Unless you have been living in a subterranean hole beneath south-west Guatemala for the last 24 hours, you will have heard of the most recent unrest in Australian politics. Yesterday, the now former Minister for Communications, Malcolm Turnbull, challenged Tony Abbott’s leadership – and won. In a vote that began at 9.15pm last night, Turnbull defeated Abbott 54-44.
Many questions have been raised about Turnbull’s impending leadership; the climate change policy (which will remain the same) and Australia’s stance on refugees are at the forefront. However, one question that nobody has asked yet is what his term in office will mean for women.
Abbott’s handling of women and their interests has constantly been portrayed in a very negative light, so it’s a wonder this wasn’t one of the first issues raised. In 2015, women are more of a global force than ever. We are essential to governance because (whatever the uber feminists will have us believe) we have a different perception of the world to men. We are wired differently. This should be acknowledged and celebrated, not quashed by political correctness.
We all know the Abbott cabinet consisted of only one woman; Minister for Foreign Affairs Julie Bishop. After last night’s vote, she will remain Deputy, defeating Defense Minister Kevin Andrews’ challenge 70-30. That’s quite the margin.
With those numbers; it’s unclear why Andrews bothered to oppose her. Ms Bishop has proven time and time again that she is the best candidate for Deputy Leader and a formidable force in both national and global politics. Whatever side of the political fence you sit on, her representation of Australia overseas has been impeccable, and the calm and quiet authority she demonstrates is something all politicians should aspire to.
More to the point, she is living, breathing proof that women are a productive and necessary element of government.
Ms Bishop debunks many of the stereotypes the political “boys’ club” attaches to women in the political arena. She has never displayed the perceived “feminine drama” these men seem to expect and fear. Both major political parties are guilty of this. She’s proof that a woman’s drive and strength stems from intelligence and conviction. It is not inherently connected to ‘aggression’ (or menstruation, as Donald Trump suggested of Fox host Megyn Kelly when she was tough on him during the GOP debate). When confronted by Julie Bishop as a representation of the assets of female politicians, the boys’ club doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
Will Malcolm Turnbull acknowledge this and finally appoint more women into high powered political positions? Will the Minister for Women this time actually be a woman? Will he push for a more egalitarian political arena?
Signs point to yes. Turnbull has openly encouraged more women to enter politics. In July, Turnbull attended the Commonwealth Women Parliamentarians Conference. Women for Election Australia had conducted a survey of 53 current politicians in local, state and federal government, which found that women are, “routinely expected to tolerate tantrums, nastiness, vindictiveness, visions personal attacks, nasty emails and attacks on family.”
Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick stated: “We are trying to create a critical mass of change agents…who understand the need for change not just with their heads but with their hearts. It is not about men saving women, it is about men standing up beside women.”
Turnbull fully supported this assertion, and stated that, “Increasing the number of women in politics is not solely a ‘women’s issue’ – it is in the national interest for Australia to have access to 100 per cent of the nation’s talent pool, regardless of gender…Disrespect, verbal abuse and demeaning of women are connected to the curse of domestic violence that we are battling and should not be tolerated anywhere and especially in our parliaments.”
He continued with: “We also need to make Parliament a more family friendly place in which to work. The way it currently operates is antithetical to anyone who wants to spend time with family, whether they are men or women. For many reasons, this affects women more than men. If we have a workplace that discriminates against a part of the population – in this case, half of the population – shouldn’t we be asking ourselves, what are those aspects of that workplace that are able to be changed?”
Turnbull demonstrates a hugely promising attitude not just for women in politics, but women in general. By acknowledging families, Turnbull advocates appropriate maternity leave. By calling out the bullying that goes on in male-dominated workplaces, including his own, he is challenging certain men trying desperately to maintain the status quo and thus excuse their bad behaviour. And he more than highlights the glaring problem of violence against women.
In addition to this, Turnbull is also openly pro-choice. Abbott was vehement in his opposition to abortion, and told Four Corners: “I want to make it clear that I do not judge or condemn any woman who has had an abortion, but every abortion is a tragedy and up to 100,000 abortions a year is this generation’s legacy of unutterable shame.” He has also stated: “The problem with the Australian practice of abortion is that an objectively grave matter has been reduced to a question of the mother’s convenience.”
This flippancy towards victims of rape or pedophilia, and towards those with medical conditions that make bearing children life-threatening, is more than a little…unfortunate. Turnbull would combat this attitude, and hopefully remove the measures Abbott put in place to make abortion less accessible. Big, big plusses there.
Whether Malcolm Turnbull lives up to the hype remains to be seen. However, regardless of how he handles policy issues, his attitude to/acknowledgement of women is highly productive. More women in politics means a greater (and long overdue) female voice in governance. Women should not have to try to be men to be heard and Prime Minister Turnbull is our best chance of facilitating this.
Image via Theshovel.com.au