Women’s leadership program ready to tip the balance on councils

Posted on 06 Mar 2023

The search is on for women ready to run in local council elections, with experts ready to equip them with the tools they need, free.

Women of diverse backgrounds are invited to join an intensive Victorian Government-funded support program aimed at guiding community leaders considering public office in Victoria.

Victoria has the highest proportion of women councillors in Australia, with 44% women elected at the 2020 local government elections. However, the Victorian Government wants to reach a 50/50 split at the 2024 poll.

The Women Leading Locally program aims to bridge the municipal gender gap, with a strategy that targets 31 local government areas (LGAs) with the lowest representation of women in local office.

Now in its second year, the government-funded program provides 65 free places to community leaders in target LGAs.

The program will be delivered by the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) and Women for Election.

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Women in the program are given guidance on running for local council.
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The program aims to reach a 50/50 gender split on Victorian councils.
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It's expected many participants will run for office in the 2024 elections.
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The fellowship program is fully funded by the Victorian Government.

Applications are open to all women with a passion for their local community, and youth, First Nations women, women with disability, women from diverse cultural and linguistic groups, and LGBTIQ+ women are strongly encouraged to apply.

The program combines in-person and online workshops covering campaigning, leadership, governance, and masterclasses with experts. Participants who complete the program receive a certificate in community leadership and governance.

Local Government Minister Melissa Horne said that having more women in office would make local government more representative and lead to better decisions for communities.

“Achieving gender equality in local government leadership will deliver tangible community benefits. When councils are truly representative of their communities, their decisions better serve the needs of the community.”

Women for Election chief executive Licia Heath, a former political candidate now teaching others the ropes, was keen to build on the momentum the program developed last year.

“Travelling across Victoria, one of the things I noticed the most was the sheer diversity of backgrounds, from grandmothers to stay-at-home mums, people in the corporate and public sectors, and active volunteers. There’s such a diversity of lived experience, which is exactly what we need in local government.

“These women already have the motivation they need to make it, but we can help them with the information they need on how to run and get elected.”

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Licia Heath has toured the state with her message of the possibilities for women.
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Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp was among local government leaders sharing her advice for the 2022 intake.
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Another 65 places are available for the program in 2023.
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ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner expects the program will make a huge difference to gender equity.
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Emily Greco

Past program participant and youth advocate Emily Greco said the program had spurred on her political and leadership ambitions.

“I definitely want to put my hat in the ring for the 2024 elections. The program has been gearing us up to do that, and it has given me the confidence and skills to do it.”

Her council, Hume, has just three women on its 11-member council.

“I don’t feel that my council currently reflects me or my local community, and I think we can do a lot better.”

Politics in Colour founder Kat Henaway, who hosts masterclasses for women of colour who join the program, urged diverse and intersectional women to apply, because those participants would have an outsized impact.

“Women of colour are vastly under-represented in local government, especially in Victoria, and while past practices excluded marginalised demographics, programs like this will make a big difference.

“Any women of colour elected to local government will have an immediate and powerful impact by influencing the way councils interact with their communities and by forging a path for more women to follow them.”

ICDA general manager Adele Stowe-Lindner had no doubt after meeting the previous intake of participants that the Women Leading Locally program would “change the face of local government”.

More information

Applications for the 2023 Women Leading Locally Fellowship are open until 14 April. The program provide a no-cost opportunity for 65 women to be supported to stand for local government elections in 2024.

This program is an initiative of the Victorian Government delivered by the Institute of Community Directors Australia (ICDA) in partnership with Women for Election.

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