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Program Paves the Path for Women in Politics

2 June 2016 at 5:08 pm
Ellie Cooper
Women aspiring to become politicians are taking part in a new initiative to address the continued underrepresentation of females in Australian politics.

Ellie Cooper | 2 June 2016 at 5:08 pm


Program Paves the Path for Women in Politics
2 June 2016 at 5:08 pm

Women aspiring to become politicians are taking part in a new initiative to address the continued underrepresentation of females in Australian politics.

The Pathways to Politics Program for Women, which began on Thursday at the University of Melbourne’s School of Government, seeks to provide support and practical advice to women seeking office at local, state and national levels.

The a non-partisan program was led and funded by the Trawalla Foundation. Chair of the foundation Carol Schwartz AM told Pro Bono Australia News she was frustrated by the lack of political opportunities for women.

“It actually came out of not only my frustration, but I think a general frustration – at the time – that we had only one woman in cabinet, and the numbers of women being appointed to government boards and committees was actually going backwards,” Schwartz said.

“The conversation was around, we don’t have enough women in politics, we don’t have enough women putting themselves forward for preselection and why is that the case?”

The Representation of Women in Australian Parliaments 2014 report found less than one-third of all parliamentarians and only one-fifth of all ministers were women. Australia was also ranked 44th globally for national female representation.  

It said the representation of women in Australia’s parliaments hovered around the “critical mass” of 30 per cent regarded by the United Nations as the minimum level for women to influence decision-making.

Schwartz said women faced barriers to accessing the same political networks as men.

“I think very often women are, and even if it’s inadvertent, excluded from those networks for various reasons. And I think it’s much tougher for women to get into party machinery than it is for men,” she said.

“A beautiful example of this was Emily’s List in the Labor Party. The representation of women was relatively poor in the Labor Party before Emily’s List was established. Now Emily’s List has created that network, or pathway, into politics for women from the Labor Party.

“Consequently they have much greater numbers than the Liberal Party which doesn’t have the same pathway.

“I think that party machinery, networks, have all been set up decades ago to, if you like, support men, and it hasn’t changed very much in order to support women. Hopefully this course will actually give women the exposure and some of the skills they will need to penetrate the machinery, the networks, to understand what it is they need in terms of qualities, characteristics, and what a life in politics will look like for them.”

Trawalla approached the University of Melbourne to run the program, which was modelled on a Harvard University equivalent where Schwartz is a member of the women’s leadership board.

She said it would cover the gamut of what life in politics is like – how to navigate political party “machinery”, how to resolve ethical dilemmas, how to create policy, how to communicate policy, how to raise funds as a political candidate, and how to communicate with the media and the public.  

The program will also have guest presenters from across the political spectrum, including former governor-general Quentin Bryce, Labor senator Penny Wong, Victorian Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer and Victorian Greens MP Ellen Sandell.

“We’ve had such enthusiasm and support from so many women politicians from all sides of politics… and I think that there is absolute acknowledgement and recognition from these women that we do need more women in politics and they will do everything they can to ensure that that happens,” Schwartz said.

“One of the most exciting things about this program is actually creating a really strong cohort or alumni of women as politicians. I think that was one of the things that Harvard was very excited about in terms of being associated with this program at Melbourne University, is actually down the track we’ll be able to create an international alumni of female politicians which is very exciting.”

 Applications for the program were open to University of Melbourne female graduate students and alumni.

“We have targeted a huge diversity of women, we don’t want to have women from only one political party. We have a group of women who are representative of all sorts of political persuasions and come from diverse backgrounds,” Schwartz said.

“I was reading the bios – they are an exceptional group of women… I feel that if we had them in our political leadership we would be looking very, very good as a nation.

“There is a whole spectrum [of women]. Obviously we don’t have any women who are currently politicians, but we do have several women who have put themselves forward as candidates for political parties, and we have women from the corporate sector, from the community sector and women who have worked ministerial advisors, as public servants, so we really have a broad cross-section, which is really exciting.”

The program kicks-off as the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has apologised for accidentally publishing the email addresses of thousands of women who had registered their interest in being appointed to government boards.

The government database, AppointWomen, was intended to be a confidential register. However, in notifying women registered about the changeover process to a new website called BoardLinks their emails were made public.

Ellie Cooper  |  Journalist  |  @ProBonoNews

Ellie Cooper is a journalist covering the social sector.

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