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Emily Verdouw

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Tony Abbott's 'Woman Problem'

Posted: 19/09/2013 11:25

Although I question many of his archaic statements in the past, I do not believe Australia's new prime minister chose to nominate only one woman in his cabinet based on misogynistic tendencies. I believe playing into that is counterproductive to the real issue at hand, as the western world partakes in an environment which intimidates women from entering politics.

Tony Abbott told us all long ago that his team would remain greatly unchanged on the merit of displaying stability in the wake of Labor's disastrous leadership. Capitalising on this story now rather than then, I fear, only perpetuates the intimating environment women face in the political world.

Abbott has no doubt chosen a team he believes will be strong, just as Julia Gillard, Rudd, David Cameron and Barack Obama did. The fact is, Abbott is only five women shy of Rudd's history-making six women cabinet . They're still not good numbers whichever way you look at it.

Australia still leads female representation in parliament far ahead of both the UK and the US. Rwanda are the trailblazers here with over 50% of women represented in their parliament. Even Afghanistan, Tanzania and Iraq are ahead.

So If we're talking stats, that would make Obama and David Cameron bigger misogynists than Tony Abbott. And even more so, that would mean the western world has a greater problem with women than Rwanda and Afghanistan.

Of course this is not the case. The stats sensationalise and distract from the undercurrent. What this all shows is that this is hardly a Tony Abbott-specific problem we have here. There's an incredibly low female representative in parliament across the western world and yet we're the nations who point our finger at countries like Rwanda and Afghanistan for their poor treatment of women.

I'd love to understand why this occurs, perhaps it's because we have our basic rights so we no longer feel the need to fight as hard as the women in these other countries.

But I suspect our problem in Australia, the UK and the US is that in the absence of steely determination to see through our basic rights, we have an environment which fails to support and encourage women to partake just on the basis of running the day-to-day.

We all play our part in this. From the media reporting on the 'misogyny' and 'vicious rants' to the women's mags and newspapers writing about our female politicians appearances. To the everyday person who privately criticises image in cruel jibes to their friends in a failure to actually criticise policy. To the political platform themselves, who fail to reach out and say 'enough is enough, it's not OK to treat each other like this'.

Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd were successful on this issue. There were more women in their cabinets than ever before and Rudd elevated that to a record breaking 11 in his second and fleeting attempt at leadership although they didn't get to really make their mark. But this all occurred because they reached out and publicly encouraged women. Gillard and Rudd praised their MPs achievements and stood up for them, publicly.

So what I will not defend is our new PM's clear inability to foster that environment. He's ignorant (or playing ignorant) as to why he didn't have more women to choose from. Wake up Tony, if you're truly disappointed there aren't more women in your cabinet, then do something about it. The Cabinet, after all, is the finishing line. Women should not be chosen because they are women, but they should be supported and encouraged to put themselves in line to be chosen.

As the self-elected representative for women's issues in Australian parliament, as well as our new PM, it has never been more important for you to reach out and encourage women, start fostering that environment as publicly as you can and support those women on the outer bench you say are knocking on the door. Because we all know when people are supported, they have the ability to speak louder and perform at our best.

Then there will be no excuses as to why you only have one woman in your cabinet.

 

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