Speaking of parity

WITH WA’s Parliament being sworn in late last week, there were backslaps all around as the dominant Labor party benches were shared equally between men and women, and the state’s first female Speaker was sworn in.

However, premier Mark McGowan’s Cabinet of 28 only features 9 women. 

Fremantle Labor MP Simone McGurk, who is in her second term in a ministry, acknowledged there was still work to do to break the glass ceiling, “but we have achieved so much in one term of government to ensure women are involved in making key decisions about the services and programs that impact their lives.

“For example, we elevated prevention of family and domestic violence to a standalone ministerial portfolio following the 2017 election – four years before the Federal government appointed a minister for women’s safety.”

Ms McGurk said Labor has done “significant work to reach its public sector senior executive service target of 50 per cent women”. 

“There are strong female voices at the Cabinet table leading the government’s work across a wide range of key portfolios such as education, regional development, transport, planning, child protection, prevention of family and domestic violence, environment and commerce.

“With so many talented Labor women entering parliament or re-elected for their second term, I have no doubt that we’ll see even more women promoted to senior roles in future.”

Notre Dame senior politics lecturer Martin Drum said Labor had slowly worked towards 50 per cent of women in its overall caucus, and he hopes that will result in an equally represented Cabinet in future. 

Dr Drum said there were many first-term women MPs in Labor’s ranks, and being less experienced it would have been unusual to see them in Cabinet. 

“Then you need female members of Cabinet to be speaking out and to be at the centre of decision making,” Dr Drum said. 

It was important to have women in parliament to bring a unique perspective on issues such as sexual harassment, safety, health and economic security. 

Women had said “time and time again they have experienced sexual harassment”, Dr Drum said.

Murdoch lecturer Brianne Hastie, who researches women in leadership, said they were more likely to be chosen for stereotypically feminine jobs and men more masculine roles.

Dr Hastie said there was an expectation women would come across as warm to be considered competent for higher positions. However, men were naturally seen as competent for these roles, meaning they do not have to show as much charm. 

Dr Hastie pointed to last November’s gaffe when prime minister Scott Morrison spoke over the top of colleague Anne Ruston about his government’s attitude towards women, as an example of how women were often overlooked. 

She says women in good roles did not want to jeopardise their position, so they might not speak up for fear of appearing disagreeable. In politics party unity was also considered paramount, adding to the difficulty in speaking out.

21-year-old student Kelsey Martin said it was important for women to be represented in politics. 

Ms Martin is “frustrated” and believes Mr McGowan should have included more women in his Cabinet. Equal representation was important to her because “too many bad decisions have been made which have consequences on women’s health, safety and wellbeing. 

“Much of it is due to poor representation and understanding,” she said.

Miss Martin believes Mr McGowan missed an opportunity to challenge lingering negative stereotypes and female leadership: “This re-election would have been prime to enact this change as McGowan’s ratings and popularity are so high,” she said.

by PALOMA SHIELD-NUNEZ

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