Where are the Women’s Issues in This Election?
23 June 2016 at 11:50 am
Election Analysis:Women are more engaged than men in the federal election, so why are women’s issues marginalised asks Sara Bice, socio-political commentator from the Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne in a series of articles leading up to 2 July.
In this penultimate week of the federal election, attention is drifting from policy promises to the personally political, with both sides of the aisle shifting towards sledging. Whether this is simply an inevitable effect of 24-hour media cycle politics, a decline in democratic debate or – as The Age political editor Michael Gordon suggested on Wednesday – the result of a closer-than-expected election campaign, the results are ugly. And disappointing. And we’re not even talking about the US.
This in the midst of a week when troubling attitudes towards violence against women dominated mainstream headlines and radio talkback. The details are available via the previous link for those unaware of the controversy, and I won’t provide them further publicity by going into them here. But this unintentional highlighting of attitudes towards the treatment of women marked an unfortunate but important reminder that domestic violence and women’s inequality remain strong issues for electoral and policy attention.
As Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins pointed out in follow-up interviews commenting on the incident: “If anything good comes of this 57-second conversation, it’s that we better understand what we need to do to prevent violence against women. Attitudes matter.”
Why did it take totally inappropriate comments from a media personality to put these issues in the spotlight?
Where is the political debate, in the tight lead-in to an election that could theoretically create change and progress for women?
And why have women’s issues been largely marginalised in the political debate when at least one political pundit asserts that women are the most-engaged members of the electorate?
Perhaps they are the most engaged because they remain a group for whom policies truly matter. And for whom equality in certain aspects of Australian life – domestic violence, pay, discrimination, parental leave and child care, among others – remains a goal we’re still fighting for.
Anti-violence campaigner and 2015 Australian of the Year Rosie Batty this week continued women’s steady march on these issues, launching the Justice for Kids petition. More than 21,000 signatories pledged support to her call for the major parties to “commit to a family law system that puts safety first”.
Batty’s work to promote children’s safety – and the legal structures that will bolster it – is closely aligned with the dedicated campaigns of a number of women and family-focused Not for Profits. The petition also reminds us of the close interlinkage between the law and necessary responses to family violence, with Fraser, ACT Labor candidate MP Andrew Leigh pledging over half a million dollars in funding to support Canberra-based family legal services, focused on domestic violence.
While pledges like these are to be commended, expert commentators also warn that if politicians focus too heavily on the legal end of the domestic violence debate, they risk missing the critical aspects of public attitudes and behavioural change. It may also further marginalise groups, like Indigenous communities, who suffer violence at greater rates than the broader Australian population.
Arguably, all issues are women’s issues. But in an election, where there are those issues that we know affect women, most don’t make it onto the list of those that will “define the election”, it seems we’ve got a long march ahead of us yet.
About the author: Sara Bice (PhD) is director of research translation, Melbourne School of Government at the University of Melbourne. With a decade of experience assisting private firms, Not for Profits and government agencies to plan and advance their sustainable development agendas, Bice’s career is committed to creating shared value for communities and companies through evidence-based decision-making, risk management and strong stakeholder engagement.
(Photo of Sara Bice is courtesy of Adam Hollingworth.)