#WomeninPolitics

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan 1 Comment

Why (would a woman go into) Politics?

It’s turbulent times in Australian politics. Many of us are shaking our heads at the games recently played out in the tumultuous environment of our federal parliament.

But, spare a thought for the women involved.  MPs Julie Bishop, Julia Banks, Emma Hauser and Sarah Hansen-Young are household names after recent events in federal parliament. But I bet these women would rather be known for their political leadership and public service contribution rather than examples of how gender can define political debate.

Increasingly, it seems these women may have sacrificed a lot in their efforts to represent their community.

A time of anguish

I remember the first time I saw the famous French sculpture of The Burghers of Calais by Auguste Rodin. Even though it was decades ago, the art continues to inspire me. Beautifully rendered in bronze, the sculpture captures the agonising surrender of six community leaders (Councillors), who in 14th Century France volunteered their lives in exchange for a peace deal. The victorious English King who had long waged war on their town wanted their heads. In Calais, France, the Burghers are in a group, their faces etched in agony, defeat and grief. They seem to be walking towards their death, nooses around their necks and the keys to the city in their hands.

The faces of those brave Burghers came back to me this week. This time, reflected in the anguished expressions of four, 21st Century, female politicians.

Through various media reports, I witnessed the chilled resignation on the face of Deputy Leader Julie Bishop, realising she had missed out on the top job despite 20 years of competent service. Federal MP Emma Hauser in near tears, defending her decision to step down in the face of hurtful, personal attacks which she described as untrue and a form of torture. Federal MP Julia Banks calling out ‘bullying and intimidation’ in her party which prompted her to quit at the next election after only one term. These came only weeks after Senator Sarah Hanson-Young instigated a defamation case against a male politician for his remarks to her which she says were ‘slut-shaming’ and caused her ‘considerable harm’.

Female leaders who have sacrificed themselves by stepping forward to represent those of us who desire an inclusive, fairer democracy.

Women are turning-off

I’m into politics. I support women to run for public office. When people ask me ‘why on earth would a clever, competent woman possibly consider running for public office when this goes on?’ I know it’s a good question.

Currently, women make up one-third of our State and Federal parliaments yet female representation has been slipping back in recent years. In terms of political empowerment of women, Australia used to rank 38th in the world eight years ago, now we are 48th.

We can’t afford for this to decline and for women to turn-off politics. For the sake of our country, our councils, our legislatures, we need women to be at the table; sharing the power and contributing to good decision-making for all of us. We can’t give up.

“It’s not good enough to be heard. Women must be at the decision-making table” Jacinda Ardern

We need female politicians

With greater representation from female politicians, democracy becomes more effective because we get to hear from ‘the other 50 per cent’. As a result, parliaments tend to be more inclusive and responsive.

Madeleine Albright said that women in power “can be counted on to raise issues that others overlook, to support ideas that others oppose, and to seek an end to abuses that others accept.”

Not only do women contribute different views, studies also show that women politicians engage more with constituents and are better lawmakers than men. American research into the legislative impact of women in politics found that:

“As more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policy making that emphasizes quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities”.

The National Democratic Institute reports that when comparing male politicians to female politicians, from all parties, women tend to be more likely to:

  • work across party lines
  • be highly responsive to constituent concerns
  • help secure lasting peace
  • encourage citizen confidence in democracy through their own participation, and
  • prioritize health, education, and other key development indicators.

Another analysis suggests that parties that struggle to get women into parliament also find it harder to get women to vote for them. In short, a party with a ‘woman problem’ and a ‘boys-club’ culture may find that it has a problem with women voters.  The results of the next Federal election may demonstrate this.

Five reasons for a woman to run

Next time someone asks ‘why would a woman run for politics?’ here are my top reasons why I would encourage a woman to definitely consider politics:

  1. Successful democracies reflect the views of their citizens. Australia is a fair country. When women step up, we get to hear from the ‘other 50%’ of us.
  2. As a politician a woman has power. She can get stuff done. Why let the fellas have it all? Get to the table and have a say.
  3. There’s no point in complaining about the current situation if you are not prepared to be part of the solution. As the slogan goes ‘Don’t get mad, get elected’.
  4. ‘Be the change you want to see’. Become a role model for other women (and to those young girls who dream of being Prime Minister one day)
  5. Hillary Clinton said, ‘Politics is the art of making what appears to be impossible, possible’. As an elected representative you have the enormous privilege of making a positive a difference for your community, state or country. Grab it.

It’s time to run

Fortunately, those brave Burghers of Calais met a happy ending. According to Wikipedia, they were saved from their execution by a woman. The English queen persuaded her husband the king, to show mercy as their deaths would be a bad omen for her unborn child.

In answer to that question: A diverse democracy thrives on the views of female politicians. Our parties need women candidates in order to win. We need female lawmakers for fairer decisions.

The data shows that our politics are improved with more women politicians. Let’s not see recent events as an omen for the future of inclusive politics. We can choose optimism over despair. It’s time to support women to stand for office or vote for them (if we like their policies). Let’s work together for more #WomenInPolitics.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a past Mayor, community activist, councillor-coach and consultant to local government. She is a champion for more women in local government and delivers training on political campaigning. Follow her on twitter @hula_grl  (Photos Wikipedia commons) 

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

Appearance still matters in politics

 “The apparel oft proclaims the man.”

Written over 400 years ago, these lines from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, about appearance and ambitions, are still pertinent for men and women aspiring to a higher role either in public office or the workplace.

How you look undeniably matters. Candidates running for election to either local, state or federal office must realise that their ‘dress code’ provides a subtle message to potential voters in a culture where ‘the clothes make the man’ (and woman!). Idealistic political candidates may think that their message is the main thing and eschew paying attention to appearance in order to avoid being seen as ‘vain’. However, the reality is that the public notice details about a candidate’s appearance long before a candidate even starts to voice the ‘vote-for-me’ pitch..

 Assumptions and judgments about appearance influence how citizens vote. Ignore this reality and a campaign is lost before it even begins.

 Why it matters

Personally, I wish it didn’t matter what people wore on the campaign trail. The message should matter more than looks, right? However, research into human nature shows it does. Studies clearly show that people make assumptions about others, based on what a speaker is wearing. Researchers have found that

 “your appearance strongly influences other people’s perception of your financial success, authority, trustworthiness, intelligence, and suitability for hire or promotion” Business Insider,

The upshot is, that if what you’re wearing on the campaign trail, overshadows your message, you run the risk that people may take one look at you and decide not to vote for you. Appearance must be a priority in order to send the right message to voters.

Other studies have found that clothes don’t just influence others’ perceptions of us, they can also change the way we think by improving our abstract cognitive processing skills.

Dress professionally and you not only look better, you also think smarter.   

How clothes proclaim the woman too

While men may be mocked for their sartorial choices, unfortunately, it’s still women that attract greater scrutiny for their appearance. A woman in politics is still unusual. As a result, the press and voters will notice her clothes, shoes, hair and makeup.

Australia has some notorious examples of fascination about the appearance of women politicians such as discussion on Senator Michaelia Cash’s ‘power coif’ hairdo, former senator Natasha Stott Despoja Dr Marten shoes, past Victorian Premier Joan Kirner’s ‘spotty dress’, or the cut of former Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s jacket.

But there’s often a double standard in place

As a woman Mayor recently said to me “I have to dress-up and do my hair and makeup every day for not only council events but even to just do the grocery shopping. I can’t risk being caught in my jeans or gym gear, because then I am seen as ‘sloppy and dressing down’. But, on the other hand, the male councillors; they can show up in shorts and a t-shirt and people say ‘isn’t he great, he’s one of us’. Women are held to a higher standard of grooming”

There’s no doubt that people expect a woman running for office, or an elected politician to look good. For women, this means working on their appearance virtually all the time. When Hillary Clinton was in Australia recently, she said she had calculated that she had spent about six hundred hours on the campaign trail on grooming. That’s equivalent to 26 days!

What to wear

For a female politician this often equates to wearing  ‘power-suits’ such as those favoured by female politicians on the world stage; think Angela Merkel’s blazer, Theresa May’s skirt-suit and Hillary Clinton’s pantsuit. These women leaders project that they can ‘play the game’ in the male dominated world of politics.

Women want to be seen as attractive to voters without being judged as ‘too sexy’ ‘fussy’ or ‘soft’. That’s why the ‘professional business-woman’ style works.

Male candidates are advised to avoid the ‘scruffy’ look if they want to be taken seriously. Again, although there may be eight dress styles for men in politics,  a professional look is recommended with a simple and well fitted suit in muted colours. Or, take the advice of Barack Obama who basically had one look and stuck to it saying “You’ll see I wear only grey or blue suits – I’m trying to pare down decisions. I don’t want to make decisions about what I’m eating or wearing. Because I have too many other decisions to make.”

Keep it real

If fashion style is not your thing, but you need to look good on the campaign trail, you can always seek some professional stylist advice. The big department stores have experts who can guide you through fashion choices from clothes, suits to accessories.

Look good, but in order to be authentic, you still need to feel comfortable and about what you are wearing.

That might mean comfortable shoes when door knocking and canvassing voters for support. It means not faking it. Beware of the ‘Bourke street bushie’ image. For example, if you’re out on the campaign trail in the ‘bush’ and you decide to wear an Akubra hat, a checked shirt, moleskins and RM Williams boots for the first time in your life, don’t do it. The voters can tell when you’re faking it.

In summary, as a candidate, you need to dress professionally in order to look the part of a politician-to-be while remaining genuine about your message for change. I hope this helps you to get elected!

Ruth McGowan OAM is a consultant, trainer and coach in local government where she also advocates for gender equality and more women in local government. Ruth is currently writing a book to assist candidates to get elected to public office

by Ruth McGowan Ruth McGowan No Comments

The rise of Madam Mayor

When I say the word ‘Mayor’, what picture comes to mind? For many people leaders in local government bring to mind an image of an old, white man in a black robe, wearing a gold chain; much like the dodgy Simpsons cartoon character, “Mayor Quimby’.

But things are changing across Australia.

In the past, that image of an old man as Mayor may have been accurate. Not now. Women Mayors are increasingly being elected as ‘the first amongst equals’; leaders of a council, advocating for their community and driving progressive social change. (If you meet one, just make sure not to call her ‘Lady Mayoress’! That’s only used to describe the wife of a male Mayor).

Across Australia, women candidates are being elected as councillors in local governments at a rate greater than their representation in State governments or Federal parliament. For instance, in the 2016 Victorian council elections, a record 38% women were elected as councillors and thirty-two (40%) women Mayors were elected onto 78 councils. The recent 2017 council elections in the Northern Territory in August resulted in 32% women councillors and the New South Wales council elections in September saw 36% women councillors elected.

Australian milestone

This year Australian councils have reached an important milestone in women’s representation.

For the first time, in 2017 every State and Territory of Australia now has at least 30 % women councillors

(Source: Various local government agencies, peak bodies and electoral commissions of each State and Territory)

Councils and communities are increasingly electing women to be their councillors and Mayors. We’re not quite there yet, in gender balance, but the numbers are trending up in the right direction.

 

 

Sassy Mayors

Unfortunately, the level of public scrutiny can be higher for women politicians. So, you’ve got to love it when a woman Mayor gets feisty and boldly goes into bat for her community. When women speak out, this can be frowned upon as ‘nice girls don’t do that’. That’s why it’s so refreshing to see a women Mayor step up, ignore the disproving judgments and speak passionately about something she believes in.

Take Carmen Yulin Cruz, the Mayor of San Juan, who has sass in spades. Responsible for leading the recent clean-up of Puerto Rico in the wake of devastating Hurricane Maria, she took on the President of the US, demanding more emergency support for her community (a territory of the US). The upshot was a backlash from President Trump who accused her on Twitter, of poor leadership and being ‘nasty’. To her credit, Mayor Cruz has kept a focus on helping her community, saying “I’m not going to be nice, just because I’m a woman and I’m supposed to play nice”.

Mayor Cruz being interviewed by CNN Photo: https://twitter.com/DavidBegnaud Oct 10, 2017

Women Mayors in the spotlight

Women Mayors are often at the vanguard of leading their councils in supporting what they believe is ‘progressive social change’. This year, there have been are many women Mayors that have called for tolerance and respect regarding discussions around the marriage equality discussions.

Others have taken a controversial stance on advocating for their council’s decisions to cease recognising Australia Day on January 26. In Victoria, the Mayor of Yarra City Council, Amanda Stone led the charge, followed by the Mayor of the City of Darebin, Kim le Cerf and then the Mayor of Moreland City Council, Cr Helen Davidson.  Whether you agree with these Mayors or not, they believe they are advocating for their communities. The three councils have said that the Australia Day date is offensive and inappropriate as it marks the beginning of what many people call the “invasion and oppression” of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the hands of the British settlers in 1788.

Mayor up!

Local government is known as the government ‘closest to the people’. It’s no surprise then, that when our population is 50% female, more and more women are putting their hand up to stand for council. Women are also stepping up and being elected as Mayor.

Thankfully, women Mayors are forever changing the image of ‘old white man in a robe and chain’ to that of a sassy woman, fighting for her community. You might even know one!

Ruth McGowan is a former Mayor and councillor. She works as a consultant, facilitator and mentor in local government. For 10 years she has actively been involved in campaigns to encourage and support women to stand for council

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