Politics and Women

Michaela Wagland recaps the UON Women’s Collective Women in Politics event and some of the important points of discussion.

 It is 1902 and Australia’s suffragette movement has achieved a momentous victory. The Commonwealth Parliament of Australia constructed a new path in democracy by granting women the right to vote and enabling women to be elected on a national basis.

It is 2016 and although we have women representatives, politics is still masquerading as gender neutral. Does it really need to be explained why it is extremely crucial that women are represented across the political spectrum? Apparently it is.

With the Federal Election looming, perhaps it is an appropriate time to discuss the significance of women in politics. Though this conversation should be discussed continually, Australian politics is a hot topic right now.

On the 25th of May, the University of Newcastle Women’s Collective hosted a ‘Womens in Politics’ night in which Sharon Claydon MP, Jane Oakley (Charlestown Greens Candidate) and UON Law Lecturer Dr Kcasey McLoughlin were panelists.

Though my political knowledge isn’t a particular strength of mine, what they had to say was incredibly eloquent and empowering.

They discussed in extreme detail the significance of women in politics, for example how vital it is that society is subjected to explanations of various issues by women. One distinction they made was in reference to young people involved in voting.

As Jane Oakley described, “Young people don’t see a reflection of diversity in politics”. She explained how the political environment can be quite toxic when fundamentally, it is supposed to be a debate. “School kids wouldn’t be allowed to act like that and these are our leaders.”

 Primarily, the status quo doesn’t have female representation. As the panelists described, women within politics are subjected to mistreatment. Why? Because people were granted a license to do so after the media and other politicians treated Julia Gillard so poorly.

Sharon Claydon MP describes being involved in women’s equity, as a “tough job” as the power male politicians hold is something they don’t give up easily.

However she describes it as the “the most enormous privilege to represent your community”.

 “We need good women in good roles.”

Feminism in Politics

When Sharon Claydon was asked why feminism is principal within politics she responded, “Yes, have you got a spare half an hour because I’ll tell you why”.

And as Jane Oakely said, “You don’t have to be a woman to be a feminist, it is about treating people equally and fairly. Same opportunities and same choices”.

Sharon Claydon described being a feminist as an acknowledgment to those before her. Great Australian women such Edith Cowan, a pioneer for women’s rights.

So what was their response to Julie Bishop not acknowledging feminism?

“Makes me cringe when Julie Bishop says she isn’t a feminist quite frankly”, Sharon stated.

In 2014, Federal Member for Curtain Julie Bishop stated that she wasn’t a feminist and explained how the term isn’t useful in current times. Although she acknowledges the strength of the women’s movement and the resilience they mustered in order to overcome gender challenges, she believes gender issues are not to blame for the obstacles she has faced in her career.

As reported in The Guardian, Julie Bishop stated, “You’re not going to get me saying that my career has been stymied because of a glass ceiling…. I’m not going to blame the fact that I’m a woman for it not working”.

Of course, Julie Bishop has the individual choice to identify with whichever labels she deems appropriate. So should we subject her to this debate of why she rejects the term feminist? Does this still matter?

Yes I believe it does. This dismissal of feminism almost implies that the fight for gender inequality is done, but it certainly is not.

As it was reported on The Women’s Agenda, “It is impossible not to recognise there is something hugely contradictory in Julie Bishop denying an affiliation with feminism, or at the very least, the movement’s ambitions”.

“Because if it weren’t for feminism Julie Bishop would not have been able to vote in an election, let alone stand for election. She is – like all of us – a beneficiary of feminism so it is disappointing that she doesn’t identify with the term.”

Want to be part of the conversation?

We have an innate ability to ignore politics (Not all of us but some). As Dr Kcasey McLoughlin stated, “We have a great ability to turn off the bullshit. When we hear a more rehearsed line towards politics, we tune it out”.

But the change we wish to see can’t be achieved by remaining in the wings. That is why all women within the political spectrum deserve to be applauded. Confronting and defeating gender obstacles is part of the job description.

Ladies, if politics is your thing and you wish to be part of the conversation one day, Sharon Claydon says to find yourself women in politics to talk to.

“You need a support team. There are tough times… But it is crucial that there are more women in politics.”

 

Image: OZinOH, Flickr, no changes made.