Female students entering Australian male-dominated professions may face a significantly tougher time than in other nations, after reports show the country’s gender gap is worsening compared with other countries.
Over the past 10 years Australia has fallen 31 places on the Global Gender Gap Report and now sits behind every Nordic country in Europe, the United Kingdom and even the United States.
The report, evaluating key areas of health, education, economy and politics, shows that we particularly don’t have enough women in parliament.
Australia does not have a national gender equality strategy and according to Victorian Minster for Women Fiona Richardson, nations that do, perform much better on these global scales.
She believes it’s important for Australia to have a strategy in place.
“It is very disappointing to see Australia slide backwards on any global index measuring women’s participation,” she said.
Australian Parliament is currently made up up of less than 32 per cent women, which just surpasses the 30 per cent the United Nation’s regard as the minimum level necessary for women to influence decision-making.
As a result Australia has been given a ranking of only 50 on the United Nation’s 2017 Women in Politics map.
The representation of women in Victorian Parliament currently sits slightly higher at 40 per cent, with the first Victorian Gender Equality Strategy being written in 2016.
“We decided we couldn’t wait for the Federal Government to create a strategy,” Ms Richardson said.
“It has targets to increase representation of women on school boards, state sporting associations and local government, but does not set a target on the representation of women in parliament.”
According to Ms Richardson only the Australian Labor Party sets a target for the number of women pre-selected to run for seats in parliament, which is 50/50 by 2025.
Dr Lauren Rosewarne, senior lecturer of Political Sciences and Gender Studies at Melbourne University, believes women have to work harder to be taken seriously in all male-dominated professions, including politics.
“Political parties are often male-dominated environments which advantage men progressing through the system to pre-selection and disadvantaging women,” she said.
“Even if women run and get elected, politics is a job that often requires extensive travel and time away from family, something women disproportionately find difficulty to men because most female politicians don’t have a wife at home to look after things.”
Dr Rosewarne would like to see equal representation quotas, support through mentors and more encouragement for women to seek elected office.
Greens Senator Larissa Walters incidentally made history last week as the first woman to breastfeed in Australian Parliament.
Ms Waters told the BBC, “It’s frankly ridiculous, really, that feeding one’s baby is international news. Women have been breastfeeding for as long as time immemorial.
“I had hoped to not only be able to feed my baby but to send a message to young women that they belong in the parliament.”
— Larissa Waters (@larissawaters) May 9, 2017
Breastfeeding has been permitted in the upper house since 2003 but no one had done so until now.
The lower house followed suit last year and implemented “family-friendly” rule changes that allow mothers to breastfeed in the chamber.
Before then babies were only permitted in parliamentary offices or public galleries.
The decision came after Liberal MP Kelly O’Dwyer was reportedly asked to express more milk for her newborn daughter to avoid missing parliamentary duties.
While there are no child care facilities and plenty of rules that make it difficult to bring children into Parliament House, Ms Richardson also believes the culture of Parliament is a deterrent.
“There is a lot of shouting and name calling across the table between Government and Opposition. I think some women are too smart to enter that kind of circus – clearly I wasn’t,” she said.
“We need to shift away from combative dispute resolution between political parties. I think the community is tired of the same old fights going nowhere.
“Women, along with our indigenous communities, may hold answers on how to listen, disagree but reach a common ground without tearing the country apart.”
Ms Richardson believes both men and women need a thick skin, resilience and commitment to a cause to survive in politics.
She suggests that although being a member of Parliament allows you to make enormous changes and work with good organisations, students should follow their passion as there are many ways to make social change that don’t require you to be a politician.
Dr Rosewarne also advises students to recognise that going into politics isn’t the only way to make a difference.
She advises students that do wish to enter politics to understand the importance of having women in decision-making positions and to feel encouraged to participate.