The federal minister responsible for women says it is "ridiculous" that identifying as a feminist should be a prerequisite for her job.
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Abbott address to women's conference
The Paid Parental Leave scheme will provide benefits commensurate with individual women's pay, Prime Minister Tony Abbott tells the International Women's Day Breakfast on Friday.
Speaking ahead of International Women's Day on Saturday, Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash, explained that while she believed in gender equality she would not necessarily call herself a feminist.
"I have never been someone who labels herself," she told Fairfax Media. "In terms of feminism, I've never been someone who really associates with that movement. That movement was a set of ideologies from many, many decades ago now."
Senator Cash said that while feminism had done "wonderful things for women", for herself in 2014, "it's all about being part of a government that implements policies that will take women further down the journey of economic empowerment".
Senator Cash was also asked if she was a feminist during an appearance at the National Press Club earlier this week, where she replied: "All I know is I believe in women. That's it. And I believe in men."
On Thursday, the West Australian senator's non-committal answer provoked a backlash on social media as well as strong criticism on website Mamamia and from Greens senator Larissa Waters, who described her "horror" at Senator Cash's response.
When asked to expand on her views, Senator Cash told Fairfax Media her policies – such as funding for the prevention of violence against women and measures to improve flexible working arrangements for parents – were more important than the terminology.
"Merely because you are a feminist does not mean you will implement policies that empower women," she said. "Labelling myself as a feminist, if that is a prerequisite now for being a Minister for Women, that's ridiculous."
Wong: "it's an expression of ideals"
Labor frontbencher and feminist Penny Wong suggested that Senator Cash had got her "nomenclature" wrong.
"I think [feminist] is more than a label, it's an expression of your ideals," Senator Wong told Fairfax Media on Friday afternoon.
"Feminism is about equality. It is a belief that we advocate for women’s rights on the grounds of equality of the sexes. I think many women and men would be very disappointed that the person in the government who is supposed to be advocating for women, doesn't wish to assert those ideals."
The former finance minister said that Senator Cash's argument that feminism was a "set of ideologies from many, many decades ago" assumes "that the work of feminism has been completed".
"If Minister Cash genuinely believes in gender equality and is willing to advocate for it, perhaps she’s just got her nomenclature wrong."
Cash and Abbott work as a team
This week, during a Women's Day event, Prime Minister Tony Abbott referred to himself as a "feminist" when he talked of the impact his three daughters had had on his attitudes towards gender equality.
Senator Cash said that even though her official title was "Minister Assisting the Prime Minister", Mr Abbott had made it "very clear" that she should "act as the Minister for Women".
"Obviously I take to him policy ideas that I have. And he is always prepared to share with me his thoughts in relation to women's policy," she said. "The Prime Minister and I very much work as a team."
When asked if she thought Australia's next female Prime Minister was in the current parliament, Senator Cash declined to give an exact answer.
"If I say that, then there will be like 'so there's a leadership coup on!'" she said.
But she added that there were "competent" women who were up to the job. She also singled out fellow West Australian Liberal, Julie Bishop, noting she has "a bit of a passion" for the Foreign Affairs Minister.
"That woman, a) does not sleep, b) she is competent, she is stylish, she is articulate. She is over every brief she has. She is highly respected," Senator Cash said of the only woman in the Abbott cabinet.
"Does she have the ability to discharge the role of Prime Minister? Absolutely."
Senator Cash also said Liberal women MPs did ''occasionally'' get together for a drink, but it did not mean there was a girl's club in the party.
On Saturday, Senator Cash will fly to New York with Australian Ambassador for Women and Girls Natasha Stott Despoja for a meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women.