Young women say lack of opportunities as biggest barrier to politics

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YOUNG women in Australia are reluctant to pursue a career in politics and feel being a woman and having to care for children are the biggest barriers to becoming a politician.

The Plan International Australia She Can Lead: Young people in Australia share their views on politics report surveyed 530 young men and young women aged 18 to 25 to gauge their interest in and desire to enter politics, the barriers to political life and their views on how women are treated in Parliament.

Almost half the women (45%) surveyed said there were simply not enough opportunities for them. One in three women (34%) surveyed said their gender was an obstacle to becoming a politician, compared to just one in 20 men (4%). And women were three times more likely to say starting a family would hinder a career in politics (41% versus 11% of men).

Twice as many men believe women should focus on family life before political life (26% men agree versus 13% of women). When asked who is better at being Prime Minister, one in five men (20%) answered ‘men’, compared to just one in 20 (8%) of women.

When it came to how female politicians are treated in Parliament, the differences between young men and women were stark. Women were twice as likely to agree female politicians were treated unfairly by the media and talked over by male politicians.

The report will be handed to Members of Parliament in Canberra today (October 18), as 17 Plan International Australia youth activists prepare to ‘take over’ as MPs and Senators for the day. The young women from Canberra – alongside Plan International Australia – will be calling for Australia’s first gender-equal election in 2019.

Plan International Australia’s Deputy CEO Susanne Legena commended the 17 parliamentarians, from the Labor Party, Liberal Party, the Xenophon team and The Australian Greens, for supporting young women via the ‘girls takeover Parliament’ initiative.

“It’s clear that while young women want to participate in public life, they feel that the opportunities simply aren’t there for them. The MPs who have opened their doors to our young women are today making a commitment to them that they can – and should – pursue a life in politics,” Ms Legena said.

“They will be joining many world leaders who have handed over the keys to their job for a day around the world, including Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Finland’s Prime Minister Juha Sipilä and hundreds of influential world leaders.

“As part of this ‘Girls Takeover Parliament’, we are asking political parties to review candidate selection procedures, encourage women to stand for election and to increase the number of women selected in winnable seats. We can work together towards the lofty goal of Australia’s first gender-equal Federal election in 2019.

“While we saw a drop in female representation in some areas of politics last election, there has also been progress. The first senator to breastfeed in Parliament made front page news around the world earlier this year and some parties have already reached gender parity. We are also seeing strong leadership from the Australian Government on this issue internationally, with the Foreign Minister prioritising gender equality and women’s empowerment in our aid and foreign policy.

“But when it comes to young women’s opportunities to lead in Australia, we’re still failing and even going backwards on many fronts.

“At the moment there is a narrow view of who can and should be in politics. It’s limiting and people self-select out and our Parliament is poorer for it. It’s supposed to be a place to represent all of us.

“When you consider how women in politics are often the target of snide remarks, called ‘catty’ or ‘witches’ and even hissed at simply for stating their opinions – and all of this discriminatory behaviour in the public forum of the Parliament – it’s no wonder young women are put off by a life of politics. We hope young women realise that they do belong in politics and if they want to become leaders, they should go for it.

“Plan International Australia works in more than 50 developing countries to give girls and young women a boost into leadership roles, so that we can make real progress towards eliminating systematic discrimination of girls and women. It’s time we saw Australia leading the charge on this – we are a progressive nation – and we can do better.”

About the She Can Lead survey: Essential Research conducted a series of online surveys (hosted by Online Research Unit) for Plan International Australia from 24 July 2017 to 14 August 2017. This report covers the survey responses of 530 participants who were aged 18–25 and living in Australia. The survey results were weighted for gender and location.

About Plan International Australia: Plan International Australia works around the world to tackle the root causes of poverty, inequality and injustice for children. Plan International strives to make girls truly visible: acknowledging their power and potential, and taking a stand when they are exploited, discriminated against and silenced – this includes abroad and in Australia.

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