OPERATION BLACK VOTE & GOVERNMENT EQUALITIES OFFICE
BAME WOMEN COUNCILLOR SHADOWING SCHEME
BAME Women Champions Create History
A groundbreaking mentoring scheme is helping change the political landscape of the UK. The BAME Women Councillor Shadowing Scheme, run in partnership with the Government Equalities Office, has seen 60 BAME women mentored by local Councillors across the country. The Scheme inspired nearly a quarter of participants to stand in the recent elections. Of that number four are now newly elected Councillors serving on Westminster, Lambeth, Sutton and Brent Councils respectively. The four Shadows who became new Councillors are Cllr Dr Sheila D’Souza (Conservative - Westminster), Cllr Margaret McLennan (Labour - Brent), Cllr Judith Best (Liberal Democrat - Lambeth) and Cllr Pathumal Ali (Liberal Democrat - Sutton).
Participants from the Scheme were honoured at a special event at the House of Commons recently where Home Office Minister Lynne Featherstone and Communities & Local Government Minister Andrew Stunnell both gave speeches affirming their recognition of the Scheme's impact. The event was chaired by OBV's Simon Woolley and attended by Scheme participants, BAME Taskforce members, Baroness Meral Ece and Members of Parliament along with the Media, other community and political campaign groups. Special Guest Speaker was none other than Diane Abbott MP (now running for the challenging role of Prime Minister).
Cllr DR SHEILA D’SOUZA said: “Thanks to the Scheme I have just been elected a Conservative councillor in the city of Westminster so, I really want to say to all you woman out there it can be done, it takes some hard work, it takes courage and determination. Look to other women like yourselves who will be willing to help you and get involved in your local community”.
Cllr MARGARET MCLENNAN said: “The reason why I entered the Scheme was because I’ve always had an interest in politics and I always think it’s necessary for everybody, particularly BAME women, to actually get into politics, particularly at a local level because that’s where the big decisions are made that affect our day to day lives”.
Cllr JUDY BEST said: “I always wanted to give back to my community. This Scheme was a good way to see if I had what it takes to become a councillor. I was surprised how hard they worked but, undeterred I thought I could do it. Six months later, here I am a Councillor; making decisions about those areas I think are most important such as child welfare and education”.
LYNNE FEATHERSTONE, Minister for Equalities said: “BAME women make up more than 5% of the population but less than 1% 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 Government Equalities Office is responsible for the Government’s overall strategy, legislation and priorities on equality issues. The Office also has direct responsibility for policy on gender equality, sexual orientation and for integrating work on race.
The Operation Black Vote Shadowing Scheme is the first to specifically target Ethnic Minorities. In addition, participants who took part in a Government Equalities Office (GEO) funded SOLACE ‘Community Leadership Programme’ were also honoured at the event.
Text: OBV Office (Edited: Melissa Sinclair)
Photography: Zemamnesh Campbell