My entire life, the perfect formula for how to be a leader was clear. Either you are born with it naturally or it would never come. This recipe of leadership comprises strength, bravery, fearlessness, power and ... a certain gender?
Regardless of your political views, if you are part of any minority in Australia, you are always disappointed by the 'recipe' of Australian leadership. For a country that prides itself on a foundation of diversity, multiculturalism, inclusion and meritocracy; the Australian Parliament still doesn't reflect our community.
Not to be entirely pessimistic, our parliamentary system is slowly becoming more diverse, both in gender and ethnicity. The 2019 election saw 23 newly elected women making their way to Canberra. As well as this, notably the first Indigenous person - Ken Wyatt who is a Noongar man from Western Australia, is finally filling the appointment of the Minster for Indigenous Affairs. But we need more than small wins.
We need to stop seeing diversity as an obstacle to our success as leaders. I want to believe that glass ceilings and disadvantages will not hinder me when I finally reach the workforce, but as an 18-year-old Indian girl interested in Australian politics, there are times when I am forced to think more realistically.
I am a young, woman of colour, who also has a stutter, and politics seems like a naturally daunting and unrealistic passion for me to follow. If I had leaders who I could relate to, who exhibited that they could reach what I believed I couldn't, it's no doubt I would be filled with more confidence, hope and aspiration.
Girls in particular are stuck at a crossroad where we desire leadership and want to make change but are lacking in confidence to believe we can.
In a survey released today by the charity for girls' rights, Plan International Australia, 91 per cent of 1460 girls aged between 12 and 25 expressed a strong desire to lead change on the most important social issues facing their futures. Yet in another survey, 0 per cent of young women aged 18-25 listed politics as a future career option and it's not hard to understand why.
Lack of diversity in our Parliament is not allowing regular people in our communities to pursue changing issues that matter to them. We are simply losing potential for our country to be at its best by being complacent with the same faces and the same voices telling us what we should be caring about.
Political representation is particularly important because if we are left out of the conversation, issues that are significant to us aren't even brought to the table to be discussed. Generalisations, assumptions and stereotypes drive the solutions and laws that end up impacting the quality of lives in Australia. Is it really any wonder that the Australian democratic system is being met with a loss of faith and more apathy?
And it's not as if we need to create new spaces for people of diverse backgrounds and experiences. What we do need to adjust is the way we define and understand the characteristics of leadership. We need to stop associating leadership with traditionally masculine traits of strength and power and allow the people who represent us to be multidimensional and multifaceted.
It is really difficult to constantly hear that all Australians have a fair-go and suddenly realise that somehow I am not part of that.
Jacinda Arden, Prime Minister of New Zealand, does this well. She said: "one of the criticisms I've faced over the years is that I'm not aggressive enough or assertive enough, or maybe somehow, because I'm empathetic, it means I'm weak. I totally rebel against that. I refuse to believe that you cannot be both compassionate and strong."
It is really difficult to constantly hear that all Australians have a fair-go and suddenly realise that somehow I am not part of that. Despite being born and brought up in Australia, the fact that I and many Australians are still excluded from what leaders look and sound like is disheartening.
Representation means young Australians don't need to answer their "what do I want to be when I grow up" question with astronaut because it sounds more realistic than prime minister. Representation means allowing different voices and experiences of being human to guide our conversations and debates. Representation means every Australian can grow up thinking they can be a leader.
This International Day of the Girl we are celebrating the rise of girl activists who have something powerful to say now that they've been given a platform. But it's not enough to have our opinions heard. It's time they started getting acted upon. Our country needs to start practicing what it preaches because while most of us may not be given a fair-go in Australian politics quite yet, that doesn't mean we can't still have a go.
- Varsha Krithivasan, 18, of Indian descent girl, has a speech impediment and wants to be a politician.