As we are all no doubt aware, Tony Abbott has been replaced as Prime Minister of Australia. His bravado, to the end, was admirable. His final speech was predictably lacking. And since his unceremonious usurping, the memes and satirical articles have been spectacular.
What I want to know, however, is who will be the next Minister for Women?
I have one request for this position. It’s pretty radical. You may want to sit down.
I want to see it filled by a woman.
I know this idea is somehow contentious, because I’ve seen it being discussed a lot over the last few days and I remember all the discussions from when Tones gave himself the job a while back. Many people, male and female, argue that there is no reason a man can’t do the job and do it well. The argument is that gender isn’t actually relevant to the role. They say that a man doing the job and doing it well could make a powerful statement. This is something a male Minister for Women could achieve by closely consulting with actual women.
Tony Abbott was clearly not an example of a man performing the role well. While he was Minister for Women, the gender pay gap increased to almost 19%, his signature policy of 6 months paid maternity leave was scrapped and the existing maternity leave policy attacked, violence against women claimed more and more lives while he took no action and showed no leadership, he oversaw funding cuts to services to help women escape from domestic violence and he also made any number of sexist gaffes along the way. Yet his chief of staff was female, the Minister Assisting the Minister for Women was female and his Deputy was also female.
I am guessing that perhaps he didn’t do all that much consulting.
Is Gender Really Relevant?
I think, in this instance, gender is relevant to the role. The fact that there is a Minister for Women says something in itself. It surely acknowledges that gender inequality still exists. Women in Australia are still subjected to systemic discrimination. We still earn less. We are not even close to equally represented on boards even in industries where women make up the bulk of the workforce. We are subjected to higher rates of intimate partner violence and sexual harassment. Women really do require a specific minister to address these issues that we face. Surely one of the best qualifications this minister could have is the real-life experience being a woman?
Consulting with women would be, in my view, essential for any Minister for Women, purely because we all have different life experiences. But will a man really be able to understand what it’s like to live in a world where calling someone a girl is still considered an insult? Where one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them? Where only female politicians are subjected to scrutiny over their wardrobe, their marital status and their hair? The most empathetic man in the world could consult with a thousand women but it simply can’t compare to actually being a woman.
I guess the way I see it is like any other job in that you need to select the right candidate for the role based on their qualifications and their experience. For example, if you were hiring a customer service manager, and you had 2 potential candidates that both a had certificate in customer service, would you hire the one that also had experience in a customer service management role or would you hire the one that didn’t, but that you hoped would consult with other customer service managers? Would it make a statement to hire the inexperienced one? Yes; it would make a statement that you didn’t hire the person best qualified for the role.
We need a woman in the role; a woman who is suitably qualified and well aware of the problems Australian women face. A woman who will see the ramifications that government actions may have on women specifically. I mean things like cuts to legal services or single parent benefits that are most likely adversely effecting women in domestic violence situations who can’t afford to leave or seek legal help. Or legislation around work contracts that prevent people discussing their salaries which may contribute to the widening gender wage gap.
Is There Hope?
We need more women in the cabinet, full stop. I’m sure we are all very grateful that the number of women in the cabinet doubled (from 1 to a whopping 2) during Abbott’s tenure, but as you can see from this handy infographic, it really didn’t do much to bolster female representation. We are half the population, yet we are not close to being equally represented.
We’ve had a new Prime Minister for a matter of days and already, I have been disappointed, although not surprised, to see how little will be changing on big issues.
In fact, looking at how PM Turnbull has voted in the past on various matters, I’m not holding a great deal of hope for change in many areas- but I was slightly heartened to see these words that he spoke back in the late 1980’s:
“I think I am, and most people regard me as very much a feminist…I’ve never preferred all-male company to mixed company. I like working with women very much. A lot of men are very uncomfortable with women in equal positions in business and I’ve never had that problem at all.”
Let’s hope he re-examines what it means to be a feminist and at least chooses his cabinet and ministers accordingly.
#FYBF @ With Some Grace