Levelling the playing field: Emboldening advocates in the women's sector

in Report , Tagged gender equality, Activism, Australian politics, Gender Equality Strategies, Toolkit, Advocacy, Women's groups.
  • Joanna Richards 2020

    Joanna Richards

    Joanna is a PhD Candidate in the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation, University of Canberra. Her research focuses on women in political leadership and language. She is interested in how language affects our understanding of issues relating to gender equality and women’s rights.

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    Andrew Leigh MP

    Member for Fenner

    Andrew Leigh is the Shadow Assistant Treasurer and Federal Member for Fenner in the ACT. Prior to being elected in 2010, Andrew was a professor of economics at the Australian National University. He holds a PhD in public policy from Harvard, and his books include Disconnected (2010), Battlers and Billionaires (2013), The Economics of Just About Everything (2014) and The Luck of Politics (2015).


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With the glacial progress in gender equality in Australia, social advocacy is now more important than ever before. But how many actually know how to effectively engage with politicians? 

University of Canberra PhD candidate Joanna Richards has authored a toolkit to assist people with just that. Launched by the Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP, it aims to demystify the political process and ensure that smaller organisations also get their voices heard. 

Recently, we launched a 'A Toolkit for Gender Advocacy 'and distributed it to women’s organisations throughout Australia. The toolkit is designed to assist advocates, particularly women's groups, to engage with parliamentarians. Supporters of the Australian women’s movement recognise the gendered nature of public policy. Advocacy work is now more important than ever.

Screen Shot 2018 10 25 at 12.33.05 amThis toolkit seeks to make politics more porous.  It outlines the practicalities of meeting with parliamentarians, as well as providing more detailed advice on building a strong advocacy case and maintaining longer term relationships with representatives.

The opportunities for advocates and parliamentarians to spend time together is limited and precious

The opportunities for advocates and parliamentarians to spend time together is limited and precious. And yet, the knowledge that can be gained from such conversations can have an immense impact on the outcomes of social policy. Knowing the best time to contact a parliamentarian, what to bring with you to a meeting, and the best evidence to support your advocacy case can dramatically influence the long term success of a cause.

Unlike advocates, commercial lobbyists are paid to meet federal politicians on behalf of a client. Private companies, many in highly regulated industries, account for almost 80% of the clients of commercial lobbyists on the federal register. Lobbyists are engaged by interest groups or companies, often for a large fee, and are rarely personally involved with the cause they are representing.

A recent Grattan Institute report, 'Who’s in the Room? Access and Influence in Australian Politics', illustrates that both of these factors - access and influence - are heavily tilted towards a small number of entities. In this environment, social advocates sometimes struggle to have their voices heard.

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Lobbyists have influence because they are good at their jobs. They know how the political system works; they understand timing; they are aware of who is on what committee and the importance of the electorate.  In addition, they are mindful of the nuances engrained in party platforms.

The aim of the toolkit is to tilt the playing field towards smaller organisations by demystifying the political process

The aim of the toolkit is to tilt the playing field towards smaller organisations - particularly women’s groups - by demystifying the political process.

It provides a ‘bottom up’ solution to embolden advocates, and to ensure that when they get in the door, they make every minute count. It aims to fuel the ranks of women who are lobbying on important matters and to provide them the resources that will ensure their voices are heard.


Joanna Richards authored the toolkit while seconded to the office of Andrew Leigh MP. Special thanks to Nick Terrell, without whom this initiative would not have been possible. A copy of the toolkit can be found here.

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