Why women's engagement in politics is vital: The #AusPol Brains Trust

Why women’s engagement in politics is vital: #AusPol Brains Trust:

There’s no denying that Australian politics is a shambles right now. Rumours, scandals and party in-fighting has littered tabloids and dictated the national conversation for too long. It’s not surprising therefore, that many people choose to block out the noise and lull themselves into apathy.

In reality though, it’s never been more important for us to care about Australia’s political agenda. The way we address issues like climate change, healthcare, foreign aid, homelessness, the NDIS, education, childcare, and the NBN are all critical to our lives now and the future we lay down for our kids.

In the first of an ongoing series, we speak with five very politically engaged women, who are regular contributors to the #Auspol Twitter community. Ex Senator Cheryl Kernot, author Vic Rollison, business owner Noely Neate, activist Louise Hislop and founder of Mediascope and Peggy’s List, Denise Shrivell.

These women answer our first question:

Why is it important for Australian women to stay engaged in politics?’ 

Cheryl Kernot – @cheryl_kernot – https://twitter.com/cheryl_kernot

From the moment in the late 1980s when I looked down from the public gallery at the Qld Parliament chamber and witnessed the visual effect of two female MPs in a sea of 87 males, it was clear to me that this could not possibly be representative of our society.

Then I heard them speak on a Bill to allow women freedom of choice with respect to having access to an abortion and the ignorance was palpable. Women’s voices and life experiences were almost absent from this important debate. But the same would have been true for all policies. Still, today, it’s not just about being satisfied with an increase in women’s representation in some of our political parties; for me, it’s really about having women present in equal numbers to men at the Cabinet tables where the agenda is set. Contributing to setting priorities, not used as endorsers afterwards; equal participants in all the decisions made. Sensible and not so. To be there, and to be seen to be there, participating equally is why it’s important for women to be engaged in Australian politics. Social media is great for opinions, but it doesn’t legislate. Yet.

So many factors currently work against women’s engagement: most of all: the culture. The tone in Question Time and in media reporting of it is very combative; much of the discourse is nastily personal not policy focussed; there is so much spin and dishonesty. The hours and travel requirements are not at all family-friendly. We’re not silly! When most women weigh it all up, there are too many negatives. We need radical change across the board: from the standing orders of parliaments (which govern sitting times and how questions can be answered or not); to the culture of media reporting, to remedy this.

Queen Victoria – Vic Rollison – https://twitter.com/Vic_Rollison

It grates on me when people say, ‘I have no interest in politics’. To me, that’s like saying ‘I’m happy for everyone else to decide how the country I live in runs and I’ll just go along with it’. I’m not asking everyone to be as engaged in politics as I am – I am overly obsessed addict on the subject.

But having a broad idea of what is going on, what the major policy debates are, and being informed about what the alternative choices and their consequences are, especially at election time, is important for every member of the community; young, old, men and women. For women in particular, if we opt-out of engagement in politics, we end up letting the engaged men decide how we should run our lives, and every feminist knows how badly that has turned out for women in the past.

If women aren’t as engaged as they ought to be, I would pin the problem on the time constraints placed on women who are juggling work, household and caring responsibilities. The truth is, when children come along, as I have discovered for myself in the last two years, something has to give. The practicalities of the working-mother-juggle require that political engagement, even for obsessives like me, is one of the quickest things that drops off.

Before I had my daughter, I filled my spare time with political engagement. I blogged once a week. I tweeted constantly. I lived on a daily diet of political news. I networked with other political types whenever I could. I was that local branch member who turned up to every meeting, sat on committees, volunteered for campaigns, attended all the events like fundraisers, book launches, think tank speeches. You name it, I put my hand up. Then bang, my world changed when I became a mother. Yes, I’m still engaged, but I’m not able to be at the level I once was. There just isn’t the time in the day to do it all anymore, particularly turning up to things. I’m tired in the evenings, goddammit!

This adjustment of time-spent no doubt impacts the political engagement of all parents – mothers and fathers. But women, as we know, do more of the domestic caring and housework than men (although not in my house!), so women are perhaps disproportionally impacted by this change in lifestyle, making political engagement even harder for them.

Noely – @yaThinkN – https://twitter.com/YaThinkN

Media tend to focus on the ‘game’ of politics, which turns many people off — busy women in particular. Though the reality is, politics on an operational level touches every aspect of our lives, whether we want it to or not.

We would like to think we are heading towards equality, unfortunately, Women still being primary care-givers means we tend to interact more with services supplied by Government, from Schooling to Health care services, to just running kids around on the roads. Women who don’t have children, still use more health facilities, just due to sheer physiology – not to mention taxed unfairly on sanitary products with GST – so again, it is in a woman’s interest to pay attention to the actual reality of politics and how their decisions directly impact our lives.

What are the odds sanitary items would have been on the exempt list when GST was introduced if more women had been both in politics as MPs or actively paying attention to agitate for it’s exclusion at the time?

Denise Shrivell – @deniseshrivell – https://twitter.com/deniseshrivell

I follow politics closely through #auspol – & other independent sources – and am frankly alarmed by what I see each day.

I completely understand why many say they’ve turned away from politics due to its dysfunction – there’s certainly been plenty of that over recent years. However, tuning out is exactly the opposite of what should be done. In fact, politicians who put the interests of their donors and their own political advantage ahead of the national interest – count on us NOT to take an interest.

US commentator, Michael Moore said “Democracy is not a spectator sport, it’s a participatory event. If we don’t participate in it, it ceases to be a democracy.” In one of a handful of countries to have compulsory voting – taking an active interest in politics and making an informed vote is one of the most powerful ways we can ensure we get the country we want. Politics fundamentally touches every part of our lives — from education, to health, climate change, security, energy, the NBN — and issues such as domestic violence, homelessness to marriage equality to our abhorrent, shameful treatment of asylum seekers on Manus and Nauru.

The mismatch between the reality of politics compared to how it’s reported through some parts of our mainstream media is a huge concern. Australia has one of the most concentrated media ownership landscapes in the world, and then we vote on misinformation often against our own best interests.

Louise Hislop – @louise_hislop – https://twitter.com/Louise_Hislop

I have a three word slogan. “Life is politics.” It’s unfortunate, because if politics was working well, we wouldn’t have to be aware of it.

All the things that women intrinsically care about: work, family, childcare, equality, health, the arts, community, clean water, clean air, a healthy economy, (and by that I mean one that works without destroying the environment), as well as the basic notion of fairness are entwined in our daily lives. So much so that often we have our heads down and don’t realise that it is the political system that creates the settings which determine how these things work.

At present, many women, perhaps most women, are so busy trying to cope with the plethora of these factors that affect their every day lives, they are removed from the big thing that has the potential to make their lives better.

Women need to engage with the system to get their needs met.

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