Southend councillor calls for review of gender-neutral pledge

An independent councillor is calling for Southend’s council leaders to rethink a promise to use ‘gender-neutral’ language over fears it could leader to wider changes that could impact decision making.

Members of the council’s cabinet agreed they should adopt the new policy earlier this month to end the use of terms such as “chairman” in favour of neutral terms such as “chair”.

Councillor Stephen Aylen (Ind) is now calling for the policy to be reviewed over fears it could lead to gender politics influencing the way important council discussions are conducted.

Mr Aylen said: “Referring to the mayor as just mayor instead of Mr Mayor or Madam Mayor is just rude. You don’t have to have gender neutral terms when it comes to the Mayor or a chairman – chairman is not referring to men or women, it is referring to a title, gender should not affect it.”

He explained that he is in support of some changes such as no longer including gender terms when describing councillors, such as writing “Mr” or “Mrs” after their councillor title. He says gender in this instance is not important.

My Aylen will raise the issue at a policy and resources scrutiny committee meeting next week when he will call on councillors to “take a step back and ask will it work”.

He also wants to ensure that the policy will not be the start of a “slippery slope” where councillors placed on committees are selected by their gender rather than experience or knowledge.

“It could be a slippery slope and it needn’t be, we need to look at this properly and sensibly. We are in the 2000s, not the 1800s, I understand that, and this is an issue that has been hanging around for ages and needs to be looked at.”

Another concern Mr Aylen hopes to raise during the meeting on Thursday night is the council’s support for White Ribbon, a male-led campaign to end male violence against women.

He argues that if the commitment is made, it needs to be made for all genders and not just women.

Cllr Matt Dent (LAB) who was involved in proposing motions for both the gender-neutral language policy and the White Ribbon explained that the gender-neutral policy is based around the addressing people as they want to be addressed.

He said: “The core of this is that we should call people what they want to be called. My colleague Cllr Helen McDonald for example is the chair of the licensing committee but she does not want to be called chairman because she is not a man.

“This is about having standard terminology like chair where you are not bringing up gender as it doesn’t need to be brought into it.”

He added that he believes that if a female committee chair wanted to be called chairman or a female Mayor wanted to be addressed as Madam Mayor then that would also be acceptable.

On concerns about White Ribbon, Mr Dent stressed that it is centred on campaigning for women because it is a “specific campaign” aimed at encouraging men to stand up to violence perpetrated by men against women.

He said that if Mr Aylen were to table a motion that was to campaign against violence against men he would be in full support of it.

Southend Council will be holding an event to mark the annual White Ribbon Day on November 25 at the Civic offices.

Steve Shaw

Local Democracy Reporter