‘WE’RE STILL MANSPLAINED TO AND WE’RE STILL CALLED “GIRLS” BY MALE POLITICIANS’: SENATOR JANET RICE

Photo: @alexamazzarello (NB: This women’s march image does not depict Janet Rice)

Victorian Greens Senator Janet Rice moved a motion in the Senate this month calling on all parliamentarians to “support and model meaningful cultural change… so we can eliminate sexism and misogyny from our society”. The motion, which followed the #MeToo movement’s viral growth online, passed unanimously – but will politicians put their money where their mouth is? By Grace Jennings-Edquist

To what extent do we still see sexism and misogyny in Australian politics – and what areas do some parliamentarians need to work on to ensure they’re modelling an anti-sexist, anti-misogynist stance?

Parliamentarians are community representatives and leaders and they should be leading the way when it comes to supporting and celebrating women’s contributions. There’s still quite a bit of work to do to get all our pollies on board with this project, unfortunately.

You just need to look at the make-up of the Australian parliament to see we have a problem with representation, and that’s one of the issues with creating a supportive culture for women in politics. There’s roughly 65% men and 35% women and only 5 women out of 21 positions in Cabinet. It’s really important that we ensure women are fully able to participate as equal members of society, but this means we must address inequality at all levels – in the schoolyard, in the home, in the boardroom, in parliament.

Our public institutions should lead by example, so it’s still terribly disappointing that not only do we have a large discrepancy in how many women are parliamentarians, but how women are treated in the parliament. You only need to go back a few years to see how Julia Gillard was treated during her term as Prime Minister. Some of the most appalling gendered pejoratives were used against her, the likes of which would never said of a man. But even now, female parliamentarians get cut off by men constantly, we’re mansplained to and spoken to as if we don’t understand. We’re still called “girls” by male politicians.

The #metoo motion called on parliamentarians to, among other things, “properly fund and support frontline services for women fleeing violence.” How likely is it that hey’ll all be willing to put their money where their mouth is?

Unfortunately we are in a situation where parliamentarians, particularly those in government, are happy to talk the talk, but when it comes actually doing something for women fleeing violence, they’re absolutely not doing enough for vulnerable women who are experiencing violence.

For example, Rape and Domestic Violence Services Australia, a community organisation providing critical counselling to rape and domestic violence victims, will lose a major government contract at the end of October. Up to 50 experienced staff will be made redundant and the cost of these redundancies may force the organisation into liquidation. The organisation was originally offered a 75% reduction in their funding and requirements which would compromise the privacy of their clients as their only option, which they declined.

It’s extremely disappointing that the government is giving an organisation that provides high-quality counselling to the most vulnerable people no real option but to close its doors.

I’m glad the Greens’ #metoo motion passed in the Senate, but now it’s time for the government to respond to that call and do more to ensure women fleeing violence have the services and support they need.

NZ’s new Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has named women and gender equality among her priorities. What shifts are required in Australian politics to put women at the centre of the political conversation?

I’m really glad that we’ve started having more conversations about women’s issues and gender, but we’re still lagging behind other developed nations in addressing all forms of gender inequality.

[W]hat we really need is a push from everyone, but particularly from leaders in politics, business, public life, to actively take steps to address gender inequality. We need political parties to encourage and preselect more women to run for office, we need businesses to hire and promote women in roles of leadership, we need schools to teach girls that they can be scientists, defence force personnel, lawyers, as well as nurses, teachers, mothers.

We also need men to step up, acknowledge their privilege and commit to doing their bit to achieving equality. Women shouldn’t have to remind men constantly that sexism and misogyny exists, that women earn on average 15% less than men. Women shouldn’t have to publicly describe their experiences of sexual assault and harassment, as has happened with the #metoo hashtag, in order for men to realise that almost every woman they know has been assaulted or harassed at some time. Women shouldn’t have to keep telling men that we deserve equal rights. And to achieve this we definitely need parliamentarians, who are predominantly men, to ensure that women are at the centre of the political conversation.

This interview has been edited for brevity. Janet Rice’s portfolios include LGBTIQ, women, transport and infrastructure, agriculture and rural affairs, environment and biodiversity, and forests. More on her here.


More from Issue 17:

Caiti Baker Wakes Up

How to Get Started With House Plants

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