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Women in power in local politics 

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Stroud is unusual in local politics in having so many women in leadership positions, writes Sue Fenton.

The Chief Executive and Leader of Stroud District Council (SDC) are both women, as are the Chief Executive and her deputy at Stroud Town Council. And the current mayors of Stroud and Stonehouse are also women. 

Just over half of the Green Party candidates for SDC seats in May are female, too.

2 cath chloe steve | Women in power in local politics 
Catherine and Chloe Turner (standing for re-election in Minchinhampton) with one of their “fantastic” male councillor colleagues: Steve Hynd, candidate for The Stanleys.

We talked to four Greens in positions of leadership, all of whom are standing for election to SDC in May. Catherine Braun, Leader of SDC; Chloe Turner, Chair of SDC’s Environment committee, Gloucestershire county councillor and parliamentary candidate for North Cotswolds; Beki Aldam, Chair of SDC’s Community Services and Licensing committee; and Carol Kambites, Mayor of Stonehouse. 

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Catherine Braun (standing for re-election in Wotton-under-Edge) says there are lots of interesting aspects to leadership roles.

Q. Did you aspire to a leadership role or did it just happen through circumstance? 

Catherine Braun: When the opportunity to become Green Group Leader and then Council Leader came up, I was initially reluctant, as I knew I’d have less time for working with the community groups that I’d so enjoyed. But I’ve discovered lots of interesting aspects to these leadership roles too, not least discussions at regional and national level about creating fairer and greener communities: action on homelessness, the cost-of-living crisis, bus services and bins! 

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Beki Aldam (standing for re-election in Thrupp) says committee work has been even more interesting than she’d imagined

Chloe Turner: I’m not someone who needs to be a leader, but if I can offer something, I will step forward. Increasingly, I think it’s important that women don’t wait to be asked, but help to pave the way for those who come after us. 

Beki Aldam:. I joined the Community Services and Licensing Committee because I’m passionate about communities. When I was asked to take over the role of Chair, I felt daunted. But my committee work on communities has been even more interesting than I’d imagined. And I love the licensing part as well, which doesn’t get as much attention, but is a vital part of the District Council’s work. 

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“I enjoy chairing meetings and facilitating the democratic process,” says Carol Kambites, who’s a candidate in Stonehouse, where she is Mayor.

Carol Kambites: It pretty much just happened. I stood for the role of Mayor because I was asked to and I thought I could do it well. It’s been tougher than I foresaw, due to new issues (such as the cost-of-living crisis and Verney Fields) or ones that involved complex work (like the Ship Inn). Being Mayor has stretched my people skills, but I’ve been lucky to have some great people to work with and it’s been very rewarding.

Q. What personal attributes do you (or women generally) bring to the role?

Catherine Braun: At a national level, we’ve seen some poor political leadership in recent years and there is a reluctance by politicians from the two biggest parties to work cross-party. While we won’t always reach consensus, much more can be done when people work together. As Green Leader at SDC, I listen to the other political groups and try to understand their point of view. Usually, we manage to reach an outcome that everyone can support.

5 | Women in power in local politics 
The best thing about being a leader is being able to make a difference in the community, says Catherine.

Chloe Turner: I respect people who behave with integrity and get stuff done, and I’d always want to be someone who leads by example. When I watch the gladiatorial nonsense that goes on at the County Council, I know that we need people – often women – who lead more gently, and who have intellect and compassion to offer alongside effective decision-making.

Beki Aldam: I wouldn’t want to generalise that as ‘a woman’ I bring something special to the role. I have been told I bring a bit of humour into the chairing process. I’m not sure that’s exactly what I’m supposed to be doing, but joy and fun are essential and maybe there isn’t enough of that around these days.

Carol Kambites: Probably a sensitivity to issues and the ability to get people to cooperate. In my four years as Deputy Mayor and a year as Mayor, my biggest achievement has been to get the Town Council working as a cohesive unit and (together with Green colleagues on Stroud District Council) to improve relations between the two levels. I haven’t managed it with Conservative-controlled Gloucestershire County Council though! 

Q. Does a leadership role necessarily mean missing out on other aspects of your life? How do you juggle your priorities in different roles so as to do them all well?

Catherine Braun: Since becoming Council Leader, my diary is fuller during the week. This takes some juggling and means that making space for family and friends at weekends is even more important. My rather hyperactive dog gets me out for a country walk most days, which also helps!   

9 chloe chairing Env Committee | Women in power in local politics 
Chloe is chairing the SDC environment committee

Chloe Turner: My life is certainly busy and my family probably curses local politics sometimes! But if you are interested in many things, your life is always going to be full, and it’s amazing what you can cram in if you try. 

Beki Aldam: It’s a big commitment being a committee chair, with a job and two young children as well. I think it mostly impacts on your social life, because that’s the area that has a bit of ‘give’ in it. 

Carol Kambites: It has definitely had an impact on other areas of my life. I’ve neglected my allotment and – worse – my friends. So perhaps the answer to the second question is ‘not very well’. For me, this is more to do with my age and energy levels than being a woman.

11 County Greens | Women in power in local politics 
Chloe (second left) with fellow Greens on Gloucestershire County Council

Q. What are the best and worst things about leadership?

Catherine Braun: The best is being able to make a difference to the local area. Recently, this has included helping residents with the cost-of-living crisis, supporting projects like canal regeneration, and improving children’s play areas. I’ve enjoyed meeting a wide range of people. I’ve learned that local leadership involves being a ‘community voice’, which is both a privilege and responsibility. 

10 beki eki roudGreens 2024 02 17 2094 | Women in power in local politics 
The best thing about a leadership role is learning from other people, says Beki Aldam

Chloe Turner: I enjoy working with officers and councillors to get projects over the line, such as some of the walking and cycling schemes that the District Council has funded. As a mum, it can be tough when a work crisis clashes with family needs, and having a leading role does increase the chance of that.

Beki Aldam: The best thing is learning from other people. We are lucky at SDC to have skilled officers who are passionate about their work and care about our community. The worst thing can be the policies and procedures that get in the way of something that needs to be done. And knowing that policies and procedures can take a long time to be altered!

8 carol madelaine 1 | Women in power in local politics 
Carol with Madelaine Maraboli-Roman, who is also running for election in Stonehouse ward and who is taking part in a civil service course in female leadership

Carol Kambites: I’m naturally quite bossy and enjoy having some control over how things are done and which issues are prioritised. I enjoy chairing meetings and facilitating the democratic process. The worst part is having to sort things out when they go wrong and the feeling of responsibility when you make a decision that doesn’t turn out as you hoped.

Q. Do you think a leadership role is harder for women? If so why, and how can women mitigate this issue?

Catherine Braun: Politics doesn’t work unless it reflects and represents communities. Although we have women in leadership roles at the District Council, no council in the country yet has gender parity. Political debates are richer when people with a variety of backgrounds and life experiences participate. Often women have many roles, and it is a challenge to add a leadership job into the mix, but there is support available, and it helps to be able to share experiences with other women.    

12 lucas martin chloe | Women in power in local politics 
Chloe at Ebley Mill with Cllr Lucas Schoemaker, candidate for Stroud Trinity, and Cllr Martin Brown, candidate for Bisley

Chloe Turner: When there aren’t many role models about, it’s difficult to imagine being a leader. Only 14 Gloucestershire County Councillors (of 53) are women, so it’s not a role where women – particularly young women – would necessarily feel at home. Organisations such as Elect Her https://www.elect-her.org.uk/ are doing good work, and I’m really proud of the Green Party’s track record: 53% of our district council candidates are women this May. 

Beki Aldam: I think leadership can be tricky for anyone, but women have traditionally also been expected to be the main caregivers. To mitigate this, I recommend corralling as many adults as possible to get involved in looking after your children!

7 Chloe Turner 0019 | Women in power in local politics 
“We need people – often women – who lead more gently,” says Chloe Turner

Carol Kambites: In my experience, it’s not harder – just different. It can be easier because, as a woman, you may be seen as less of a threat. But in a less progressive council, things might be different.

Q. Are men, in your experience, supportive allies? 

Catherine Braun: I’d certainly say so. My husband and our two (now grown-up) boys are very supportive of me being involved in local politics, and they’ve all taken quite an interest in local and national politics as a result.  

Chloe Turner: My partner has always been extremely supportive of my political work, and has trod plenty of steep, rural lanes with a bag of leaflets for me! 

Beki Aldam: Men are like all humans; most are great and some fall short. We have some fantastic men on the council with lots of experience. My partner will listen to me rage for hours about how the latest government fiasco is impacting our residents, so he definitely needs a medal. And my Dad – a lifelong Tory voter – went out canvassing for me at the last election. 

Carol Kambites: They are generally supportive, though some occasionally need pulling away from a rather macho competitive approach to find a compromise solution to a problem. 

Q. What can women do (especially in politics) to make it easier for the next generation of female leaders?

Catherine Braun:  Despite the challenges, there are lots of enjoyable aspects of the job and we need to talk about those too! Support and training are essential for young leaders.

Chloe Turner: We can really help by being visible and generous with our time – not just generally but also to support and advise other women. 

Beki Aldam: Effective youth work is key to engaging the next generation. Just being in politics is not enough – some of our worst politicians have been women. We have to listen to the young, involve them in politics and let them see that apathy is a route to disaster, so they HAVE to be involved if they want things to change. I’m excited that the leader of the Youth Council is standing for the Green Party. Cate James-Hodges gives me hope for the future.

Carol Kambites: It’s about setting an example and getting men (and women) used to having female leaders. There are also practical things, like timing meetings to fit around families, that benefit men as well. One small thing that we did was to change our standing orders so that they didn’t constantly refer to ‘he and ‘him’ – a change that was instigated by a man.

Promoted by Rob Brookes on behalf of Stroud District Green Party, at 17 Great George Street, Bristol BS1 5QT

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