With annual general meetings (AGM) on the horizon for group water schemes all over the country, some 78% of respondents to an NFGWS survey believe that there should be a concerted effort made to increase the level of female representation on GWS boards/committees.
Of those who completed the survey, 91% are members of a group water scheme and the majority rated the issue of female representation as important, with 44% ranking it as ‘extremely’ important.
While there are undoubted challenges in attracting new members to voluntary boards at present, the dearth of female representation has been an actuality within the GWS sector historically.
When asked to select what they believe has been the biggest barrier to female representation, 33% of respondents felt that there is a misconception about the role of a GWS board/committee member, in terms of expected manual labour etc.
Some 31% feel the main issue is the lack of interest from women in joining group water scheme boards/committees, 12% thought women are not being encouraged to join, while 18% do not think there are any barriers exist.
Time constraints and other life responsibilities as well as the lack of interest from all genders were among the other barriers mentioned by those surveyed. None of the respondents felt that women are actively discouraged from joining GWS boards/committees.
In terms of what people believe the biggest priority should be in achieving gender balance, 40% feel the best idea is to identify potential female board/committee members at local level and approach them on a individual basis.
One respondent suggested that it would be better to perhaps approach at least two people as it may then prove less daunting compared to being a sole potential candidate.
Raising awareness in the local community about the role of the GWS board/committee was chosen as top priority among 39% of those surveyed, while 13% feel a long term approach of educating school children should be top of the agenda.
Of those surveyed, 68% feel that it is an area that the NFGWS should get involved in by assisting group water schemes in terms of strategy etc.
Reacting to the findings, NFGWS CEO, Barry Deane, said:
We’re in complete agreement that this is an issue that must be addressed. While it goes without saying that the overall challenge is to get greater numbers of young people involved in GWS boards/committees, regardless of gender, inclusivity is also essential and discussions like this help to keep it to the forefront of our minds.
The NFGWS is committed to helping in any way possible and will be taking on board the comments we received from respondents when we put together an advice note on this topic.
We are encouraged by the number of GWS boards/committees that have moved towards employing professional managers, caretakers and staff in recent years. This has helped address some of the perceived burden of becoming a member of a GWS board/committee.
I would urge every scheme not to be afraid to approach people and to actively encourage them to become involved in assisting their local group water schemes.
This article originally featured in the most recent edition of the Rural Water News magazine. To read the full edition and to sign up to our magazine mailing list, click here.