It’s right time for Coalition to invest in women

Pic Top: Dr Carmen Lawrence Pic bottom: Prime Minister Julia Gillard

By Rekha Bhattacharjee

As we celebrate the Global Centenary of the International Women’s Day (IWD), the thoughts go back to those brave and visionary souls who fought against all adversities to get women franchised.

The fight to get dignity for women, and to end inequality and oppression in various male-dominated spheres, has not abated since suffragettes took up the cudgels (and won) in 1911.

But the rights won with such vigorous struggle seem to have gone to waste if we look at the participation or women in politics all over the globe. Results of 2011 Elections for NSW Parliament would make aforementioned women liberation activist turn in her grave with despair.

If one were to use NSW Parliament elections as a criterion, it would be noted with utter sadness that the participation of women in politics in Australia’s Premier State is on decline.

“Women now hold fewer positions in the lower house than they have for 12 years and for the first time in decades the number of women elected to the Legislative Assembly has gone backwards,” said Professor Louise Chappell of NSW University School of Social Science.

From 28 percent of lower house seats earlier, the number of women Parliamentarians has dropped to 20 percent ”“ yet , there is a wider acceptance that women are the key to growth and all that follows from that in terms of equality in workforce, in decision making , in public and private life.

Another disturbing trend is noticed if one looks at the representation of women in the Conservative ranks in NSW.

Accepting Labor annihilation in NSW after sixteen years, it still managed to hold 40 percent of female representation in the lower house. The power of Coalition landslide has given women a mere 11 out of the 67 confirmed seats. It was much worse in 2007 elections as Liberal-led Coalition managed to return just five women Parliamentarians. The latest results are equally dismal as far women representation is concerned – a most unimpressive improvement!

This drop in Parliamentary seats holds NSW on par with Cambodia and Malawi!

Chairman Mao statement, “Chinese women hold up half the sky,” still holds true. Women make up just over 50 percent of the population of NSW and deserve to have their voices heard equally with men. Issues such as abortion and birth control, on broader concepts of family, maternity leave, equal pay , domestic violence , childcare provisions are few of the issues that concern women politicians universally and with sufficient numbers can use their influence to the shape policy of their respective parties.

Looking back in Australian politics, in 1992 Dr Carman Lawrence became the Premier of Western Australia. She was highlighted as the choice to clean up the mess in WA – marked the watershed in Australian politics as a start of the ascendancy of its feminization.

Dr Lawrence later became the Federal Minister for Health leading the Australian delegation to the United Nations World Conference on Women in Beijing. In an exclusive media interview this writer had with her just after the Beijing Conference in 1995, Dr Lawrence had emphasized the need for conducting a ”˜head hunt’ to get women in very important positions in political parties. She had said, “it’s not simply a passive role, but, going out there recruiting young women, educating them to a party and political process and assisting them to get seats”.

Australian Labor party has been adopting a range of strategies to do that including the case of increasing the number of seats in Parliament through the imposition of a set of targets after the 2000 elections. ”˜Head-hunting’ and getting them up and running in political parties too, Labor patriarchs should be lauded for reaching their noble goals in some instances.

The Liberal and National parties had an ideal situation in this election to advance the position of Women in NSW Parliament. For long, liberals have been aware of the certainty of winning Government. They had ample time to choose strong female candidates.

For long the Coalition parties have rejected the use of quotas to increase the number of female MPs ”“ suggesting that they work on merit. With today’s women across society being better educated, professional and competent, Liberal argument that women are not meritorious is no longer sustainable and is also an affront to more than half of Australia’s population.

The Conservative politicians in the Coalition are falling far short of being aware of competent women who could excel in leadership roles. Head hunting and getting them up and running in these important positions not only in Boards and Committees but the same is required in the Coalition political parties.

What Labor is ahead in someway is in reserving not particular seats but a certain percentage of positions ”“ which is a significant step forward where as the Opponents are still wishing into the future model to rely on. One may also call it smart politics as women electorate always have a soft corner for candidates from the fairer sex.

It is 100 years since the first International Women’s Day event was run when more than one million women and men attended rallies in 1911.

Closer home, the 2011 NSW election result for Women is depressive. Today women can argue ”“ far from progress, in some respects women have moved or have been pushed backwards with Conservatives recapturing the control of NSW Parliament.

A decade ago a Human Development Report clearly demonstrated that the economic returns on investing in Women’s education are comparable to those for men. The social returns from educating women far exceed those for men. It pays to invest in women. This holds true in rich and poor countries alike.

With the massive mandate in NSW Parliament, Coalition is here to stay. It is an ideal time for the coalition parties to introduce reforms so that in the future we can see women politicians on both sides of politics change the role of women in the community, that they are better educated and fully participating in the political and business life, and are able to insist on a quality of life that is sometimes overlooked in the race for profits.

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