SA Parliament: Where have all the women gone?
What was it that we women set out to achieve so long ago I can hardly remember the detail? Did we want to take over the world? Did we want to make men subservient to our will? Were we angry enough to march in the streets for our right for equality? No to the first two and yes, to the last.
I remember the US author Deidre Bair telling us at a Writers’ Week that what we wanted was equality, we all had men as friends, lovers, husbands, sons, brothers, we just wanted to have the same opportunities as they had and that bitterness had no place in a brave new world.
Well, for some it had, those most mistreated in some cultures, but for most of us women living in affluent Australia, it didn’t seem too hard to expect that we could easily settle for equality of opportunity. So, why now, in another century ,is it still so hard to achieve that equality?
Politics is something I know about, having spent 17 years in the South Australian Parliament, so let’s take politics as an example.
It’s a tough old world in those hallowed halls of State and Federal Parliament, so its a pretty tough breed of men and women who find themselves not only elected, but also working within the Party of their choice. South Australia has the proud record of being the first place in the world to grant the twin right to vote AND stand for Parliament. This happened in 1894, but it took SA until 1959 before two Liberal women were elected, one to the Lower House and one to the Upper House.
We had a few more firsts in that long struggle, including a Right-wing Labor woman as Deputy Leader of the Labor Opposition (Annette Hurley) and myself as Left-wing Labor Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council. Great, we thought, we can do it in Opposition and surely we will do it when we get into Government – but no, that seems a bridge too far.
From these firsts, SA is now the only state that has not had a woman Premier.
It seems it’s been the women in South Australia who have been eased out of Cabinet - women in very marginal seats, who have lost their positions in close elections and women who have been overlooked in this latest round of promotions.
Not only do we have no women in the top positions, but we now have some men whose religious beliefs are very much out of step with modern Australia. Personally, I think we should leave our religion or lack of it outside Parliament. Let’s just rely on our humanity, our intelligence and our common sense to guide us through these tougher times.
It’s interesting to note that at the Federal level MPs have been asked to go and consult their communities about any proposal to allow same-sex couples to wed - I await the results with interest.
Well, guys, even the conservative Catholic church has managed to elect a women as a saint, although it did take a hundred years to do it.
I’m too impatient to wait until long after my death to see women in the top positions in the Labor Party. I know Premier Mike Rann does support women in Parliament - he strongly supported the Affirmative Action rule changes, and certainly strongly supported both Annette and I in our positions.
It was a good little group, one man and two women! He was very comfortable with that role.
How times change.
A whiff of real power sets the factions a’twitching, those hungry young men eager for promotion. Let’s not forget that there are also hungry young women out there too. And while we are about so-called generational change, whatever that means, let’s not forget that people over the age of 50 have a hell of a lot to contribute, both with history, intelligence and a lot of life experience.
Youth does not necessarily equate to being socially or politically progressive - some young people are born a hundred years old in their head.
Most of the people I served with in Parliament with were pretty progressive and some great legislation was passed. However, vigilance is ever the key to progressing social reform. And while I’m addressing this generational and gender issue, I don’t see the Trade Union movement being very progressive here either - I seem to have seen some of those male faces around for an awfully long time.
I was honoured to have a “first” tacked to my name, but I am not a woman who wants just that “first”. I want to see many, many women take up top positions both within government and in the general community. It seems politics is a hard road for this kind of reform in SA.
How, then do we change?
Well, we do have an Affirmative Action rule in the ALP and this needs to be strictly adhered to. The rule does not extend to Cabinet, and it should. Is it too much to ask that women be represented in the top positions in the ALP – that we reflect the community that has more women than men? And don’t tell me there is a lack of talent.
Yes, we lost women at the last election, so let’s make a concerted effort to put women into safe seats. More than anything else, let’s finally recognise that women have so much to contribute, in all spheres of life, including politics.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…