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Our Message This International Women’s Day: Don’t Get Mad, Get Elected

We asked former PM Julia Gillard and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for advice on getting in the game — and why they want to see your name on a ballot
Peter Brew-Bevan

Australia’s first female Prime Minister, the Hon. Julia Gillard AC, explains why the glass ceiling of politics is worth shattering

One of the wonderful things I have learnt since leaving federal politics is that there is a seemingly endless supply of young, smart, talented Australian women who are passionate about creating a better and fairer world. But what saddens me is the number of these women who remain wary of doing so through a career in politics.

Of course, I understand the reluctance of so many to take this step. My own experience in public life, while extraordinarily fulfilling, was at times very challenging. There were the amazing opportunities I had to lead and build our country – with the National Disability Insurance Scheme, school reforms, strengthening our economy and our nation’s reputation in the world, as well as instigating the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. All these are among my proudest achievements. But there were also darker moments – the times where I wished I could just get on with the job of governing without my gender being a constant, negative part of the public debate.

As I have frequently joked, smashing through a glass ceiling inevitably means you get showered with shards of sharp, broken glass! But jokes aside, my strong, clear advice is: politics is worth it. Getting to change your nation for the better is an incredible privilege and I would urge every woman and girl who cares about making a difference to go for it.

That is always the advice I give to the young women I meet, and I hope they heed it because our world needs more female leaders. Globally, women make up just 23 per cent of national parliamentarians. In Australia, the statistics aren’t much better, with only 32 per cent of seats in our Federal Parliament held by women. And this inequality is not set to change any time soon. The pace of change is glacial – according to a report by the World Bank, women’s representation in parliaments globally recorded a growth of only 0.17 per cent in 2016.

There are plenty of reasons why our world would benefit from having more women in public life, but what resonates with me most is this: if you believe, as I do, that merit is distributed evenly between the sexes, and you look around a parliament and do not see equal numbers of men and women, then women of merit are missing out. How many opportunities are we denying our nation by our failure to tap into this pool of talent?

I know that the prospect of running for office can be daunting. I appreciate that for women, in particular, the tussle between career and family life can seem overwhelming. But, for me, and for the wonderful women I served alongside in parliament, it was absolutely worth it.

With a strong sense of purpose, a passion to change our country for the better and the right support around you, you can and will make a mark through public office. Please get involved and get elected. I am right there behind you.

Julie Bishop
Julie Bishop (Credit: Peter Brew-Bevan)

Australia’s first female Foreign Minister and current Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, the Hon. Julie Bishop MP, believes more women need to be heard

Entering public office is one of the highest callings: an opportunity to contribute to the betterment of your community and nation. While the public scrutiny can be intense, it is a rewarding and satisfying vocation in the service of other people.

During my time in politics, I have witnessed steady change in attitudes towards women in parliament and in leadership positions across Australia. My personal milestone was to be appointed as Australia’s first female Minister for Foreign A airs.

There is a growing recognition that gender balance is important in any organisation, to ensure all perspectives are taken into account during the decision-making process.

Under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, six women were appointed to Federal Cabinet in 2015 – the equal highest number of women since Federation. The current Cabinet includes five female ministers. These women are high-pro le role models to others wanting to pursue a career in male-dominated sectors or to have a rewarding career and a family at the same time.

As these remarkable women break down barriers in their respective fields, they pave the way for more to follow. While significant progress has been made, women remain under-represented at decision-making levels in most sectors, including within our State and Federal parliaments here and abroad.

Throughout my professional career, I have held a strong belief that women should empower other women, whether through formal or informal mentoring, or simply by supporting each other as colleagues in the workplace. As the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Party, I feel the responsibility to support and mentor women who are interested in entering public office.

Women must be represented appropriately at all levels throughout society, business and government, to ensure the interests and perspectives of 50 per cent of all communities are heard.

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