BOLTON’S top female politicians have responded to claims in a national study that widespread sexism means women are put off from going into local government.

Just over a quarter of Bolton’s councillors are women — 26.7 per cent — compared with 32.4 per cent nationally.

The research carried out by the Fawcett Society concluded sexism is “both a cause and effect” of the lack of women councillors, with women more likely to be affected by awkwardly timed council meetings, lack of flexible pay or maternity cover.

Female candidates are less likely to be selected to stand for election, the study continues, as lower voter turnout means party leaders choose ‘safe’ candidates that reflect the broader demographic of political parties — male, white, middle-aged and middle-class.

And when in position, women are more likely to receive sexist comments, based on their looks.

Deputy leader of Bolton Council, Cllr Linda Thomas, said women in the Labour group are treated with respect and hold key positions on merit, not just because of their sex.

She added: “There is always much improvement to be made in making the councillor role more family friendly, as in society as a whole.

“Issues such as affordable childcare, timing of meetings and workload all exacerbate problems of work-life balance for working councillors — an extra burden when a working parent.”

Cllr Hilary Fairclough, the newly chosen Conservative deputy leader and the group’s only female councillor, said in years gone by they had about six women councillors but numbers have dwindled in recent years.

She added: “I’m the last woman standing, and it’s a difficult one.

“As a politician in general I think we should do a lot more to get different people to join us, and not just encourage more women but almost more young people.

“It is a very interesting job and I don’t think people realise that — and that’s our fault as councillors for not getting that message across.

“I think it’s really important to have women in the council chamber. You have got to understand what’s going on in the world from your perspective — if you’ve only got one type of person, they are just going to give you lip service.”