Where are the women?

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A FEMALE trifecta now governs most of the inner-city—Perth lord mayor Lisa Scaffidi, Vincent mayor Alannah MacTiernan and just-elected Perth state MP Eleni Evangel.

It is the first time in WA history women have occupied those positions, let alone at the same time. Ms Scaffidi is the first-ever female Perth lord mayor, Ms MacTiernan Vincent’s first female mayor and Ms Evangel the first female Liberal to win Perth (Diana Warnock held it for Labor from 1993-2001).

But women are still grossly under-represented in the state parliament overall.

There are just 12 women amongst the Barnett government’s 60 lower house and upper house MPs.

Just two—Liza Harvey and Helen Morton—made it into Cabinet.

By contrast the state Labor opposition has 15 women amongst its 32 MLAs and MLCs—just one shy of a 50-50 split.

In the federal parliament women make up just one-quarter of the House of Representatives. In the Senate it’s 38 per cent. But just seven ministers in the federal Labor government are women (including the prime minister).

Ms MacTiernan—a Perth city councillor in 1988, Labor state MP in 1993, planning minister in 2001 and Vincent mayor in 2011—says she didn’t encounter overt sexism in local government, nor while working in the law, but the same couldn’t be said for inside the Labor party.

“I think women have good representation in local government but at the state political level the party machine makes life more problematic,” she says.

“It’s definitely much harder to break through.

“Obviously, not enough women are making it into state politics based on sheer merit so some form of intervention, whether it be affirmative action or some other means, is needed.”

WA Labor has an affirmative action policy that is meant to to ensure at least 40 per cent of candidates are women.

Female representation in the Greens has generally been stronger than in the major parties, although following the state election collapse they’ve been left with just two MPs—Robin Chapple (a man) and Lynn MacLaren.

In the executive business sector, things are equally gloomy for women.

According to a 2012 report by the Australian Institute of Company Directors just 13.5 per cent of ASX200 directors are female.

Women also lose out in the pay scales, receiving on average 84 per cent of what men get paid for the same work.

“I think women still have a way to go until true equality in the workplace is achieved,” Ms Scaffidi says.

“What’s most important is achieving a bigger critical mass of women in the senior executive roles so that more women excel.”

She says she personally didn’t experience sexism during her march to become lord mayor.

UWA gender studies professor Alison Bartlett says the concept of “feminism” is far from passe.

“When there is no more domestic violence, no more rape, no more women murdered, when we earn the same as men, when men do the same amount of housekeeping and parenting, and when we have equal representation, then hopefully feminism will be passe but will be kept firmly on the history curriculum so we never forget how it used to be now.

“Three women in power: Wow,” she scoffed.

Dr Bartlett notes in passing the ABC’s promotional banner for the WA election consisted of “three middle-aged men”.

Notre Dame political lecturer Martin Drum suggests two changes are needed to get more women involved in politics.

“The first is that women with talent need to feel they can put their hand up, and they need to be supported once they do. The second is that political parties need to encourage them to participate.

“I wouldn’t suggest that a second female premier for WA is just around the corner but you never know what could happen beyond the next election in 2017.”

by STEPHEN POLLOCK

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