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  • Futureproofing Australia: Gender Diversity in Politics

    AUTHORS Jennifer Whelan and Jennifer Morris, with the assistance of Melissa Jones.


    JUNE, 2015









    1 2


    3 4






  • 03 Inspiring and Equipping Women to Succeed in Politics


    Inequality in gender representation in politics is a global issue.

    As of January 2015:

    • Only 22% of all national parliamentarians were female.i

    • 10 women served as Head of State and 14 served as

    Head of Government.ii

    • Rwanda had the highest number of women

    parliamentarians worldwide. Women won 63.8% of

    seats in the lower house.iii

    • Globally, there are 38 States in which women account

    for less than 10 per cent of parliamentarians in single

    or lower houses.iv

    ?Why conduct this research?

    As UN Secretary General

    Mr Ban Ki-Moon identified in 2011 v

    Gender equality must be treated as an explicit goal of democracy building, not as an add -on.

  • 04 Women for Election

    Entrenched gender inequality in politics has proven to be particularly difficult to address in Australia.

    Although Australia has one of the highest education rates of women in the world, this is not reflected

    in the proportion of women in senior roles within the Australia political landscape.

    Australia ranks 43rdvii of 187 countries internationally for female representation in Parliament. We are

    ranked behind countries such as South Sudan, Angola, The Philippines and Zimbabwe.

    Equally concerning is the recent downward trend of female participation in Australian political life.

    Although women’s representation in Australian politics had increased consistently from 1994 until

    2009- peaking at 30.8% across all Australian parliaments in aggregate - this percentage declined to

    28.3% in 2012 and only increased very slightly to 29% in 2013.viii

    The 2013 election results strengthened the existing imperative for a new approach to addressing

    gender inequality in Australian politics (leading to the establishment of Women for Election Australia)

    and highlighted the need to clarify the key challenges and issues for Australian female politicians

    (resulting in the research in this report).

    2013 Australian Federal Election Candidates by Gender


    1,247 (73%)

    470 (27%)


    In the Federal Election of 2013 there were 470

    female candidates of a total of 1717 candidates


    Only 39 of the 150 MP’s (26%) were women.

  • 05 Inspiring and Equipping Women to Succeed in Politics

    Women for Election Australia (WFEA) is a non-partisan, not for profit organisation which was

    established in 2013. WFEA’s vision is to increase the number and influence of women in elected and

    appointed office in Australia.

    Women for Election Australia

    Our Aim is to strengthen our democracy by changing the way politics is done in Australia: to change

    entrenched practices and mindsets to enable the leadership potential of women to be fully realised.

    As overseas experience has shown, there are meaningful societal benefits for nations that have more

    women in parliament: increased female representation in Parliament leads to more representative

    and holistic decision-making.

    Our Mission is twofold. Firstly, to be a catalyst for change by raising awareness of gender imbalance

    in politics and by providing thought leadership through our research and advocacy work. Secondly,

    to provide excellent customised training and support in Australia for women to run for office or to

    move up the ladder to higher elective office.

    Our Unique curriculum is designed by, and for,

    women and addresses the particular cultural

    challenges faced by women in politics in


    Our Ultimate Goal is to ensure real and

    sustainable change in the political landscape.

    Our Focus is non-partisan, based on our

    common needs and experiences as political

    women, not our differences as political







  • 06 Women for Election

    WFEA invited 53 current female politicians at local, state and federal government levels

    and 3 past female politicians, also at all levels of government, to participate in this

    research. Women were able to participate either via focus groups (conducted on 20

    February and 25 March 2015), one on one interviews or by replying to the questions in

    e-mail, as best suited their schedules.

    WFEA also conducted in-depth one on one interviews with 5 women between 23-60

    years old from different educational and political backgrounds who whilst active in their

    community and concerned about issues of social justice, have walked away from a

    career in politics. These women were interviewed in order to identify their perceived

    barriers to entry to Australian politics, both self-imposed and systemic.

    The women who participated in the research, and who consented to being identified,

    are listed at Appendix 1. WFEA sought permission from all participants to have their de-

    identified responses included in this report which both outlines the challenges faced

    by, and explores strategies to increase the number of, women in political public life in


    A draft copy of the report was made available to all research participants prior to this

    research being published to give participants the opportunity to ensure that they could

    not be inadvertently identified by their responses.






  • 07 Inspiring and Equipping Women to Succeed in Politics

    All current or past politician research

    participants were asked the following


    1. What are the key challenges women find

    when standing for election and when in


    2. What do you know now that you wish

    you knew ‘back then’ when you started in


    3. What are the key challenges facing the

    next generation of women entering

    parliament and what skills will the next

    generation of female politicians need

    to equip them for the future? Are they

    different to the challenges you faced? If

    so, how?

    Time permitting, research participants were

    also asked the following questions:

    4. If a program like WFEA had been offered

    to you at the beginning of your political

    career, would you have taken it up? If not,

    why not?

    5. What are the central training and support

    needs of women who have already

    succeeded in Australian politics?

    6. Despite the challenges what has kept

    you in politics and what qualities have

    enabled you to stay?


    The one-on-one interviews and focus groups were semi-structured so participants were able to also

    raise other issues that were of concern to them. These responses are reported under the heading:

    7. “Other matters of concern raised by participants”.

    The women who, whilst active in their community and concerned about issues of social justice, have

    walked away from or discounted a career in politics were asked the following questions:

    1. What perceptions do you have about the political arena which might make you hesitant about

    entering into politics?

    2. What are the personal factors/information deficits that you identify as inhibiting you from

    considering entering politics?

  • 08 Women for Election



    What are the key challenges facing female politicians in Australia?

    QUESTION 1 The research participants identified five key challenges: cash and career, candidate selection,

    culture, childcare and family and a conflict of values.

    Participants noted both that funding a campaign is expensive (‘costs $5,000 -$7,000 and must be

    self- funded’), that a career in politics often means a drop in salary, that local government councillors

    do not receive superannuation and that there are no clear career advancement pathways in politics

    (‘there is no set career path so it’s difficult to navigate’).

    Participants identified four central issues regarding candidate selection.

    i. The long lead in time required (‘You need to commit to attending party meetings and lobbying 6

    years before next pre-selection’).

    ii. A lack of understanding about the mechanics of how you join a political party and a lack of

    practical support (‘It’s difficult to do all of the paperwork… in local government, you must have

    an electoral officer’).

    iii. The brutality of the pre-selection and campaign process (‘The campaign process can be more

    brutal than the job