Four in five women who run for one of the major parties in the upcoming elections face a common problem.
Only two in 10 female candidates for Labor or the Liberal-Nationals Coalition are competing to win seats, a new study shows.
An analysis by the Australian National University of the 151 candidates for the House of Representatives from the Coalition and Labor shows that both major parties are much more likely to nominate men for seats they are expected to win or retain.
The proportion of female candidates running for Labor and the Coalition is 43 percent and 29 percent respectively.
But Professor Michelle Ryan of the university’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership says these numbers alone don’t tell the full story.
She says the ‘old boys’ club’ mentality is prevalent in Australian politics.
For Labour, 24 percent of the party’s female candidates are contesting safe seats — which the party has by a margin of 6 percent or more — compared to 33 percent of male candidates.
The Liberals and Nationals have 20 percent of their female candidates in safe seats, compared to 46 percent of men.
Professor Ryan says the Australian election is an example of the ‘glass cliff’ phenomenon where women are pushed forward into leadership positions that are more risky and insecure.
In the survey she led, it was believed that 76 percent of Labor female candidates fit this definition based on the number of seats they are most likely not going to win or that are difficult to hold.
The proportion of ‘glass cliff’ candidates rises to 80 percent when analyzing the coalition’s female election candidates.
By comparison, the equivalent share of male Labor candidates running in marginal or “unwinnable” seats is 67 percent and 54 percent for the coalition.
Professor Ryan argues that while some female candidates will win in places that are marginal or safely occupied by their political opponents, their positions in parliament will remain precarious.
“If you don’t know the idea of the glass cliff, you might conclude that women are just not that good at politics; they didn’t win that many votes,” said Professor Ryan.
She says the “short answer” to why Australia has so many female candidates who fit into this category is “sexism and misogyny”.
“The longer answer is probably that I think there could be multiple reasons. We see some differences between Labor and Coalition (but) they both have problems,” she said.
Professor Ryan says she supports the idea of every Australian political party introducing a gender quota to improve women’s representation in parliament.
She notes that improving gender equality was one of the recommendations of the independent Jenkins Review on workplace culture in the House of Representatives.
That report recommended introducing goals to achieve gender balance among parliamentarians.
Labor has been using quotas since 1994 that it has met by putting a certain number of women in safe places, with a target of 50 percent female representation by 2025.
Both the Liberal and National parties have disregarded calls to introduce their own quotas, saying there are other ways to get women into parliament.