Women in local government: interview with Keithtarror Munroe
29 September 2023
As part of CLGF’s work towards achieving SDG5 - to increase the number of women in local government politics across the Commonwealth, we talk to Keithtarror Munroe. A councillor from 2011 to 2022, and Deputy Chief Councillor since 2022 in the Bahamas, Cllr Munroe is a keen supporter of CLGF’s Commonwealth Women in Local Government network and she most recently represented local government at the Thirteenth Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting (WAMM) - Equality Toward a Common Future – which took place in the Bahamas at the end of August. We asked her to share her experiences with other aspiring women in the Commonwealth.
Getting started in local politics
Cllr Munroe had wanted to get involved in local government politics since she was a child, having always had a keen drive and passion for helping, whether in church, school or in the community. As she became an adult, this passion increased through her years in tertiary education and continued during her career in education. She said: “I found myself spread very thin participating in community activities so the introduction to local government was an easy decision for me to make.”
How difficult was it to enter politics in the Bahamas? Cllr Munroe explained that during her first success in local government, she was teaching on another island that was unfamiliar territory, but through her active involvement and, reliant on her intellectual capacity, she successfully gained a place in local government, in an area where no one knew who she was. “The only difficulty I found at the time when I first joined local government was fighting for my voice to be heard amongst an audience where I was the only female.”
With many specific obstacles to overcome, Cllr Munroe set about building her knowledge base through carefully reading and familiarising herself with the manual and local government acts. She took part in every training opportunity offered by the Department of Local Government and this helped to grow her networks and span of contacts. Improving both her practical and legal understanding of local government contributed to Cllr Munroe being able to demonstrate to the community that she was a valuable team player and made her presence known.
Cllr Munroe explained that she was currently serving in the capacity of Deputy Chief Councillor of her district in Grand Bahama, Bahamas. As the Co Chairman of the West Grand Bahama Disaster Consultative Committee, she described her greatest achievement during her time in local government as being the recipient of the Women Resilience award in May 2023, for her active role during the time of Hurricane Dorian, which impacted the island of Grand Bahama and Abaco.
Advice to aspiring women
Asking Cllr Munroe about what advice she would offer to women aspiring to become local government politicians, she emphasised the importance of collaboration and networking which she believes has definitely assisted her success. She urged women to offer every assistance to bring about improvements to the community by working with other non-profit organisations and said: “I would advise women in local government to continue to build themselves with knowledge and grasp opportunities that will enhance their experience.”
Looking to her future, Cllr Munroe said she was looking for more leadership opportunities. Having served in local government for over 12 years, she now believes she is ready to expand her reach. She said: “Perhaps being given the opportunity to represent the Commonwealth has ignited another flame for leadership and advocating, as it relates to Women in Leadership."
When asked about what she thought the main issues and challenges facing women in the Bahamas were, she said that these issues extend throughout the Commonwealth and include competing with men for roles and responsibilities in our society (caretakers of the home); addressing a lack of support, knowledge and experience in local government; and, of course, the many financial constraints.
Taking part in WAMM
Looking at the recent Commonwealth Women’s Affairs Ministers Meeting, or WAMM, Cllr Munroe said that she had never attended anything of this magnitude before, and it was therefore quite an overwhelming experience to be given. She said: "It undoubtedly contributed to my personal experience and the role of the Commonwealth as an organisation, as well as the things that we are doing to support women in Leadership."
Asked about what she had specifically gained, she said: "My experience at the WAMM gave me a better appreciation for the efforts that are being made to topics such as: women and leadership, climate change and violence against women and girls. Hearing about the topics on the news or through various articles is one thing, but to actually be a part of the policy changers is another level of empowerment."
Contributing to future work
She explained that, as well as a number of personal gains, she was able to take away a great deal for her future work with the women of the Bahamas and gained a better appreciation for where efforts towards policy and agenda changes take place. She emphasised that more collaboration across the Commonwealth is needed to build and develop one another, especially in leadership; and more emphasis has certainly to be made to identify women and prepare them for future leadership positions.
Sharing views and experiences
"The most useful and important part of the event was taking part in the meeting itself: to listen to the presentations being made and to hear the responses and contributions from the other country’s representatives about the movement to support women in their countries" she said.
We asked how Cllr Munroe felt she had contributed to the event, and she replied that it was through her contribution in presentations which came from a very personal place: her experiences, growth and the knowledge she had acquired through her years in local government.
Why WAMM matters
Finally, why did Cllr Munroe believe that the WAMM was such an important event, together with efforts to empower women and girls. She replied: “Within the event, the Commonwealth Secretariat alluded to the fact that, during such meetings as the WAMM, big changes happen because of significant contributions. For instance, it was through a policy change made at a meeting like this that prompted the release of Nelson Mandela.”
At the end of this 13WAMM, the Minsters endorsed a roadmap on Gender Equality with a focus on women’s empowerment, women in leadership, violence against women and girls. Read the 13WAMM Outcomes Statement here.
Resilience and CLGC2023
Returning to the subject of resilience, we asked Cllr Munroe if she felt women and girls have to be particularly resilient given all the particular challenges they face. Her answer was clear and unequivocal. She said: “It is essential for women to be resilient otherwise we will find no growth. Through some of the presentations at the WAMM, it was implied that in order for a country to reach its ultimate peak, it would have to build the strength of women and girls and increase their contribution. Sometimes we must be resilient ourselves and our future generation."
She believes the areas where women need to be especially resilient include ensuring that their families are safe and fed; ensuring female family members are always encouraged and told they can succeed. There is a need for resilience in the area of climate change, “I often find working as part of the Disaster’s Committee that during hurricane warnings, it is difficult for some single women to be prepared for the disaster, in terms of food preparation and even ensuring home protection for their families. During the pandemic we found more women were speaking out on the need for financial assistance, often citing the issues of , losing their homes and apartments, because of the inability to make payment.”
The need to build women’s resilience, particularly around and in response to natural disasters, is just one small element of building resilience – the topic of the Commonwealth Local Government Conference 2023 (CLGC2023). This key event is taking place in Kigali, Rwanda from 14 to 17 November. Find out more, including how to register from the official website. With so many challenges facing everyone in the future, but particularly in the Commonwealth, when it comes to the vulnerability of small island developing states to climate change, and the huge impact of rapid urbanisation and the need for sustainable development in our cities and secondary cities, this conference will be an important way to bring together stakeholders (leaders, experts, practitioners) from across the globe to share experiences and best practice. Women are undoubtedly severely impacted and this is a topic that will be discussed further.
Thank you to Councillor Munroe for her insights. See more of this interview in this short video.
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