A Woman's Place Is In The House: Parliament House

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I am not one to become outraged easily but words cannot describe how affronted I feel after reading about the sexist and completely unacceptable comments recently made by a male National Party MP about a female Liberal MP recently

This comes in the wake of revelations that the number of women MPs in the NSW Legislative Council may fall to only 9 out of 42 after the 2015 state election

Rather than moving towards a greater and more critical mass of women in parliament, we are headed backwards towards a further entrenchment of male culture.

This is an appalling state of affairs for an Australian state parliament in the 21st century, and a far cry from a country that was one of the first to grant women the right to vote and to run for parliament.

Somewhat telling is the fact that executives from the Labor, National and Liberal parties trying to justify their pre-selection results are all men.

This clearly indicates that the problem is systemic and extends far deeper than just the selection of election candidates.

Last year I wrote about the widening gender gap in Australia based on indicators of wage inequality and parliamentary representation amongst others. Shamefully, after March 2015, we will slip even further.

Not only are women under represented, our parliaments are also not even close to being representative of the rich diversity of contemporary Australian society.

This cultural and gender diversity is critical for bringing a variety of perspectives and experiences to inform debate and decision-making. 

While arguments of justice, utility, symbolism and representation of interests and values have all been advanced to make a case for equal representation of women influencing decision-making, this democratic deficit still persists and is increasing.

I am proud to be the member of a political party that has a strong gender equality focus in their constitution, party structures and pre-selection processes.

In the 2011 state election 50 per cent of our candidates were women. However, turning the tables on the dire situation in NSW parliament requires much more than affirmative action.

Barriers that prevent and deter women from participating in politics have to be removed, whether they be societal such as perceived roles and the inherent discrimination that comes with this or structural such as lack of childcare and wage inequality.

Sexism in the workplace and in politics needs to be called out as unacceptable in much louder voices and not just by women, but by society as a whole.

Come March 2015, I may be one of the very few women MPs left in the Upper House of NSW parliament.

Our mission should be to do everything possible to lay the groundwork for the 2019 election to ensure we achieve the highest ever number of women in NSW parliament from all parties.

That’s not a very high bar to set as the highest percentage of women in the Legislative Council was 35 per cent (in 1991).

Only collective action and shared leadership can create this change, and all feminists from across party lines will have to come together and stand up for equality, opportunity and democracy.

This is an open invitation and challenge to my parliamentary colleagues. I will be extending my hand. Will you?

* Dr Mehreen Faruqi is a Greens NSW MP.

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Mehreen Faruqi

Dr Mehreen Faruqi is a NSW Greens MP and a civil and environmental engineer.

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