In 1902 something
extraordinary happened in Australia – we became the first nation in the
world to give women the vote, and the right to stand for election to
What a victory for the suffragette movement in Australia, especially as it
happened despite strong opposition at the time.
Although Australia lead the world in developing a democracy that was
inclusive of women it took around 20 years before a woman was elected to
state parliament and 41 years for a woman to enter federal parliament (this
period was the longest period of any western country).
Australian women have had the vote for around 100 years but we do not have
equal representation in parliament and we have little political power.
Some statistics …
- In Australia there are 226 members of parliament in both the Senate and
the House of Representatives, of which 64 are female members - a percentage
of around 28%.
- The Senate has 76 members, of which 27 are female – a percentage of around
- The House of Representatives has 150 members, of which 37 are female - a
percentage of around 24%.
- In March 2000, the percentage of women in all state parliaments was 23%,
and after the September 1999 local government elections in NSW the total
number of women councilors was 26% - this is the same percentage of women councillors in Victoria following the March 2000 elections.
- According to the Weekend Australian dated 22 April 2000, during the
previous year women made up 11% of directors on the boards of Australia's
top 300 companies, but of the 300 companies only 47% had women directors.
Over the past three decades there has been an increase in the number of
women entering all levels of government but there is a long way to go before
equal representation is achieved.
To address this inequality some political parties have publicly announced
they want to improve the imbalance of women candidates, but these
declarations have done little to reduce the imbalance.
In Australia the reality is women have little control over policy that
governs their social and economic well-being. Because of the imbalance of
women in politics and the absence of them in senior positions in the private
and public sectors, women have minor influence over the economy,
environment, employment, social justice, welfare issues, war, foreign
affairs and trade.
The solution is to make parliaments and decision making institutions more
representative of women. This seems straightforward but it is difficult to
achieve without a concerted effort by governments, political parties and the
In 2004 the quest to improve equality for women took a blow – it was the
year the federal Government abolished the Office for the Status of Women the
NSW Government abolished the Department for Women.
There are agencies in existence that are relevant to women but they usually
sit within government departments, and they appear to have little influence.
It has been argued that women’s issues are now being rationalized as
mainstream by governments, which means policies and programs apply equally
to both genders. This is a backward step to a time when programs were
implemented with no insight into community attitudes to sex and gender, and
Until we reform our political environment and until women have an equal
representation in our parliaments, as well as the public and private
sectors, Australian women will continue to be disadvantaged and our nation
will suffer as a consequence.
In June 2003, the Australian population had reached a total of 19,881,500.
The proportions of males and females are roughly equal with slightly more
females overall (just over 50 per cent of the population).
As women make up just over half the population it is only fair they have
equal representation in politics and in decision making roles.
The sort of society we should aim for is one that encourages women’s
participation and potential in all areas, and women’s efforts and
contributions should be recognized and valued.
For Australia to be a great country, we need to improve women’s access to
parliament as well as to senior positions in both the public and private
As a society we need to ensure that women are given appropriate input into
all the issues that affect their lives.
Each one of us can help change the way things are in Australia - by
acknowledging and questioning the imbalance, by encouraging women to enter
the political arena and by getting to know, and voting for, female