Equal representation - a call for quotas - but why not democracy5050?

In the Australian Women's Weekly of 15 June, Paula Mathewson says that is time for the major political parties to adopt quotas to get more women into parliament.

Paula says that 30 percent is not good enough. Paula adopts the argument that women are needed to deal with typically women's issues. She covers, health, family, return to work and domestic violence. Paula notes that a childcare centre was not established in Parliament House until 2008 - twenty years after the building was opened. 

The two main parties are castigated - the Liberal party for not adopting quotas and the Labor party for setting a target date of 2025 for 50 percent of Labor representatives to be female. 

We would add that true democracy requires stronger more immediate action. Like Catherine Helen Spence - writing over 150 years ago in 1861 - we argue that single member electorates do not adequately represent many electors. The political parties cannot be relied on to change a system that favours them. Change must come and effective change requires equal numbers of seats for men and women in parliament - in both houses. Democracy5050 presents a workable model. 

Founding fathers only had sons?

In Canada the national anthem is to be amended into gender neutral terms so that “in all thy sons command” becomes “in all of us command”. 


The Australian national anthem was amended on its adoption in 1984 so that 'Australia's sons let us rejoice' became 'Australians all let us rejoice'. Other changes were made to 'the rarely sung' third verse.

Image from NGV http://www.ngv.vic.gov.au/australianimpressionism/education/insights_historic.html

Sharing caring roles

Jane Gilmore says that 'Women are not just all about vaginas and cupcakes.' Jane takes issue with male politicians who talk about childcare as a matter for women and argues that the expectation that women always act as carers misses the point that men should take their part in the care economy. Jane concludes that politicians should see that women are interested in all matters of government.

Interestingly, Jane cites an article from 2013 about paternal leave provisions in Iceland. That article cites a 2013 article on paternal leave from the New York Times Magazine.  A cartoon image accompanying that article shows a man raising his elbow with a baby bottle in his hand. Caution is required when drawing on US opinion given the extremely poor allowances made in that country for maternity leave. 

In Australia, work by Karleen Gribble draws out the complexity of the whole context in which maternity and paternity leave needs to be considered. Karleen writes about the effects that different policies can have on supporting a mother's decision to breastfeed. Karleen writes:  

Mothers know breastfeeding is important; 95% of mothers in Australia start breastfeeding. But it’s a time-intensive activity. The time spent breastfeeding gradually decreases after birth, but even at six months of age, breastfed infants feed for an average 2.5 hours a day.
It can be extremely difficult for mothers to maintain breastfeeding while they are working. The need to return to work prompts some women to introduce infant formula to their baby’s diet or stop breastfeeding altogether.
Only 60% of Australian babies are still breastfeeding at all at six months of age, and only 15% are exclusively breastfed to five months.
While there are many issues that factor into mothers' infant feeding decisions, it is no accident that the countries with the highest breastfeeding rates in the OECD are also countries with generous paid parental leave and workplace accommodations for breastfeeding women.

It is important to consider the ways in which empowering women for paid work may disempower women who intend to breastfeed. A 2010 study from Sweden concluded that two conditions were predictive of babies being less likely to be breastfed across infancy. These were - low socio-economic status of fathers and fathers not taking paternity leave:

enabling increased involvement from fathers during the infants’ first year of life, such as by paid paternity leave, may have beneficial effects on breastfeeding up to 6 months of age. A more systematic approach to supporting fathers’ involvement may be particularly valuable to those infants whose fathers have a lower socioeconomic status

A paper from 2015 argues for equity in breastfeeding support interventions while encouraging men to support the goal of exclusive breastfeeding till 6 months:

The protection, promotion, and support of breastfeeding is a cost-effective intervention that yields long-lasting results in health, welfare, and cognitive development across generations, with protective effects against noncommunicable conditions such as obesity, hypertension, dyslipidemia, or type II diabetes mellitus in adulthood.
Yet, greater emphasis on the equity implications of how policies and strategies are designed, implemented, and scaled up at national or decentralized levels can contribute to increase breastfeeding as a normative behavior, including exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of age, as endorsed by the World Health Assembly.
It can also encourage the involvement of other population groups, such as men, fathers, and children, as well as other sectors in this goal. Ensuring that breastfeeding-related interventions promote equity is critical to societal well-being and sustainable development.



Re-thinking electoral law

The Australian electoral system for the House of Representatives (HOR) uses preferential voting for single member electorates. The recent changes to the electoral laws for electing the Senate have sparked renewed interest in how the electoral system operates in Australia.

The ABC has investigated what the HOR might look like if we used proportional representation based on one national electorate or state-based electorates.

  1. The idea of a single national electorate is contrary to sections 24 and 29 of the Constitution. Section 24 provides for the creation of electoral divisions within states and section 29 says that 'A division shall not be formed out of parts of different States.' 
  2. State-based electorates present no problem constitutionally as section 29 also says 'In the absence of other provision, each State shall be one electorate.'

Single electorates at the state level would lead to the HOR looking more like the Senate. It would give voice to a wider range of views than the tweedledum - tweedledee of two-party system. It was precisely this reason that drove New Zealand to implement wide ranging electoral reform in 1986

The problem with the current electoral system for the HOR is that it drives a destructive form of majoritarian politics and stifles the voice of a substantial proportion of the population. More importantly, it works to prevent the representation of the majority of the population who are women. Early suffragists in the Australian colonies knew that an electoral system based on single member electorates would fail to deliver the promise of representation of women in parliament. 

The way in which the party system acts against female representation is shown by analysis of candidate lists undertaken by Shalailah Medhora.

This has lead to speculation the parties are pre-selecting men in seats they are likely to win, and women are having to run in seats they are more likely to lose.

Way back in 1861, Catherine Helen Spence wrote about the evils of single member electorates in A plea for pure democracy. Catherine said:

Reformers have applied themselves to endeavour to arrive at a true system of representation by cunning slits in ballot boxes, by equal electoral districts, and by extension of the suffrage, but all without success; for the principle itself being unjust, the fuller carrying out of it only leads to greater injustice. 
The more equally the electoral districts are divided, the more the suffrage is extended, the more people exercise their right of voting, the greater is the power of the numerical majority and the less chance minorities have of obtaining a hearing. 
The genius, the originality, the independence of the country find no majority anywhere to appreciate them, and political life is thronged with second and third rate men; who either have no opinions of their own, or have the art of concealing them.

As the article by Shalailah Medhora quotes Canada PM Justin Trudeau on why gender balance matters where he answers - 'because it is 2015'.

In 2016 - 155 years after Catherine Helen Spence identified the problem - isn't it time to implement a solution - such as democracy5050?