What has Labor promised about gender?

by John J. Williams

As women storm the 2022 federal election in too many numbers to ignore, Camilla Nelson* looks at what the incoming Labor government has promised about gender.

Women were everywhere and nowhere in the 2022 federal election, writes Camilla Nelson, University of Notre Dame Australia

The message of the weekend’s vote was that the things that matter to women and their communities also count at the ballot box.What has Labor promised about gender?

Even if they weren’t part of the talks the major parties were having.

Women have been running away from the Liberal Party for almost 40 years.

And we also know that polls suggest that women care more about climate change than men and about being respected and living safely.

Big wins across the country

The most notable winners on Saturday evening were the so-called teal candidates.

From Zoe Daniel and Monique Ryan in Melbourne to Zali Stegall, Sophie Scamps, Kylea Tink, Allegra Spender in Sydney, and Kate Chaney in Perth, politics as usual, is being radically changed by independent women.

Here we have seen a swathe of highly qualified professional women take stunning victories in metropolitan seats that have historically provided the Liberal party with its power base.

This trend started in India in 2013 by former independent Cathy McGowan.

McGowan, who has continued advising the current candidates, wanted local members who listened to their constituents.

The teals made gender equality one of their top priorities and placed it within an interconnected set of policy positions, including anti-corruption and climate change.

And they have been rewarded with historic victories.

Their impact on the Australian political scene is already seismic, and we are barely 24 hours after the election.

Not just teal

But we also saw significant gains from women in other parts of the political spectrum.

Liberal MP Bridget Archer held her seat against the grain after championing integrity issues and LGBTIQ+ rights during the last parliament.

Also in Tasmania, Jacqui Lambie increased her Senate squad to two, with the likely election of Tammy Tyrrell.

In Western Australia, the surprising success stories of Labor were female candidates such as Zaneta Mascarenhas, who dyed blue seats red.

And in Sydney, independent Dai Le showed the major parties that they can’t take local communities for granted after she ousted parachuted Labor star, Kristina Keneally.

This election is a clear warning against treating communities with disdain.

What will Labor do now?

We’ve known for some time that the Coalition had “women’s problems” (Tony Abbott’s first cabinet had only one woman – Julie Bishop – in 2013).

These were compounded in 2021 with Brittany Higgins’ allegations of rape in Parliament House and the disdainful way the Coalition and Scott Morrison responded to the concerns.

Anthony Albanian and Labor have pledged to do more.

Strikingly, the incoming Prime Minister referenced women in his victory speech and was prominently introduced by incoming Secretary of State Penny Wong.

He has appointed Linda Burney, the first female Aboriginal woman elected to the House of Representatives, as Secretary of State for Indigenous Affairs.

As Minister for Women, Tanya Plibersek is expected to lead the way in women’s policy.

But what have they promised, and is it enough?

Sexual Harassment

Labor’s commitment to all 55 . of the Australian Human Rights Commission to be fully implemented [email protected] recommendations is welcome news for the thousands of women who took part in March4Justice last year.

We must now ensure that this is done the way Kate Jenkins, Commissioner for Sexual Discrimination, intended.

Labor will now also adopt Jenkins’ other recommendations – to improve culture in the parliament building.

This also includes the PvdA culture.

Economic security

Labor says Australia must “lead the world on equality between women and men”.

In policy terms, Labor is committed to making childcare cheaper and supporting women in precarious work.

This means that wages in female-dominated sectors – such as healthcare – should lead the policy discussion.

But there is also a need for more attention to the gender-related nature of poverty and disadvantage.

More could be done to determine the adequacy of income support.

Most people who receive parental benefits (more than 90 percent) are women.

More needs to be done to invest in social housing and the general lack of affordable housing.

The new Albanian government recognizes the structural obstacles to real equality.

But with the Coalition’s third-phase tax cuts totaling $15.7 billion a year, supported by Labor — a bill mostly benefiting high-income men — it’s hard to see how much necessary structural reforms must be financed and implemented.

Violence against women and children

Labor says it is investing a “record” $3 billion in women’s safety.

As part of this, it pledges $77 million in consent education and respectful relationships.

It will also spend $157 million for more community workers to support women in crisis and include ten days of leave for domestic violence in the National Employment Standards.

Policymakers often fail to understand violence’s depth, complexity, and impact on women and children.

There are also clear links between women’s safety and economic security, including the need to address income support, homelessness, and housing.

The economic costs of violence against women and children are enormous, but the policy debate is constantly framed regarding money spent.

We must closely monitor this area for signs of real progress, saving lives, and better support.

Who are ‘female voters’?

Finally, we must also be careful about speaking of ‘women’ and ‘women’s voters’.

An effective gender agenda must consider the diversity of women’s interests.

Analysts are doing women a huge disservice by assuming that women are a single voting bloc or a socially homogeneous group.

Diversity is something feminists have long tried to put at the heart of policy discussion.

This includes economic and cultural differences in a population where diversity is not a political ‘marginal’ problem but simply a description of mainstream Australian society.

Women have been angry, hurt, and disappointed by major party politics in recent years.

The result of the weekend show change in the ballot box is possible.

We can only hope that it now translates into a change where it is most needed.

*Camilla Nelson, Associate Professor of Media, University of Notre Dame, Australia.

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