Pathways to Politics Program for Women: Australia still struggles for gender parity

Pathways to Politics fellows at the first session of the program.
Pathways to Politics fellows at the first session of the 2016 program.

After a successful 2016 pilot program launched in Canberra by MPs Tanya Plibersek and Julie Bishop, the Melbourne School of Government’s Pathways to Politics Program for Women is calling for 2017 applicants.

Designed to address the under-representation of women in Australian politics, program participants will hear from current and former MPs along with local and international experts in media, polling, networking, campaigning and speechwriting.

Academic Coordinator and political scientist for the Melbourne School of Government, Dr Andrea Carson, said female representation in Australian politics continues to fare badly.

“While women’s representation in government has risen in other countries, in Australia it fails to hit 30 per cent.  Some parties are worse than others,” Dr Carson said.

“At a federal level, we are ranked 50th in the world, behind countries like Algeria [37th] and Ethiopia [17th].

"Representation in the lower houses of state parliaments are mixed, ranging from 44 per cent in Tasmania to as low as 25 per cent in Western Australia.”

The Program is an initiative of the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia (WLIA), made possible by a generous donation to the University of Melbourne from the Trawalla Foundation established by the Schwartz family.

WLIA Founding Chair Carol Schwartz said last year’s pilot program was a great success with several women already embarking on political careers.

“The program has given a cohort of incredible women from across the political spectrum the skills, support and networks they need to run for office," Ms Schwartz said.

"It’s critical to have men and women share power at the highest levels of leadership and decision-making – that’s why we initiated the Pathways to Politics Program for Women."

Two of last year’s fellows – Susanne Newton and Stephanie Amir – were recently elected as councillors in the City of Darebin and two others – Olivia Ball and Sarah Mansfield – ran as candidates in the federal election and had significant swings towards them.

Olivia then went head-to-head against popular Lord Mayor of Melbourne, Robert Doyle and received the second-highest number of votes, beating more experienced politician Phil Cleary.

Based on the Harvard University program “From Harvard Square to Oval Office”, the non-partisan program equips 25 women from diverse backgrounds with the skills, networks and confidence they need to seek elected office at a federal, state or local level.

Free for successful applicants, the Pathways to Politics Program for Women runs from June to November this year.