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AT A GLANCE
Percentage of women in current councils (mayor and councillors)
Wairoa - 43 per cent.
Hastings - 29 per cent.
Napier - 42 per cent.
CHB - 22 per cent.
Tararua - 38 per cent.
HB Regional Council - 20 per cent.

Percentage of women running for council elections this year (mayor and councillors)
Wairoa - 35 per cent (17 candidates).
Hastings - 32 per cent (25 candidates).
Napier - 33 per cent (24 candidates).
CHB - 32 per cent (22 candidates).
Tararua - 42 per cent (19 candidates).
HB Regional Council - 19 per cent (16 candidates).

In New Zealand, women on average comprise at most 39 per cent of elected local government councillors. Nicki Harper explores why more women don't stand for local councils and what they can bring to the table when they do.

Across the six councils in the greater Hawke's Bay area 32 per cent of mayors and councillors are women.

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The same percentage applies among those standing for election this year.

To discover more about local female candidates' motivations for standing and the challenges or advantages of being a woman in local body politics, a number of candidates from each council were randomly selected and asked to share their views.

Not all responded by the deadline.

Wairoa
Wairoa is bucking the national trend among district councils with 43 per cent female representation.

Candidate Kurawari Panere suggested this may be because of the high Maori population in the district, and that more females may vote than males.

She still believed that it was important to have more Maori and female voices on council, and stood herself on the encouragement of the union and her wider networks.

On what women could bring to local government she said: "A practical, whanau, community voice with reason and less ego".

CHB
Paula Fern is one of four women standing for the Ruataniwha ward , up against five men.

She stood after finding in the last elections there was no-one she felt she could vote for who represented her values, aspirations or viewpoint.

There was still some way to go before local councils had the diversity needed to give a voice to different ethnicities, youth and points of view, and that included more women, she said.

"The more positive female role models we have for our daughters the better, so they know whatever they choose to do they can achieve it."


In the Aramoana-Ruahine rural ward, one woman, Shelley Burne-Field is up against nine men and said that when she put her hand up she asked herself whether the electorate would elect a woman.

"I was not sure whether any of the male candidates had to ask themselves that question. I looked at past rural councillors, like Sally Butler, and thought well it's been done before successfully if not prolifically."

She said she didn't feel women brought anything different to the table than men, but more women on council would bring people more choice, different styles of leadership and world views.

Tararua
Mayoral contender Shirley Hull said she is a member of the "Women in Politics" group, and noted that the percentage of women representatives in Parliament had been static for two decades.

She stood for council six years ago after eight years on the community board, prompted by friends who knew she would be a good communicator on community issues.

She said she had seen the skills of community engagement that women possessed through talking, listening, learning quickly and bringing that knowledge back to the table.


North ward candidate Kay McKenzie suggested that the low representation of women was likely because they were raising children, running households, supporting partners or husbands and often working full or part time.

"As women are having children later in life, often with careers established, it is difficult for them to engage in council work but more women on council would be great, as it would mean more equitable representation of the community and society as a whole."

Hastings
Lynlee Aitcheson Johnson is standing for the Hastings District Council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board and said the low representation in women in Hastings could be because there was no succession planning for aspiring candidates, including encouraging more women to get on council.

Research had shown women were more collaborative and inclusive leaders, and that better representation would help uphold the democratic values of "fairness" and representative local government.

She noted that countries with the most female law makers had made major strides on issues like education, labour force participation and paid leave, and had low levels of corruption.

Mayoral hopeful Adrienne Pierce said councils seemed to mirror the business world, where female representation was also low, but that women were becoming more aware that they could change business models and political environments to be more "family friendly" empathetic and collaborative.

The fact there had never been a female mayor of Hastings did make her consider whether it was possible for a woman to claim the role, but she wasn't convinced that an "old boys' network" existed.

Candidate Geraldine Travers suggested women may not be attracted to council because they saw them as adversarial with energy wasted on point scoring, rather than creating solutions.

However, women offered different perspectives, an ability to work co-operatively and a concern for the community the next generation would inherit - not just the balance sheet at the end of the financial year.

She decided to stand with the needs of the more vulnerable community members in mind, as well as the chance to be a role model for young women.

Napier
Council incumbent and candidate Faye White said she believed some women may be deterred from putting their names forward because of being in the public eye and open to criticism, the variable hours and not easily identifiable rewards.

That said, she noted it was a rewarding role that women as good communicators, who were practical, considerate and thoughtful could bring a lot of value to.

"They foster camaraderie and add a good balance when their male colleagues gather together like bulls in a paddock."

Taradale candidate Tania Wright said the male-dominated culture in councils, coupled with balancing work and running a household made for a challenging mix for women, requiring a lot of support from family and friends.

Gender did not dictate who would do a better job, but more women at the table would make for wider representation of the community.

She noted that in this election there was a new level of collaboration and support among the female candidates that was refreshing.

Hawke's Bay Regional Council
Moira Irving is one of two female candidates running for this council that had the smallest representation of women, something she put down to the role not being always clearly understood, and being heavily science-based, rather than around the "softer" areas of education, health and welfare.

"Environmental issues, however, are a huge concern for us all and require the active participation of women."

She said female candidates needed to be prepared to back themselves and acknowledge the value of their collaborative approach that was not as ego-driven as men.

"We need to encourage women to have the confidence to stand and support them. District councils do a better job of attracting female candidates...but there is certainly room for improvement."