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Women in politics: Future proofing Australia

by | May 16, 2017 | The Agenda

When I reflect on my own journey to politics, I return to 1975. It was my first year as a school psychologist, but more importantly it was the year that Australian women began to see changes that would significantly alter their life path. 1975 was designated by the United Nations as the International Women’s Year. The Whitlam Government appointed Elizabeth Reid to distribute $3 million of funding to events and projects to appropriately mark the occasion. Funding was directed towards establishing centres for women’s health and welfare services, to supporting victims of domestic violence, and to cultural projects such as a women’s film festival, literature and performances highlighting the contributions of creative Australian women.

Now, 42 years later women’s lives have absolutely improved, and many young women stare at me in disbelief when I tell them of the ridiculous restrictions that existed not so long ago.

And yes, in 2013 we proudly reflected that we simultaneously had a woman Prime Minister (Julia Gillard), a woman Governor General (Quentin Bryce), a woman Governor of NSW (Marie Bashir), a woman Premier in Tasmania (Lara Giddings) and a woman CEO of a major bank, Westpac (Gail Kelly).

But by 2015, each and every one of those women has been replaced by a man. How quickly the landscape changes!

Following the political and media assassination of Julie Gillard, and the then Prime Minister Tony Abbott – self-appointed Minister for Women – having appointed just a single woman to Cabinet, I realised I could no longer stay silent and do nothing. I had established very successful Leadership, Diversity and Inclusion Consultancy with clients across the corporate and public sector. I had helped drive change in attitudes, policies and structures that had improved opportunities for women. Why not politics?

In 2015 I founded Women for Election Australia.

Women for Election Australia believes that we cannot afford to not have equality. As a country facing difficult decisions and tough choices we need to utilise all our resources – including women – as we navigate our future. Political diversity will deliver true democracy and importantly, also allow us to unveil the great wealth of untapped talent in our country.

Tackling the cause

Women for Election Australia unashamedly wants more women in Parliament. Just 13 of the federal government’s 76 members of the House of Representatives are women. Four of the six most marginal seats are held by women, meaning their tenure is insecure and unassured. And, there is a disturbing downward trend in the participation of women in public life.

In 2015 we researched the causes that deny women’s representation. Our report Future Proofing Australia- Gender Diversity in Politics, identified five barriers to women’s success in politics:

1. Culture. The MPs we interviewed reported a range of intimidating and bullying behaviours – behaviours that are prohibited by law in any other work setting. The boys’ cub well and truly exists.

2. Cash and Career. Funding a campaign is expensive, and there is no clear career pathway and no security, excluding those who literally cannot afford it.

3. Clash of values. Women MPs reported that they struggled with maintaining their sense of personal integrity and that they found it challenging to manage deep community cynicism.

4. Childcare. Parliamentary working hours and travel discourage women from a Parliamentary career, especially those with young families.

5. Candidate Selection. Pre-selection decisions are neither merit nor performance based. Again, the boys’ club definitely reigns supreme in the selection of candidates, and for winnable seats.

WFEA aims to accelerate women’s entry into politics by providing Masterclasses to women who wish to enter political life. Our curriculum is designed by, and for, women.

We advocate for increased number of women in politics, and we are establishing a community of women who challenge the status quo. We share our thoughts and ideas, equip toolboxes, build networks and facilitate collaboration because for the women we work with, these are more important than the ideology that divides.

If you would like to know more, please join us and meet dedicated women parliamentarians at our next Women in Politics Masterclass, Setting Yourself up for Political Success, at NSW Parliament House, on 11th August.

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