COVID-19 is busily stuffing everything up - and here is one thing I hadn't even considered.
We know that the virus has hit women hard - income, childcare, job loss, the whole freaking catastrophe. What I didn't realise that it may well stop women wanting to be politicians - it certainly looks like it will interrupt the pipeline.
Why is that?
Because women are busy doing so much more COVID-related work, they don't even have time to scratch themselves, let alone run for office. As 50/50 by 2030 Foundation co-director Trish Bergin says, women are feeling like they have to hold the whole thing together and just get through this mess. Bergin, who ran the Office for Women in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet for a couple of years, wants to know: where is the incentive to try to get into politics, to stand up to be counted?
"It is not a high priority right now because women have so much on their plates and it could work against them to get into politics," she says.
Of course, there are still the same ridiculous blockages, the same things which put you off, the same lack of women role models (and trust me, you can't be what you can't see). I mean, wouldn't you want a complete revamp of question time, to get rid of the whole vibe of being a schoolboy showoff, the time, the distance, the lack of flexibility? But that was all there before a pangolin met a bat some time last year. What is new now is the COVIDload.
As Lyn Craig and Brendan Churchill from the University of Melbourne found in their research on COVID-19, while fathers spent more time with their kids, mothers' unpaid work time went up even more. The research shows "a significant proportion of [mothers] still reported feeling that they were doing much more than their fair share and were even more dissatisfied with how they and their partners shared unpaid work and care during COVID-19".
Without women around the table to progress the gender lens, we will have more disasters where the focus ignores half the workforce.
Not sure how we fit campaigning into that. And Sarah Buckley fears women mightn't, although she has good news too. Buckley, of the Trawalla Foundation and on the steering committee of the Pathways to Politics for Women program, says the good news is that of the 30 people in the P2P cohort, 12 are running or planning to run at some level. The bad news is this: "There is a real sense of: 'how do we even do this?' when these women haven't got a presence in the community against a well-known incumbent."
Ruth McGowan, author of the excellent handbook Get Elected, predicts women will be electorally disadvantaged by COVID-19. Campaigning takes time, and if and when women ever get their jobs back, who among them will bail on paid work for hours and months of campaigning? Who among them will claw back their job hours in order to take a gamble on getting elected? Who among them can risk their care responsibilities for young children and elderly parents?
She fears for women who want to stand in Victoria, the hardest hit of all the states. But she is also concerned for territory elections, in both the ACT and the Northern Territory. Campaigning can't be what it once was. No way to kiss babies, no way to hang around the streets shaking hands with everyone. No way to have big political meetings with any feeling of safety. That advantage women have, that connection in the community, is being undermined by social distancing and masks (and they are all great and we need those things, but you can see how they might privilege those who are already elected and those who have institutional support from big parties. Mail-outs are costly. Community meetings not so much).
"We are on the precipice of going backwards in representation," says McGowan.
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McGowan, Elizabeth Hartnell-Young and Carol Kiernan run "Honour a Woman", the campaign to have more women recognised in the Australian honours list. Things were looking good in January (both South Australia and Victoria were approaching 50 per cent). It was not so rosy after the Queen's Birthday list, and that was even before COVID-19 hit.
It shows you can't leave it to chance. You can't stop concentrating on the change you want. Hartnell-Young fears that with everything else going on, everyone stuck at home with the lot, there won't be any time to nominate a woman. The blokes get their PAs to do it for them. Women rely on friends and colleagues. That is true for just about anything we do. We don't have institutional support in the way men do.
Why does this matter now more than ever? We all know why a broader range of people serves the community better, and gives us more diverse role models. But Kathryn Arndt of the Victorian Local Governance Association makes a good point. Here we are in pandemic pandemonium, and the policy response has been utterly penis-led. I mean, that is not quite how she put it - but you get the picture. Women's employment has been decimated by the pandemic but the focus is all on men's jobs and male employment.
Without women around the table to progress the gender lens, we will have more disasters where the focus ignores half the workforce. And if you don't like the phrase gender lens, think of it this way. It is possible men don't even see the impact of the loss of childcare on women, because they don't do the childcare themselves. They don't see the way childcare workers have been destroyed by the pandemic. They don't see the huge impact on precarious jobs because it is women more likely to have those precarious jobs. It is not usually men sitting by their children's sides assisting the learning from home (and when it is, you can be damn sure they post cute little photos of themselves on Instagram). It is about having the viewpoint that matters when the disaster strikes, not just the viewpoint that is able to dominate the space.
- Jenna Price is an academic at the University of Technology Sydney and a regular columnist.