'Antiquated' custom of addressing female councillors could be axed - The Rugby Observer

'Antiquated' custom of addressing female councillors could be axed

Rugby Editorial 4th Oct, 2023   0

AN ‘ANTIQUATED’ custom of formally addressing female councillors as Mrs, Ms or Miss at Rugby Borough Council meetings could be axed.

The council has voted in favour of a cross-party motion for its Equality and Diversity Working Group to review the use of gendered terms for female councillors.

Currently, female councillors are addressed in the council chamber as ‘Councillor Mrs’, ‘Councillor Ms,’ or ‘Councillor Miss’ – while their male colleagues are simply referred to as ‘Councillor’.

Proposing the motion in her maiden speech at a Full Council meeting, Coun Isabelle McKenzie of the Liberal Democrats described the mandatory requirement as ‘structural sexism’.

She said: “From my first day, I have been uncomfortable about the way women councillors are addressed in the chamber.

“Every time you address a woman as ‘Councillor Mrs’, you are inadvertently saying they are the exception because councillors are male.”

Speaking after the debate, she added: “Our use of language matters. Singling out women each time they are addressed is antiquated and outmoded. It is time for a root and branch review of equality and diversity in the chamber.”

She also assured the Chamber she had not personally encountered sexism from her peers since her election in May – and hoped that was the experience of other women councillors.

Seconding the motion, Labour’s Coun Louise Robinson said the current binary approach to gender in the Council Chamber was ‘out of step’.

She added: “If we compare Rugby Borough Council to other councils, it is in a dwindling minority. Locally, Warwick County Council does not use the suffix. Even councils that could be considered bastions of Conservatism such as Kensington and Chelsea or Westminster do not use a suffix.”

Responding to some Conservative councillors’ calls for a choice of whether to be referred to as Mrs or Ms, Coun Robinson suggested that was acceptable outside the Chamber, but not on official council business which should observe the Equality Act of 2010.

She asked the Equality and Diversity Working Group to consider how to embed non-gendered language across the board, pointing out that a recent council document described committee Chairs as ‘Chairmen’.

The vote was won with 34 of the 38 votes available, with three Conservative abstentions and one vote against the motion from Coun Lisa Parker.

As the result of the vote was read out, Coun Nooria Sayani was wrongly referred to as Mrs, instead of Ms.

She said: “That proved the point. I would much rather be referred to as Councillor, removing any risk of getting it wrong and causing offence.”


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