By Fiona Pepper
Australian politics has extremely low levels of female participation compared to other developed democracies, but one program is aiming to change this.
Melbourne University’s Pathway to Politics for Women has launched for 2017 following the success of its pilot program last year.
Inspired by a similar initiative at Harvard University, Dr Andrea Carson, the academic coordinator of the program, explained the aim was to increase female participation in all levels of government.
“We are about 50th in the federal parliament compared to other democracies and there are various ways that this deficit can be addressed,” Dr Carson said.
“This program is one way to try and give women the skills that are necessary for them to be successful in seeking public office.”
The 12-week course, which saw 24 women graduate last year, two of which were successfully elected into local government, had speakers from federal parliament giving participants practical skills about what a life in politics would look like.
From knowing when it’s time to run, to negotiating party machines, to understanding the purpose of polling and writing a good speech, a variety of skills are touched on throughout the course.
The multi-partisan program is funded by Melbourne University, through the Melbourne School of Government and the Trawalla Foundation, costing participants nothing, although currently fellows must be a graduate of the university.
Dame Quentin Bryce, an advocate of the program
Former governor-general Dame Quentin Bryce, who is a past presenter at the program, said it was a wonderful opportunity to engage with emerging leaders.
“I feel a deep sense of responsibility to be encouraging the talented, highly qualified, motivated women in our community to get in there and make a difference and to see that women’s voices are heard,” she said.
While Dame Quentin admitted that a life in politics wasn’t the easiest career path to take, she believes it’s extremely fulfilling.
“Of course it’s hard, it’s tough and in some ways it’s getting harder. I think we should stop complaining about it so much and look at ways of improving, enriching, enhancing our democracy.”
Breaking down the barriers
Dr Carson believes the very nature of Australian politics is male dominated.
“Labor has tended to go up in its level of representation of women, the Liberal parties have been on a downward decline since the Howard era of 1996,” she said.
“The difficulties are the well-worn path that politics can be a real boys club, that men can be very effective at networking and women can get shut out of those.”
However, she is hopeful that through the Pathway to Politics initiative, women will be empowered to pursue a life in politics.
“Women obviously have great skills to offer to the political sphere and we’re doing everything possible to ensure that we can help women who are interested in having a political career have those skills and connect with the networks that they need to,” she said.
Through this course, Dr Carson was driven to try and address the increasing female deficit in Australia’s parliaments.
“If you look at the statistics over time, women’s participation is declining rather than increasing in certain subsets, and the Liberal Party at a federal level is one where there’s a marked decline,” she said.
“Australia is made up of 50 per cent women, 50 per cent men; a strong parliament should represent that.”
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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