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Minister, you're a feminist. Whether you call yourself one or not.

By JAMILA RIZVI

No, Minister Bishop. I repeat: No, Minister.

Earlier today you told the National Press Club that you’re not a feminist. When asked the question directly from a journalist, you said “I don’t find the need to self-describe in that way [as a feminist]… [it’s] not a term that I find particularly useful these days”.

Now, I recognise that being a feminist isn’t a label that would be warmly embraced in Liberal Party circles. Your female parliamentary colleagues such as Michaelia Cash and Fiona Scott have both publicly distanced themselves from feminism; maintaining it contradicts their belief in advancement based on ‘merit’. And I suspect few, if any, of your counterparts in the federal cabinet – male or female (oh, wait, you’re the only female, right?) – would self identify with the term.

Feminism in Australia has become increasingly associated with the the left of politics, particularly after Julia Gillard’s prime ministership came to the end. So it makes sense that a high-profile, conservative political figure like yourself might have misgivings about using the word to describe yourself.

But here’s the thing, Minister – whether you call yourself a feminist or not. You are one.

You may chose to reject the label but that doesn’t mean your behaviours and achievements aren’t consistent with the movement.

You are a feminist because you are a product of feminism. You benefit each and every day from the achievements of women who came before you and you are forging a path that will make it easier for the women who come after you. Your very presence in federal cabinet as the lone female voice, makes you a partner in the fight for gender equality in this country. And you don’t have to own it for it to be true.

Julie Bishop. The lone woman in Cabinet.

J-Bish – sorry, I get over-friendly and excited when I talk about the achievements of remarkable women – you’ve had a phenomenal career.

Let’s re-cap it just quickly because the details are important.

You graduated with a law degree from Adelaide University. A considerable achievement given that at the time less than 25 percent of law graduates in this country were women; today they are the majority.

You went on to practice as a lawyer in South Australia and then in Western Australia, ultimately becoming managing partner at law firm Clayton Utz. This is something you couldn’t have done had you been born 40 years earlier, when women were not permitted to practice as solicitors in Australia. What changed that? Feminism.

In 1998, you entered the federal parliament as the Member for Curtin; the first woman to ever hold that seat. You followed in the footsteps of Enid Lyons, who just 55 years before you, became the first woman to sit in Australia’s House of Representatives. Due to…..feminism.

Then, in acknowledgement of your considerable talent and experience, Prime Minister Howard elevated you to his front bench and you became a Federal Minister. Amongst other ministerial roles you served as Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women’s Issues, where you dedicated your working days to advancing the cause and status of women in this country. Which is….feminism.

In Opposition, you were elected as the first female Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party and today you serve in one of the most illustrious roles in the Abbott Government, that of Foreign Minister. You are the first woman ever to hold that position in our nation’s history. Because of… feminism and merit. These two things are not mutually exclusive.

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Feminism just means that women are given the same opportunity to be assessed on that merit as men always have been.

The skill and aplomb with which you have conducted yourself as Foreign Minister, means that inevitable leadership rumours are already swirling. It is not beyond the realm of the possible, that you will become Australia’s second female Prime Minister. A job which will be less fraught with danger and difficulty as a result of gender, than it would have been had Julia Gillard not trodden that difficult path first. As a feminist.

Minister, you and I and so many Australian women are the products and the beneficiaries of the feminist movement. We owe a great debt to our feminist elders past and present. To discard the term, in my view, is insulting to the women who came before us and fought so unbelievably hard for us to have the rights we enjoy today.

You say that the term is no longer relevant, and I respect your belief, I do. You have a right to call yourself whatever you want. But to say feminism is no longer relevant is to say that we are living world of complete equality and that is an idea I will fight against with every fibre of my being because it’s simply not true.

Julie Bishop speaking to the UN Security Council earlier this year.

Australian women still earn around 80 cents for every dollar that men earn over a lifetime. And this isn’t just about who has the bits that make the babies.  Australian women earn less from the very first year after they graduate from university and TAFE. Women also still carry the burden of around two thirds of unpaid work and caring duties.

We hold 8 per cent of board directorships and 10 per cent of executive management positions. And don’t insult us by saying that you believe in ‘merit’ based appointments – because merit only works when the system we operate within is truly meritorious and I refuse to believe that only 8 percent of Australian women have the ‘merit’ to run a company. I suspect you’d agree.

Nearly one in five Australian women will experience sexual assault, one in three will experience some kind of family or domestic violence in our lifetimes. One woman is murdered by her partner every week in Australia. Every week.

Women earn less, we are heard less and we are hurt and killed more.

And all of this pales in comparison, to the women around the world who still do not share the basic rights, safety, freedoms and equalities that here in Australia we all take for granted.

So Minister when you reject the word feminism, you’re not simply rejecting a word. You’re rejecting the very idea that women should have the same opportunities as men. You’re suggesting that equality is already the default; the status quo.

And with all due respect Minister Bishop – and you are indeed owed a great deal of respect – all it takes is a quick look around the room at the 18 men around you in the next Coalition cabinet meeting to see that’s plainly, sadly, not yet the case.

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