27 September 2023

Politics: Young women aren’t even starting the race

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Jessie Tu* says new research has found that young women are less likely to run for office today than 12 months ago.

Young women and gender diverse people are less likely to run for office or join a political party today, than they were 12 months ago.

That’s the explosive finding of new research from a leading Australian social enterprise, Raise Our Voice Australia which surveyed almost 500 Australian women and gender diverse people under the age of 30, seeking their views on the state of politics in the country today.

Encouragingly, 83 per cent of respondents said they were more likely to make an informed vote today – in light of the events of the last 12 months, including Brittany Higgins’ allegations of sexual assault in parliament, Grace Tame’s National Press Club address and the release of The Jenkins Report, however 44 per cent said they were less likely to consider a career in politics today than previously.

Respondents also said they were reluctant to participate in formal spaces, preferring informal contexts of participation instead, such as petitions and protests.

Most cited the predominantly negative coverage female politicians are receiving in the national media as reason for distancing themselves from formal spaces.

Ashleigh Streeter-Jones, the founder and CEO of Raise Our Voice Australia, described the survey results as disappointing but not surprising.

“We’ve become very good at talking about the absence of women from politics, but not the absence of young women and gender diverse people,” Streeter-Jones said.

“We know this demographic are passionate and engaged, but have valid concerns about formalised political spaces and biased media reporting.”

“We also need to challenge our perceptions of young people’s leadership to recognise that they are already changing national conversations – including on the climate, consent and sexual assault.”

Streeter-Jones, who created the social enterprise in August 2020, believes the country needs better standards of media reporting in order to “embrace greater diversity in formal political spaces, and to create spaces in political parties.”

Despite most respondents insisting on the importance of diversity in government, only 13 per cent felt their interests were reasonably represented in politics.

Delilah°, a young woman of colour in her late twenties, told Women’s Agenda that a combination of issues have contributed to her disillusionment with the government of late.

“It seems to me that issues about minority groups, the rights of LGTBQI people, the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, which are otherwise neglected, are brought up as political topics and for media buzz without any reformation,” she said.

“I wouldn’t say I have a whole lot of confidence that the next election will significantly shake up the representation of young voices or culturally diverse groups.

“Is it too much to ask for an AOC? Or ten?”

For Delilah, who works in research, and was raised in Chisholm – a small suburb north-west of Newcastle with a large migrant population, the politicisation of climate action, the failings in the rollout of the vaccine and the underfunding in known vital public services such as aged care and mental health have caused her the greatest distress.

Rochelle°, who identifies as gender diverse and is in her early twenties, also feels forgotten in policy as a member of the LGBTQ community.

“I do not feel at all represented by the current candidates in the upcoming election, nor do I believe that they will look out for my best interests,” she said.

“I’ve been especially disheartened by the recent comments made by Scott Morrison and several other candidates in defence of Katherine Deves, as well as the Coalition’s potential support of a bill banning transgender women from playing women’s sport.”

“Seeing the rights of transgender people debated in parliament, especially one that is severely lacking in LGBTQ+ representation has been quite distressing.

“I am not optimistic that the current candidates will prioritise my interests, nor the interests of the broader trans and gender-diverse community.”

For Rochelle, the most frustrating aspect concerning the government over the past 12 months has been its inability to adequately address concerns of women’s safety, both within parliament and broader Australian society.

“While additional funding has been announced to help combat domestic and family violence, it is extremely disappointing to see that the government has done little to investigate allegations of abuse within parliament, nor to hold perpetrators of abuse to account,” she says.

Rochelle believes that the media landscape in Australia needs to change too.

“The media must amplify more diverse voices, not just those that belong to the straight, white women who are deemed to be the most appropriate faces of the movement,” she says.

“There are so many more stories that need to be told, and conversations that must be had regarding the toxic culture of misogyny and sexual assault within Australian parliament.”

“I also hope that instead of introducing more non-compulsory empathy training, the government actually consults with survivors and advocates, and implements measures that will create long-lasting change.”

The latest survey from Raise Our Voice Australia concluded with a series of recommendations, including a timeline for implementation and funding of the recommendations contained in the Jenkins review, the creation of youth engagement strategies within political parties, the implementation of media reporting standards for reporting on women, political figures, and people from marginalised backgrounds and the creation of key targets by media companies with the aim of elevating diverse voices and opinions from diverse individuals.

Delilah believes that with the problems clearly defined, now is the time to act.

“While it does take time to overhaul a toxic culture, the 28 recommendations from the Jenkins review have laid out what needs to be done,” she says.

“Parliament needs to become a significantly safer place for women to work (and set an example to other organisations and institutions that may need cultural reform) and through that, more young women will no longer be warded off entertaining the thought of a career in politics or policy.”

°Names have been changed to protect sources.

*Jessie Tu is a journalist at Women’s Agenda and author of A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing.

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au.

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