National BAME Women Councillor Shadowing Scheme

The State We're In…

Twenty first century Britain may be a multiracial, multicultural society, but locally governance lags behind in terms of BAME political representation. This is especially true when it comes to representation of BAME women within the democratic process.

Nationally only around 149 out of 20,000 councillors are Black, Asian or minority ethnic women. This is less than one per cent, despite the fact they make up more than 5% of the population. To be fully representative this needs to increase more than fivefold to around 1000 minority ethnic women councillors. At the current rate of increase this could take more than 135 years.


The National BAME Women's Councillor Shadowing Scheme sought to improve the representation of Black and other ethnic minority (BAME) women within the democratic system and was run in partnership with the Government Equalities Office (GEO), and the BAME Women Councillor's Taskforce.

Under the leadership of Baroness Uddin of Bethnal Green - the first Bengali woman councillor to be elected to a local council in the UK and the first woman Muslim member of the House of Lords - the Government Equality Office Taskforce  explored and developed practical ways to encourage BAME women to become councillors and champions of their communities.

The Taskforce was launched in May 2008 and held a series of events around the country to attract and engage women. The outcome of those consultations identified a need for structured mentoring to address the problem of under representation of BME women in local politics.

Speaking about the importance of representation and the setting up of the taskforce the Rt Hon Harriet Harman QC MP said, "Empowering Black, Asian and minority ethnic women in public life is a key priority for Government. They are a force for good within their communities, and in building bridges between communities. Their contribution must be better recognised and supported. We need our local councils to better reflect the local community and you have better informed decision making if you have all members of the community represented. "

The National BAME Women's Councillor Shadowing Scheme followed the success of OBV's previous schemes such as the award winning Bristol Councillor Shadowing Scheme and the National Assembly for Wales Shadowing Scheme.

In Bristol the number of BAME Councillors has quadrupled since the start of the programme in 2005.

Equalities Minister Lynne Featherstone, Race Equalities Minister Andrew Stunell and Baroness Uddin join participants and participating Cllrs at the Graduation ceremony, Houses of Parliament.


The Programme

The programme ran in over 50 local authorities 60 BAME women from across the country took part.

Individuals shadowed high-level Councillors from the three main political parties, along with Independent Councillors, the Green Party and Respect Party, for four - six days over a six month period. Participants were paired with two Councillors, one from their local Authority and one from the BAME Women's Taskforce.

The Shadow Councillors became involved in local life and party politics; learning about the role of Councillors, the serving officers and how the Authority worked.  They also helped to raise awareness of the issues and interests of their communities and played a role in social and economic development locally.

The shadows also developed in-depth knowledge of local community groups and organisations, and used their skills and experience to become Community Ambassadors. As Community Ambassadors they inspired BAME communities to engage in local politics, promoting civic engagement.

The experience equipped the participants to stand for elected office and resulted in nearly a quarter of participants standing in the May 2010 local elections, with four participants elected as Cllrs.

Strategic Taskforce Member and Head of Shadowing Schemes for OBV, Francine Fernandes 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 Cllrs. We celebrate their entrance into public life and commend the positive contributions which they are making to their local communities. “

Lynne Featherstone, Minister for Equalities said:

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.”