Dear Mr Howard,
After hearing what you said yesterday around the number of women in parliament and how you don’t think a 50/50 balance is realistic, I did a double take and thought – what year is it?
I had a quick look at my Justin Trudeau, Canadian
dreamboat Prime Minister, calendar and it is in fact still 2016 and I hadn’t travelled back to the 1950’s. Phew!
What I found most concerning about your comments is that you truly seem to believe that women aren’t as capable as men of being parliamentarians. Frankly, it’s about time women stopped having to prove themselves “worthy” or “capable” enough to perform the same job – unless of course the core duties can’t be completed with a certain set of tackle, then I totallllly get it.
You may say that it’s not that simple and I wouldn’t understand that the hours are long and sacrifices are needed, but I do know. I’ve worked for a few parliamentarians over the last decade, 40% of them had ovaries, 80% of them had children and 20% sired in Tasmania.
I’m trying really hard to think about what differences there were between working for a male or female politician and I’m coming up short. There has always been equal ferocity in office footy tipping, equal requests from loved ones to see if the boss can get to their sports carnival/university graduation/20-week scan, equal love of junk food at the end of a parliamentary sitting week and importantly, equal expectation from the electorates they represent.
Let me tell you, the ones with ovaries are two of the most intelligent, resilient, hardworking, fearless people I know. Neither had a limit on their "capacity" to represent their constituents or change the lives of millions of Australians with excellent social policy. I had the privilege to see, quite literally firsthand, the introduction of Australia’s first Paid Parental Leave and the legislation of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
In the freshly elected Federal parliament women from the Liberal party account for just 19.8% of their total caucus and their lowest representation in over 25 years. On Wednesday you spoke about how that’s just a “reflection of society”. I have to disagree and the proof is those sitting opposite – 44% of the Federal Labor party representatives are women.
Watch Linda Burney's powerful maiden speech. (Post continues after video.)
Crikey, in February this year parliament signed off on a policy that would allow female parliamentarians to breastfeed in the chamber. There’s also a child care centre IN parliament house – so what’s the issue here?
I can’t help but wonder if those in the Liberal party, who frankly are just about ALL men, recognised that men are half of the parenting equation and did 50% of said parenting, there'd be more scope for the women in their lives to enter parliament.
The latest stats from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show that “while women were assuming a greater role in the workplace, they did not compensate by reducing work around the home”. Shocking – women are doing more, in every possible facet.
So while we wait (given the technical debacle that might be a long time ) for the 2016 Census to show if this pattern has changed, for all intents and purposes women have already displayed they are able to walk and talk at the same time.
Given just yesterday your party introduced a gender diversity plan with a target of 50% female representation, Wednesday’s comments speak louder than any of that. As an influential, elder statesman you are hardly inviting a swathe of interested women to consider entering politics by continuing to perpetuate the rhetoric that women need to somehow prove they can juggle being an MP and their “caring role in the community”.
Get with the times and stop making excuses for your beloved party's woeful gender representation. When a country like Saudi Arabia had ZERO female representation when you were Prime Minister now has more female MP’s than the Liberal party, society isn’t the problem, you're the problem.
Amy* – a woman who can "have it all" as much as you did.
Amy has worked for multiple Labor ministers at both State and Federal level.
Feature Image via Getty.