Women for Election Australia conducted a survey of 53 current politicians in local, state and federal government, which found that women are, “routinely expected to tolerate tantrums, nastiness, vindictiveness, visions personal attacks, nasty emails and attacks on family.”
This is frankly not good enough and it is why I have put my hand up to be a Male Champion for Change to encourage more women into politics.
Politics is a rough and tumble game. Political leadership can find you the target of many slings and barbs and there are very few places to hide under media’s spotlight and from the expectations of public life.
On Friday I took part in a panel at the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians conference in Sydney to discuss how male politicians can help improve gender equality in politics.
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick outlined how the Male Champions of Change program was changing things in the private sector and asked us to consider whether a similar model could help in the political sphere.
“We are trying to create a critical mass of change agents … who understand the need for change not just with their heads but with their hearts,” she said. “It is not about men saving women, it is about men standing up beside women.”
NSW MPs Adrian Piccoli, Jamie Parker, Stuart Ayres, Luke Foley and I canvassed everything from preselection, quotas and targets to making politics more attractive by improving State and Federal Parliament as workplaces.
We were all in agreement that if men control the levers of power, as they currently do in most parts of Australia’s political infrastructure, then men have to take responsibility to help change things.
Increasing the number of women in politics is not solely a ‘women’s issue’ – it is in the national interest for Australia to have access to 100 per cent of the nation’s talent pool, regardless of gender.
Candid representations were made from women MPs at the conference about the abuse that they have been subjected to in the chamber.
Disrespect, verbal abuse and demeaning of women are connected to the curse of domestic violence that we are battling and should not be tolerated anywhere and especially in our parliaments.
Bullying has no place in any workplace and we must all call out bullying when it happens in the chamber.
We also need to make Parliament a more family friendly place in which to work. The way it currently operates is antithetical to anyone who wants to spend time with family, whether they are men or women. For many reasons, this affects women more than men.
If we have a workplace that discriminates against a part of the population – in this case, half of the population – shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, what are those aspects of that workplace that are able to be changed?
It was clear from the discussion at the conference that women MPs believe an improvement in the tone of political discourse would go some way to making politics a more attractive career option for women. I agree with them. There is far too much aggression for its own sake - a better, more civil debate would make for better policies and better government.
If we lift the level of debate and aim to realise more of our better selves, this would be an important step in encouraging more women into politics.