But it doesn’t have to be, since political advisers, deputies and so on can also contribute to the policy-making process, points out Francesca Gains, professor of politics at Manchester University and an expert on devolution and gender issues. Her research shows that while female police and crime commissioners were twice as likely as male commissioners to prioritise domestic violence, commissioners of either sex with a strong awareness of their legal duty to promote equality, and with staff to advise them on how to do this, were three times as likely as commissioners without this knowledge and apparatus to develop policies aimed at protecting women from violent partners and family members.
“We are in an experimental situation here and it’s really up to women and other communities of interest to press for improvements,” says Gains. “I feel hopeful that a strong dialogue is taking place and the candidates are very aware of this – I think it is very important that one of the cabinet members on every combined authority has a strong equalities brief.”
According to Gains, the lack of peer support and mentoring for the new mayoral roles may have put women off, especially when women in any high-profile role face a far higher degree of personal criticism and scrutiny than men in similar jobs, on social media and in sections of the press.