engage magazine issue 007/\'08 - Page 54

54 LOCAL AUTHORITIES Spotlight on BAME councillor Update from Enfield’s BAME female councillor Cllr Denise Headley Edmonton Green Ward Enfield In May 2008 the Minister for Women and Equality and Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, Harriet Harman, launched the black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) women’s task force. This task force is chaired by Baroness Uniddin, the first Bengali woman to be elected to a local council in the UK and the first Muslim woman representative in the House of Lords. The task force’s remit is to make councils more representative of the communities they serve and to encourage more BAME women into public life and into councillor positions. It also links into a series of measures by the Government to address the matter of equality of opportunity and so the task force will draw on expert partnerships to facilitate its work such as the Local Government Association, Operation Black Vote, the Fawcett Society, political parties and organisations like IdeA. Of the 20,000 councillors in England, 168 are BAME female. Engage spoke with Cllr Denise Headley, ward councillor for Edmonton Green Enfield and one of only 10 black British Caribbean Councillors in England, about her role in the community and supporting local SME’s. “One of the biggest reasons there is such a small number of BAME woman councillors is because the selection process needs greater monitoring across all political parties to ensure that woman from BAME communities have an equal chance at being selected” said Denise. Her conclusion is supported by the Fawcett Society’s February 2005 report ‘Black and Ethnic Minority Women in the UK’, which states, in section four, that “black and ethnic women experience multiple barriers for being selected as candidates. Sexism and racism experienced and exclusion from political elites and networks combined with poor procedures allow discrimination to have an impact on candidate selection.” Denise also cited the relative lack of tenure for BAME female councillors as a barrier to full engagement as all too often BAME female councillors only get to serve one term and therefore do not gain sufficient experience or specialism in different fields. “It is very hard for ordinary people to get a chance to represent their community. Breaking into the franchise of power and opportunity locally and nationally is difficult if traditionally and culturally you are on the outside” says Denise. Headley can count herself amongst the more successful BAME councillors having been first elected in 2001, and then again in 2005. Denise, who was the first Caribbean councillor to have more than one term in public office as a councillor in Enfield, plans to stand again if selected in 2010. uk | engage ISSUE SEVEN 2008