Sunday, May 26, 2024

Tea is served

There was a motion on the agenda for last Thursday's council meeting in Gateshead, about the importance of policy for women and girls. It led to some reminiscences from Labour Council Leader Martin Gannon about the civic centre when it first opened in 1987. Many of the facilities were totally inadequate for women councillors. The locker room for example had room for about 10 women councillors, whereas there were over 50 lockers for the men councillors. The council in terms of gender is now much better balanced.

Martin's words did remind me of another civic centre incident. Back in the mid 1990s, I received a letter from the mayor's office inviting me to come to the "Mayoress at home" event where cups of tea and a buffet would be served. I then compared my letter to one that was received by my mother who had just been elected to the council. There was a fundamental difference between the two letters. Mine invited me to be served tea whereas my mother as a woman councillor was invited to attend the event to serve tea to the male councillors. This clearly was completely unacceptable so we kicked up a fuss in the hope that the event would either be called off or the sexist nature of it axed. Neither happened and the event (not attended by any Lib Dem councillors) went ahead in its original form.

There was a great deal of press interest. Myself and the then Council Leader George Gill did a live interview on BBC Radio Five. Cllr Gill argued that the event and women councillors serving tea to male councillors was a tradition. I responded by saying that this sort of sexist nonsense had no place in a modern council.

Following this, the Lib Dem group put a motion to Gateshead Council calling for events of a sexist nature to be scrapped and for all councillors, whatever their gender, to be treated equally. The Labour party voted against but in a sense we won as the "Mayoress at Home" event was never held again. It was quietly dropped.

As I told the council meeting last week, thankfully Gateshead Council has moved on a long way since then.

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