Women Don't Want To Enter #Auspol. But These 4 Are Running -- Here's Why
Last year, a study released by PLAN International confirmed what many of us already knew to be true -- zero percent of young women in Australia aspired to, or planned to, enter politics as a career.
It’s hardly a surprise -- from the slut-shaming of Sarah Hanson-Young, to the Liberal party failing to elect Julie Bishop despite her being the most qualified candidate for leader, to a phoney GetUp! character gyrating in front of a Zali Steggall billboard, there is not a lot out there to make young women feel confident that politics is a career in which they will be supported, respected and able to get valuable work done.
Despite this, there are more calls for women to run for politics than ever before, and women are still putting their hands up in the hopes of being elected and being able to make a positive difference in their electorate and the country more broadly.
I spoke to four women who are running for the first time in the upcoming election: Zali Steggall (Independent for Warringah), Shireen Morris (Labor), Emerald Moon (Greens) and Hollie Hughes (Liberal). I wanted to get a sense of why they thought women were reluctant to enter politics, and what we should be doing about it.
Why do you think women are reluctant to enter politics?
Hollie: “I believe the media has a lot to do with women’s reluctance. Too often women are derided for what they wear, their body, their hair, whether they have children or not. There is also some poor personal treatment of women within the political environment itself.
“Politics is adversarial by its very nature, but at times it has become too personal in its attacks. The 24-hour news cycle has produced more interest in “gotcha” moments rather than proper debate.
“The reality is you can make more money without the relentless scrutiny in the private sector, so lots of people do question why you would bother running.”
Zali: “I think when there's lack of depth within an industry, you have to wonder if there is a lack of leadership from the top. I think we've not had enough female representation in parliament, so it doesn't create that sense of example and leadership for younger women to follow.
“I think the tone of our politics of the last 10 years has been so combative and really quite negative, so I don't think it has looked like a career path that would be particularly attractive to anyone. With a number of men behaving extremely badly I think it hasn't been very attractive to women.”
Emerald: “I think there are two key things discouraging women from entering politics: on the one hand, the lack of existing representation makes women feel as though politics is not a usual or even viable path for them. It’s that “you can’t be what you can’t see” problem. On the other hand, those few role models we have in the political sphere are treated so badly (for example: Julia Gillard/ “ditch the witch") that the most damaging message is made even more clear: women are not welcome here.”
Shireen: “It may be that women get more gendered abuse -- think of what happened with Sarah Hanson-Young and Julia Gillard, which I think is not acceptable. It may also be that women do not get promoted as much.”
So what can we do to fix it?
Shireen: “The culture [in politics] needs to change. This requires education, conversation and concerted tackling of gender inequality.”
Zali: “I think you need more women in there. I think by just simply having more women in the room you will change the discourse and the tone, you will change the level of aggression, and the manner in which issues are approached and debated.
“The flow-on effect from that, as the discourse changes and the style changes, it becomes a more attractive career proposition. Women of my generation, we're professionals, we've got the capacity . My children are now of an age where I can really afford the time and focus on it. From my point of view, it is my responsibility to the next generation to create that example.”
Hollie: “We need serious debate about issues. The level of the political discourse needs to be lifted on all fronts, ensuring we have an informed electorate, not one treated like a New Idea reader.
“Politics is ultimately what decides how we live -- how much we are taxed, the quality of services, the choice and control we have over our own lives and how those choices are supported. It is serious with real life consequences; not just another reality TV show as too many recent elected participants would have you believe.”
Emerald: “I think quotas are a necessary step towards gender parity and a genuinely representative democracy. Until I saw powerful, successful female politicians like Julia Gillard and Larissa Waters in the public sphere, I didn’t see myself in politics. Women are still raised to believe it’s rude or unseemly to ask for things or to pursue something of their own volition.
“Gender quotas can put more women in politics, normalise it as a profession for women, and bump it up on the list of realistic career options for women.”
And finally, what would your advice be to young women who are interested in politics but are reluctant to run?
Emerald: “I think it’s important to see the sexist crap for what it is: a distraction. When sexist insults are being hurled at women on the floor of Parliament, it often means the perpetrators are scared people might actually pay attention to the positive work that woman is doing, and her intelligence and value as a human being.
“We can’t let ourselves be distracted from what we’re passionate about. The tide is turning: there are so many women doing incredible work in the political space, and there is a wealth of support for women willing to stand up for what they believe in and seek positive change. I genuinely believe that in the next 10 years or so we will see an incredible overhaul of the way we think, talk and act around women in politics -- and we have an exciting opportunity right now to be part of that change.”
Shireen: “Be brave, give it a go, work hard and you never know! I'm enjoying campaigning so far. It's hard work, but it's rewarding.”
Zali: “I think back yourself. At the end of the day, don't wait for anyone, and certainly not any man to tap you on the shoulder and say ‘it's your turn’ or ‘you know, you should give this a go.’ I think everyone needs to be committed and focused and determined for their own ambitions. I don't think anyone should ever accept limitations imposed by others so I think your potential is only as big as you want. You want to dream it and make it.”
Hollie: “If you want to make a difference in your community, your state or the nation, a political career should be one that is considered. The Council, Bear Pit or Parliament is where decisions are made, and politics will give you a chance to help shape those decisions.
“It’s not a career to enter into lightly -- it may take years of work behind the scenes to win preselection for a major party. I have certainly treated my entering public life as a family decision as it is a role that will impact the whole family.”