WOMEN will remain underrepresented at local government level across the south-west – regardless of October’s election outcome.
Of the 25 candidates for Warrnambool City Council, seven are women. Moyne shire received four nominations from women of a total field of 17, while five of nine Corangamite candidates, five of 19 Glenelg shire hopefuls and five of 13 bids in Southern Grampians shire are women.
The nominations for local government elections closed in the wake of former prime minister John Howard’s address to the National Press Club last week. He harked back to his political heyday when he said female representation in Parliament was unlikely ever to reach 50 per cent because of women's greater role in caring for their families. This state of affairs, he said, "just happens to be the truth".
What Mr Howard did not say is that this need not be the truth and that this shameful inequality ought not continue – whether at local, state or federal level. Politicians are making decisions on all aspects of our lives. When these policies and laws impact men and women equally, how can women not have an equal role in their formation?
Male politicians with children sit comfortably on the parliamentary benches knowing someone at home is caring for those children and running their households.
What is needed is recognition of the massive contribution that this largely unpaid caring work makes to so many careers. Further, we need policies and practices to support change to this status quo.
Women can and should achieve greater workforce participation, including in politics, but this can only happen when men take on more of the caring work and when workplaces recognise this work needs to be done by someone – it doesn't just happen courtesy of housework fairies.
Women in Australia face concrete inequalities. There is an indefensible gap of almost 20 per cent between male and female earnings. More than three in four board directors are men. Women account for only a third of graduates in science, technology, maths and engineering. Mothers spend 8.5 hours caring for children daily – twice as much as fathers.
Change to support women's participation in work is essential if everyone is to have the opportunity to make their fullest possible contribution to the community, as politicians and as parents.