Published: 15:34, 25 April 2019
| Updated: 18:23, 25 April 2019
Only a third of the candidates for the upcoming local elections in Kent are female, prompting calls for councils to improve flexibility at work.
This comes more than 110 years after female taxpayers were given the right to become borough and county councillors in England and Wales.
There has been progress since the first election eligible for women took place in 1907 but there is still not equality in the make-up of candidates at the ballot box.
In this year's election, only 28% of wards in Kent have an equal male to female ratio of candidates.
By contrast, there are 30 wards across the 12 boroughs and districts that have all male candidates on their list, compared to five with all female candidates.
County councillor and borough councillor, Cllr Clair Bell (Con) believes all political parties would welcome female candidates with open arms.
She said: “I don’t know why more women don’t stand for elections and there are fewer women than male candidates.
“It is better than the past but I would have thought it would be more than a third because this is something all parties have decided to take action and would like the portion to be representative.
“I’m sure all parties would welcome more women candidates.”
She claims women may be put off from standing as they tend to be more worried about putting themselves up for criticism on social media.
In Ashford, there are 44 women on the ballot paper for the borough elections compared to 88 men.
However Cllr Bell says the Conservative party have put a "great list of diverse candidates" including six candidates under 26 and "quite a number" of people who identify as black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME).
Tackling this issue across the country is a new political party, The Women's Equality Party.
The feminist group have three candidates standing- one in Thanet and two in Tunbridge Wells.
Céline Thomas, who has run for both county and parliamentary elections in the past four years, has put her hat in the ring for the Pantiles and St. Mark's ward for Tunbridge Wells Borough Council.
She explained how her party is "trying to turn things on its head" by getting more women who represent different cultures, class and abilities.
She said: "The Women’s Equality Party isn’t just about women but about equality for everyone no matter their background.
"We are a party focussed on women and we know how difficult it is to make that commitment to stand."
She added since Céline and her colleague Liz Orr have stood for election, the other political parties have put more women on the ballot paper.
However she says there is a long way to go before there is gender equality in elections.
She claims "there's all sorts of reasons why women don't get into politics" such as their caring obligations and unconscious bias when selecting candidates.
Women are more likely to take on caring roles than men so they would find it hard to juggle looking after young children or elderly relatives and attend evening meetings.
Céline added even if women are elected, council chambers can be intimidating to get your point across when the environment is so aggressive.
She said: "A lot of women are not well equipped to deal with the aggression in council meetings.
"Then women who tend to be adversarial and aggressive get criticised and judged unfairly."
She believes having women from all backgrounds in politics is crucial in a representative democracy, especially as the policies affect them.
Hannah Perkins (Lib Dem) is running for her first ever elections, hoping to win a seat at Swale Borough Council and Faversham Town Council.
"Allowing women with small babies to bring them into the chamber, or providing crèche facilities or help with the financial pressures of childcare when being a councillor may also open the door a little to allowing single mothers more likelihood of being able to stand..." - Hannah Perkins
Swale has the lowest proportion of all the borough and districts with just over a quarter of candidates being female.
Hannah said: “I was saddened but not especially surprised to see that only 26% of the candidates for seats in Swale Borough Council were women.
"Living in the South East is expensive. Both parents in the majority of households will now be working.
"The time commitment involved in working for your community throughout the year, letting people know what you are doing, answering casework and then running a successful campaign is huge.
"I am in the privileged position of having my own business which means I can organise my time to include political engagement, I also have a very supportive husband and understanding children."
Hannah, who runs a catering company called Vegan Perks, added councils need to look at how they run meetings to "encourage a diverse and representative voice for the people".
She believes a review of meeting times and a look into flexible working or proxy voting could open up opportunities for other people.
Hannah added small steps like this could change the perception of "a woman's role" as she is often asked where her children are when she is campaigning or at public meetings.
She said: "Public perception of women’s roles are prohibitive to the success of female candidates who also suffer under the first past the post electoral system.
"Allowing women with small babies to bring them into the chamber, or providing crèche facilities or help with the financial pressures of childcare when being a councillor may also open the door a little to allowing single mothers more likelihood of being able to stand."
Hannah also echoed concerns about social media saying "violence and abuse online are yet another challenge to women’s political engagement".
She added: "Putting yourself into the public eye knowing that you are likely to experience some level of abuse is incredibly scary.
"On a local level, I have experienced this first hand in a way that my male counterparts have not and to nowhere near the levels experienced by women of colour and trans women."
However she says her team are supportive and have a "progressive outlook" on how time management to encourage more diverse candidates.
More than 450 women have put their name on the ballot for the district and local elections next Thursday.