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I Vote For More Women On Our Ballot Papers

Women make up 51 percent of voters but only 33 percent of candidates.

01/07/2016 6:02 AM AEST | Updated July 15, 2016 12:56
Jason Reed / Reuters

This Saturday, as you stroll past the sausage sizzle into your local polling station, consider the ubiquitous corflute posters outside the venue. How many of the faces plastered on every surface are women? Then have a look at the people around you. Spot any women? Not hard, is it? In this election, women will be the majority (just over 51 percent) of those wielding the mighty pencils of democracy. Despite this, they will make up just one third of candidates on your ballot papers.

When it comes to the issues, pundits are observing that women are increasingly engaged in this election. We know from the ABC Vote Compass that women tend to have stronger opinions and views on the issues of the day than men.

And yet as this election campaign staggers to a close, we can say that gender equality and issues which matter to women have been largely absent. Why?

Overall, women make up just 33 percent of candidates for both the Senate and House of Representatives.

The proportion of women candidates standing for election in the lower house is the highest in history and, as a result, it is expected that a record number of women will be elected. This is good when we measure progress against what's been achieved previously, but less impressive when we measure it against what we need. More than anything, this new record demonstrates the glacial rate at which our Parliament comes to grips with the population it is apparently representing.

Of course, when it comes to increasing the number of women in Parliament, increasing the number of women running is the start. Women need to be in winnable positions. The Women's Electoral Lobby have analysed where women are positioned on the ballot for the Senate (where women have enjoyed higher rates of representation) for 2016. WEL has found that while women are 36 percent of overall Senate candidates, they are only 32 percent of candidates ranked first on the ballot.

While issues such as domestic violence and pay equality are finally getting more political and community attention, as Sara Bice points out it remains to be seen how this translates into the election campaign. The 2016 Lowy Institute poll of Australian Politics and Outlook found more people citing domestic violence as a very important issue facing Australia than the economy, but this issue has received limited attention from any of the major parties.

Even campaigning on the big election ticket items (or "definers" as the SMH puts it), such as the economy, health and education, is virtually silent on the implications these issues have for women.

Take housing affordability as an example. Housing affordability is finally on the agenda, due in large part to the tireless campaigning from the #VoteHome movement. Women face some of the biggest housing challenges in our community -- single mums are more likely to experience housing stress, older women are one of the fastest growing demographics facing homelessness and women experiencing violence are at a much higher risk of homelessness.

Housing is one of those areas which appears to be gender neutral, but actually affects women in greater numbers than men. More women than men support action on housing; Fairfax's YourVote has found that women are more likely to support efforts to increase the supply of affordable housing than men. 56 percent of women agreed that the government should regulate for more affordable housing, even if it means higher taxes. The ABC's VoteCompass has similarly found that women voters are generally opposed to cutting public services in a bid to balance the budget.

Interestingly, last federal election the VoteCompass found that a larger proportion of women than men were undecided voters. But indecision does not necessarily indicate disengagement but rather consideration and deeper engagement. This is one of the reasons why the National Women's Alliances have banded together to put together womenvote.org.au which brings together tools and resources to assist women to cast an effective vote that reflects their concerns.

So, women are the majority of voters, and undecided voters at that, and are more engaged in the issues of the day. This should translate to a considerable amount of political power. Now, where's the campaign to reflect that?

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