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The right to equal representation
The need to take action regarding the low level of female participation in politics is underscored by increasing attention to gendered forms of violence in Australia and a series of incidents involving the negative treatment of women by politicians, or party officials, affecting both sides of politics.
These are the latest to receive attention among a host of issues that are often portrayed as "women’s issues."
From reproductive health – including access to the morning-after pill and abortion, maternity leave and breastfeeding support, through to gender-based sexual, physical and emotional violence, we are used to the ritual of parliaments – consisting mostly of men – deciding what is best for women.
However, we should not just be concerned by the worst excesses of the usual process of men deciding matters affecting women. Women have the right to participate in all decision making. The significant struggle for women to be fully represented in the political process is ongoing.
Issues affecting the rights of women (or men, for that matter) should be pressing concerns for us all. This is most definitely not a matter to be left to the parties to deal with individually. A truly democratic debate is required with an honest appreciation of what can be achieved with a will to change.
We can and must change the gender representation deficit. In searching for a solution we should look beyond the confines of the status quo and act in accordance with two principles:
- women in parliament are equally capable of governing in any matter of state, and
- a parliament without equal representation of women on an equal footing does not truly represent the people.
The need to change the architecture (and more) to allow women to lead balanced lives
Remember how the US space program had to come up with a special solution to the problem of how female astronauts could pee in space? According to astronaut, Margaret Rhea Seddon, the answer was the KC-135 which was tested by Sally Ride (NASA's first woman in space) in 1983.
The first woman in space was Dr Valentina Tereshkova who entered orbit twenty years earlier in 1963.
In early 2016, much was made of a "family friendly initiative" to formally allow female politicians to breastfeed in parliament and in late 2015 about changes to the loo arrangements in the New South Wales parliament. That these issues arise is an indication of the fundamental problems facing women who might wish to enter politics. That women have to be given an 'allowance' to breastfeed or access a toilet simply underscores the fact that these are just a fraction of a greater problem.
If women are to be involved in politics (or for that matter any other work or social environment) then we need to change how things are done in a thorough and systematic way. No longer should anyone, particularly women, face mutually inconsistent options of employment career or a life outside formal paid work.