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Addressing the woman drought in politics

  • 29 March 2019


Headlines celebrating Gladys Berejiklian as the first female elected as premier of NSW exemplify how far we have come and still have to go with women in politics. That women are held to a different, higher standard than men is evident in all facets of society, but in the political sphere it is a test of worthiness.

The media and politicians see the need to differentiate between women 'being elected' by the public and those 'being imposed' on the public.

Kristina Keneally, the first female premier of NSW, rolled her Labor predecessor Nathan Rees in a leadership ballot and is often painted as being a 'puppet' of right-wing factional warlords — a claim she defiantly denied. Despite her popularity and meritorious performances as an effective campaigner and excellent communicator, Kenneally's reign is tainted with shades of betrayal and outright scandal.

A similar stench of treachery and untrustworthiness marked Julia Gillard. Australia's first female prime minister came to power by knifing Kevin Rudd in a leadership spill — in which she was elected unopposed. It's no secret that Rudd was uncooperative and a nightmare to work with, but the question of whether usurping him was the right move lingers. On top of frustrations regarding her role in the leadership coup, Gillard faced disgraceful gender based attacks, which plagued her performance. She was admired but not respected.

Commentary about Berejiklian has been kinder than it was to Kenneally and Gillard — she took the reigns of government cleanly from Mike Baird when he stood down as premier. But still she can't escape being defined by her relationship to others. An article this week said Berejiklian 'lacks a spouse and children'. Like Gillard, the reportage of a female leader being unconventional in her family choices has an air of suggesting a deficiency in her personality, and that she is different from 'ordinary Australians'. In truth, the marital status and number of children a politician has shouldn't be seen as a measure of their capability.

So why don't we have more female leaders? Well, history has not been kind and neither has society. The pressure for politicians to return to the job after childbirth has created an either/or mentality for some. Labor deputy Tanya Plibersek has remarked that she returned to work 'too early' after the birth of one of her children, while outgoing minister Kelly O'Dwyer is leaving Parliament to have more kids. The womb does not make