Hello Parliament House, we have a problem.
The wave of quality women who have left the House in the past few weeks let alone years means the challenge of how to encourage more Australian women to enter all levels of government remains larger than Donald Trump’s Twitter feed.
Shockingly, in 2018 Australia ranks 49th in the world when it comes to female representation in federal parliament and sits behind countries like Angola and Cameroon.
Women make up more than 40 per cent of those in the Senate with 31 seats out of 76. But the numbers in the lower house paint a different picture. Among 150 MPs, women occupy just 43 seats or about 30 per cent of the chamber.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull admits the numbers need to rise:
“We don’t have enough women in the parliament, as a consequence we don’t have enough women in the ministry.”
For any real change to happen in society – from improving child care to closing gender pay gaps and even climate change action – the consensus is clear: women need to be involved in decision making not just because they represent 50 per cent of the population, but because good policy depends on it. Very few policies don’t impact women. Having a position in Parliament House or at local council is vital for women to get their perspectives not only heard but activated.
Here are the general state of Australia’s politics affairs (spoiler alert: it is not great):
- Gender equality is seen as not just a good thing to do but an imperative for business success – so the political world needs to also understand this and actively change it. Women make decisions that impact on the daily lives and health outcomes for women and families As Secretary Hilary Rodman Clinton famous said “women’s rights are human rights”.
- There are so few female role models in politics and for many in office, the online and media treatment of women is a huge disincentive.
- The 5 C’s. The WFEA research report Futureproofing Australia: Gender Diversity in Politics summarises these ‘Five C’s’ as the main reasons women don’t run for office:
- Cash. Many women are already behind their male counterparts in salaries and have less superannuation. It is very expensive to mount a campaign, and then, if elected to local government, councillors are paid a pittance AND not paid superannuation.
- Career They see politics as too big a financial risk, especially if their career has already been interrupted by chid bearing and family responsibilities
- Childcare which still falls more on shoulders of women than men in the prime years when women would like to run for office.
- Confidence. Canadian PM Justin Trudeau has a gender balanced cabinet, but he said it took up to 7 requests to women to stand before they accepted),
- Culture clash/compromise – they analyse their personal values and integrity and fear that politics may force them to compromise too much on these.
There are a paltry five women in the Turnbull government’s 22-member cabinet. Hats off to Liberal MP Kelly O-Dwyer who juggles her senior position while raising two children under the age of three. In 2017 she added Minister for Women to her list of titles within a Liberal Party criticised for having a ‘woman problem’.
She has even put $50,000 of her own money into a fund to help get more women on the Coalition’s benches. Most of her colleagues are in furious agreement that quotas are a “Labor thing” and are not the answer.
In 1994, Labor started setting quotas to boost its female numbers back in 1994. Today, the party has 45 per cent representation. The Liberal Party remains at 22 per cent.
“There are women who could be elected tomorrow and this notion, this M word, ‘merit’ that keeps being thrown back in some way suggesting that women aren’t really deserving of public office in the way that so many men are, it’s a ridiculous debate,” Former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja said.
So how can we change this for women in politics? Knowledge is power. I truly believe from my experiences in countries such as Ireland, Iceland and Finland that women are hungry to make the difference and step into politics.
We just need to get them ready by breaking down the barriers, busting the myths and equipping them with the tools and connections to make it happen.
The annual WEFA Conference is designed to inspire women by building collaborative relationships and a community of future political and community leaders. Running for a second year, there are will be opportunities to exchange ideas with like-minded women and learn from the knowledge and expertise of the highly talented current and former women politicians, speakers and presenter who will lift the veil on political processes: preselection, candidature, political parties.
During this conference the women attending will be both challenged and inspired to sharpen their skills, interact with others, and leave this event energized and eager to share their new learnings.
Being a part of this event will give delegates greater influence and opportunities to make a first step into political empowerment.
What are you waiting for?
Jennifer Morris is Founder and Chair of Women for Election Australia (WFEA). To pre-register interest in our next Introduction to Politics Forum, to be held on 17 August 2018 at NSW Parliament House please contact Jenny via firstname.lastname@example.org. Or find out more details about WFEA here.