair or chairman, but if people want this in the constitution, I am sure it will be agreed, but it is unimportant compared to the rest of the motion.”

The motion called for members to address the head of any committees, panels, forums or groups as ‘chair’ rather than ‘chairman’.

While EDDC has a policy for maternity pay for representatives without extended roles, its current allowances scheme does not extend to maternity pay for councillors with ‘special responsibilities’.

A report will now be formulated on how to adopt the Fawcett Society’s recommendation of having maternity pay for councillors with extended roles.

New clauses in the council’s code of conduct against sexism will also be introduced, as will a commitment to ensuring gender-neutral language is used.

The motion was supported by 43 votes to zero at a full meeting of EDDC on Wednesday, October 21 – with abstentions from Cllrs Peter Faithfull and Fred Caygill.

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