Blue Mountains council supports push for gender equity

Blue Mountains Mayor Mark Greenhill speaks at the 2020 Mayoral Breakfast for White Ribbon Day, which raises awareness of, and seeks to prevent, men’s violence against women. Photo: Blue Mountains City Council/supplied.

The Blue Mountains City Council is currently adopting a landmark gender equity strategy, building on related moves for equality in Western Sydney and elsewhere. Corin Shearston reports.

In order to support heightened female involvement across key decision-making areas, while striving for fair treatment of its citizens, the Blue Mountains City Council (BMCC) is currently developing a formal gender equity strategy.

The strategy of Greater Sydney’s westernmost council echoes several examples set by other local councils, including the Melbourne-based City of Hobsons Bay, which adopted their first Gender Equity Policy Statement in May 2014, and calls at Central Coast Council for more female councillors.

In the face of Australia’s current gender-based pay gap of 14 per cent, further backing for gender equity in the Western Sydney region has come from Western Sydney University, which in May 2020 was recognised as an Employer of Choice for Gender Equality by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) for the 14th consecutive time.

This comes as the NSW Government continues with its NSW Women’s Strategy 2018-2022. Through the production and implementation of annual action plan goals, the strategy has advanced economic and social equality across specific areas such as the economy, health and workplace participation.

Meanwhile, the 2020 Gender Equity Insights Report published by WGEA asserts that increased female involvement in the business sphere will deliver better company performance, greater productivity and greater profitability for the nation.

It is against this background that the BMCC is developing a community engagement program which aims to ensure further support for gender equity. The program was initially formed in mid-2020, followed by two face-to-face meeting session days on 28 October and 11 November.

Blue Mountains City Councillor Romola Hollywood (far left) and Mayor Mark Greenhill (second from left) at the 2020 Mayoral Breakfast for White Ribbon Day on 23 November, 2020, with local high school representatives. Photo: Blue Mountains City Council/supplied.

At the October meeting, a decision was made to form three project areas, to target gender divisive issues and encourage new membership for contributing roles.

One of the three project areas will focus on tackling issues of gender inequity by planning events to celebrate gender diversity. The second will focus on educational information to promote the program and the strategy across multiple formats. The third project area will aid the creation of safe, welcoming and affirming public spaces.

Council has also decided to undertake a promotional partnership with the Blue Mountains Women’s Health & Resource Centre, the neighbourhood centre network Belong Blue Mountains, and women’s organisation Zonta International.

The Blue Mountains Women’s Health & Resource Centre, Lurline Street, Katoomba. Photo: Blue Mountains Women’s Health & Resource Centre/Facebook

A notable strand to the gender equity strategy is the contribution of young people aged 19 to 28. Colin Berryman, Progam Leader, Community Development at BMCC says while much of council’s community development work focuses on an older demographic, encouraging more young people to attend meetings and join the team is crucial for the sustainability of the program.

Saskya Clarke, a younger collaborator on the gender equity strategy, says: “One of our project stories is around empowering diverse voices in the community to speak into lived experiences of inequity, so that we can encourage others to raise their voices.”

Berryman supports her viewpoint, explaining, “I’m anticipating it’s much easier to get young people to go to something if you’ve already got young people there.”

Following on from November’s meeting, an action plan was formulated, which is now nearing circulation. The plan will require likeminded people to nominate themselves for roles within the three aforementioned project groups. The program will branch off into its three main project groups, who will work independently before regrouping to report back to the whole program periodically. Resulting ideas will need to reach mandatory agreement from all three groups before being enacted.

Summing up Council’s stance, Berryman states: “We want to encourage people to be engaged.”

Corin Shearston is the youth editor of the Sydney Sentinel.