Government Gender Imbalance ‘Very Disappointing’
14 July 2016 at 10:54 am
Only 13 women will hold seats in the Coalition government – the lowest level in more than two decades – in what has been called a “very disappointing” result for women’s representation.
Comparatively, 63 men have seats in the Turnbull government, and this number will be 64 if the Liberal Party wins the Queensland seat of Herbert, which it is predicted to do.
With the Coalition having lost ground in this federal election, the number of women with seats is five fewer than the Abbott government in 2013, when he was criticised for failing to appoint more women to the front bench.
Carol Schwartz AM, chair of the Trawalla Foundation, which led and funded the University of Melbourne’s Pathways to Politics Program for Women, said the issue was with the preselection of candidates.
“[It’s] very disappointing. And also the fact that unfortunately many women were preselected for safe seats in the Liberal Party, which of course means that you’re not going to have that representation of women coming through,” Schwartz told Pro Bono Australia News.
“So I think that there will probably be very many women in the Liberal Party itself who will be very disappointed with the lack of representation of women.
“As we know, a number of women, such as Kelly O’Dwyer, Sharman Stone, all spoke about the need for more women to be included in the Liberal Party leadership ranks and it just doesn’t seem to be happening.”
She said the lack of representation would have a significant impact on policy issues.
“Unfortunately it has a huge impact. The research shows that when you have more women in government you actually get better decision making generally,” she said.
“But you also have… a prioritisation of different types of legislation and policy that come to the fore around issues around health, education, and it’s just a real shame for our country that we’re not going to have more women there contributing to the decisions around those very, very important areas.
“I think that also women play a really important role in the allocation, prioritisation of money, and I think that when we don’t have women properly represented either in treasury or finance, again we’re not getting the best decisions we possibly could be getting out of our decision makers.”
The Labor party, which has had a gender quota for female MPs since 1994, is predicted to have 27 women in its 68 seats. If Cathy O’Toole had managed to win Herbert, bringing the total to 28 of 69 seats, the party would have achieved it’s 40 per cent target.
Schwartz said quotas were important, dismissing the merit-based selection argument.
“We all know the arguments around the myth of merit, that it’s actually the dominant group that determines what merit is,” she said.
“So therefore if the dominant group is a group of men, then you’re going to be having criteria around merit determined by them.
“If we have a look at what’s happening in the Labor Party, because they actually have targets for women and targets that they stick to… they’re close to 40 per cent.
“And we have women from the Liberal side of politics… talking about the need for targets. I think that it’s pretty self-evident what the solution is.”
Project coordinator at the YWCA’s Equality Rights Alliance, Hannah Gissane, told Pro Bono Australia News government should reflect the 51 per cent of voters who are women.
“Just for the simple fact that it’s representative of the population that Parliament’s purport to represent, for the basic value of representation,” Gissane said.
“But also because women’s leadership is one piece of the puzzle for gender equality and ending violence against women.”
Despite low representation in government, more women than ever stood for election this year, more than 30 per cent in the lower house. But Gissane said Australia was well behind where it needed to be in attracting women to politics.
“It’s interesting, because we say the highest level in history, but that’s just a measurement against what has previously been the case, and so the fact that it’s still only 33 per cent of candidates is not going to give us the representation that we need,” she said.
“And it still shows the glacial rate of change in this area. And so what we really need is interventions to really fast track and speed up the rate at which women do sign up to be candidates for public office.”
She said there were many causes behind low representation of women.
“I think there are systemic factors at play, social and cultural factors at play, thing like gender stereotypes which mean we don’t see women as leaders or as decision makers for public office,” she said.
“Things around women’s lives, unequal sharing of caring responsibilities and those kinds of things – that can hamper women’s participation.
“And also political parties need to have a really strategic approach to their pipelines for women participating as candidates as well, so we need political parties to really look at what those barriers are and work to address them as well.”