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A site for women councillors in Victorian local government

What if you are locked out?

Marg Card was a Councillor and Mayor with Moorabool Shire between 1999 and 2002.  Although this is Marg’s story from almost 10 years ago, some things don’t change. Read on for lots of good advice.

“What if you are locked out, left out of the loop, not staying behind drinking red wine or beer, what if you cannot be heard, what if the things that you were elected on never get a run?  What if you promised the safe school crossings, and the parking at the library, and the increased child care, and a lick of paint for the scout hall, and more hours for the maternal and child health service, and easier access for older people to the library?  What if all those reasonable and honourable issues never make it on to the agenda?  What are you going to do?

Too often the game is played like keepings off in the playground, a wink, a nod, a derisory laugh, a humiliation for its own sake.  What if they laugh at you, what if they take your pet program and slash it to bits, or slice it a bit in the budget for no good reason other than you are not one of them.

What if you don’t know what to do next?

Two things stand like stone for me.  Number one – do the homework.  This means reading, and learning, many councillors don’t know the rules which govern us, the Local Government Act, the Local Law governing meeting procedures, the community plan, the waste strategy, the role of an audit committee.  Understand the roles and means of good governance, and seek and seek and seek to hold your fellow councillors accountable to these rules.  Number two – it is a numbers game, and if you can’t get the numbers at the table, you can get the numbers if you play the game openly in the community.

I got to the stage where I didn’t lose often, because I have another couple of rules for myself.  Some people cannot tolerate women in any threatening position, (or what they perceive to be threatening) and with no rhyme or reason, can make life hard.  This is a fact of life.

For me laughter is the way out, get everyone laughing.  Get them to make jokes, and a couple of good ones have been made at my expense, which is good.  

Once we had two men shouting at each and over each other in our Chamber, “Boys, Boys,” I said, “didn’t your mother teach you to be good when you are out?”

Laughter – for me the best and easiest strategy– do it as if you were in the playground some people are still in.  A couple of little other hints – don’t pick a fight you can’t win! (but defining the win is important, wins can be incremental). Don’t get too comfortable with the numbers at the table, if it is a comfy 5/2 or 6/3 every time, you are making two or three enemies, and the real numbers are in the community.

Remember that everything is political, and understanding the politics of gender is as much a part of achieving your goals as any other consideration, and we shouldn’t shy away from this.”

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