It’s a question many of us have reflected upon: what would change if there were more women in politics?
Today, 17 young Australian women will get a taste of that possibility as they enter Parliament and take over an MP’s job for the day – all part of Plan International Australia’s ‘Girls Take Over Parliament’ campaign.
The objective is to allow young women free rein in expressing their ideas and plans for a future Australia. Political parties involved, are also asked to “review their candidate selection procedures, encourage women to stand for election and to increase the number of women selected in winnable seats” says PIA’s Deputy CEO, Susanne Legena.
“It’s clear that while young women want to participate in public life, they feel that the opportunities simply aren’t there for them. The MPs who have opened their doors to our young women are today making a commitment to them that they can – and should – pursue a life in politics,” she says.
The Labor Party, Liberal Party, Xenophon team and The Australian Greens, have all agreed to the initiative with enthusiasm. Notably absent from the list is the Australian National Party and Pauline Hanson’s, One Nation.
The ‘Take Over Parliament’ initiative comes off the back of PIA’s recent report She Can Lead: Young people in Australia share their views on politics, which uncovered some pretty disheartening statistics when it comes to how young women perceive their potential for pursuing a career in politics.
The study, which included 530 young men and women across Australia, found that nearly half of young women (45 per cent) felt there just weren’t enough opportunities for them to explore a career in politics. While only 26 per cent of male respondents felt the same.
The study also showed that 35 per cent of young women felt their gender was a barrier to a career in politics as opposed to just 4 per cent of male respondents, and that starting a family (41 per cent) would also stand in their way. Only 11 per cent of young men agreed.
Observing the reality of the mainstream political landscape right now, it’s easy to see why young women in Australia feel so helpless. Across all parliaments in the country, women make up only 24 per cent of Liberal Party MPs. The Labor Party is doing far better with 43 per cent, but there is still an obvious gap.
Speaking with one of the participants in today’s ‘Take Over’, and a PIA youth ambassador, Caitlin Figueiredo is reflective about the status quo for women in politics. She believes Australia needs to do more to support female politicians and worries about the way women are portrayed in Parliament and by the media.
“They’re judged on how they look, how they speak, rather than how they work” she says. This was certainly true for former Prime Minister Julia Gillard, who was often ridiculed for the way she spoke and dressed. During her relatively short tenure as PM, she was also branded a ‘bitch’ and a ‘witch’–condoned by then opposition leader, Tony Abbott.
In the future, Caitlin hopes to see “stronger media regulations” and “tougher sanctions on parliamentarians regarding how they speak about their female colleagues.”
Caitlin believes that unfair treatment and underrepresentation of women in Australian politics means the country is missing out on a huge pool of potential talent. “we’re setting ourselves up to be disadvantaged on the world stage” she says. Moreover, gender inequality in politics means that young girls are often left without role models to look up to.
“Having more women in leadership will inspire millions of women and girls throughout our country to believe in their abilities, potential and dreams, she says.
“In the US, Hillary Clinton positively impacted the political scene. 16,000 women expressed an interest in running for office. This is what happens when women refuse to take a backseat and lead equally—they build movements. And, this is what the girl’s ‘Take Over’ program will achieve.
“A movement that has the potential to inspire our next female Prime Minister to run for office.”