Why gender is an issue in local government
 Baw Baw Opinion   By // 16:08, Friday 7 December 2012

IRAQ, Afghanistan, Rwanda, Sweden and Finland have something in common. They all have a greater proportion of women in parliament than Australia.


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In the weeks leading up to Baw Baw Shire’s latest local government election, both local and social media touched on the issue of female representation in Council. Perhaps in response to an all-male united ticket – the prospect of which has some concerned about a gender-imbalanced Council.

Surprisingly, there are others who wonder why gender is even an issue.

To deny gender equity within any level of representative government is contrary to modern human rights. Women in Australia are still considerably under-represented in all levels of government.

Gender matters. Not because men are incapable of making excellent decisions, but simply because men and women, together, make for more equitable decisions.


Gender matters because the statistics are very clear. Women are paid, on average, 17 per cent less than men in the same job and are largely excluded from higher-level decision-making positions in both the private and public sectors.

Women account for 51 per cent of Baw Baw’s population. They are more likely to be tertiary educated than their male counterparts yet the majority are in part-time work, do more than 15 hours of unpaid domestic work per week and are more likely to live in poverty.

Gender matters because our present social systems continue to lock women into specific roles.

At the end of the 2008 Council, 44 per cent of Baw Baw Shire councillors were women, which was one of the highest rates in Local Government in Victoria. After the election that number has gone down to 33 per cent.

Overall, less than a third of Victorian councillors are women, and it’s a similar figure in other Australian states. At an organisational level, women hold a fifth of executive level positions with female Council CEOs making up only 7 per cent of Australian councils.

The assumption that an all-male or majority-male council can adequately make decisions for the community ignores the unique capacity of women’s contribution to community life. Research by the UN shows that increasing women’s participation in local government results in a tendency towards more equitable distribution of community resources including health, nutrition and education.


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The excuse that there aren’t women in local government because they don’t nominate themselves means we must reflect on what the barriers might be to female participation. What is the current dialogue like?


One candidate in Baw Baw’s election stated you needed “the balls” to make decisions in council while another suggested a return to “the 1950’s”.

These are not the types of conversations that make for collaborative, future-looking or inspiring decision-making. The 1950’s was a time in which women were subjected to significant levels of discrimination and subjugation – the women’s role was to take care of the husband, home and children. They were encouraged to give up work for men returning from the War, were paid less for the jobs they did do and were often relegated to low-status employment positions.

Australia’s adversarial style of politics – a common characteristic of Westminster systems that were traditionally constructed by men – discriminates against women and contributes to community disenchantment.

Women have to fight for representation in a system that they neither constructed nor are comfortable with. Political research suggests most female parliamentarians want to see more consensus-based politics.

Australia was the first country in the world where women had both the right to vote and to stand for parliament, however the right to vote was only afforded to white women, Indigenous women were excluded in some states (New Zealand was the first to give women the right to vote in 1893).

Although this happened in 1902 it took another forty years before Australians voted a woman into Federal Parliament. In Victoria, it wasn’t until 1979 that the public elected a woman to the upper house.

After women first entered State Cabinets they were allocated ‘nurturing’ portfolios such as health, education and welfare. By the 1990’s women held more diverse portfolios – except in Victoria where they are under-represented in economic roles.

Apparently women control households budgets but can’t manage the state’s figures.

The private sector is even worse. The latest census of women in leadership shows women account for around 8 per cent of board of director positions in Australia’s top 200 ASX-listed companies.

The percentage of companies with boards that have no women is increasing – more than half (54 per cent) of Australia’s top companies don’t consider it necessary to have female representation.

The progress in this area is considered “glacial” by the Australian Government and highlights the “under-utilisation of the talents of the vast female workforce”.

Society is taking bold steps, albeit slowly, toward consensus that the overt and more subtle forms of female suppression are unacceptable. To deny that gender doesn’t matter in local government ignores the prevailing levels of existing gender inequity.

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7 responses to “Why gender is an issue in local government”

  1. Sue Keirnan says:

    Iraq, Afghanistan and Rwanda may well have a greater representation in Parliament, but not as decision makers whose voices are heard.
    Women’s lives in these countries are dominated by the male view of how women ‘must’ serve their needs.
    The alternative is death or destitution. Education and food is made freely available to the males – women get the scraps – while access to money is generally denied.
    Although points are valid, the use of the opening line your article is a poor choice for your line of argument. Young women still need to be remember just how tenuous their freedoms are in so called modern society. Society itself has to recognise that this is not radical feminism to be feared or disparaged, but rather social inclusion for men, women and children of all cultural beliefs.

  2. Marc says:

    Please give us a break from all this gender nonsense. All we want is the best person for the job.

  3. Roger Marks says:

    I don’t know who Nicolette Davey is, but I do know she is beating an ideological drum that is more sour grapes than constructive criticism.

    I have been an employee and an employer so I know that the best way to advance a business is to employ the best person for the job. Not the best man or the best woman, but the best person. That way no one can be accused of a bias one way or the other.

    The best person can encompass many different considerations, not just qualifications.

    Are they going to put in a full days work every day?

    Are they going to need time off on a regular basis for family issues?

    Are they going to be strong enough to do the work required?

    Are they emotionally stable?

    Do they have a passion for the job or is it just a money earner until something better comes along or circumstances change?

    If female, can they get on with a male dominated workforce?

    If male, can they get along with a female dominated workforce?

    is their sexuality going to interfere with their relationships with other staff?

    Are they a team player?

    And so on and so on.

    If 51% of the population is female, to ensure female representation on the Council they only had to do one thing. Vote for female candidates. Obviously they didn’t.

    Therefore male dominance is the result of female activity (or inactivity), not male activity.

    What I want to know is will the Councillor make decisions that favour the residents. Being female does not guarantee this.

    Will the Councillor listen to the residents concerns. Being female does not guarantee this.

    Will the Councillor be a fiscal conservative? Being female does not guarantee this.

    Will the Councillor stand up to the paid Council employees? Being female does not guarantee this.

    Will the Councillor be tenacious and not let themselves be sweet talked to ignore the issue? Being female does not guarantee this.

    At the same time, being male does not guarantee any of this so gender is irrelevant in the election of counsellors.

    What we should vote for is the best perceived person for the job, male and female. often we don’t find out the truth until a person is elected.

    That is why the first past the post system of voting should be adopted as proportional and preferential systems sometimes stops the best person being elected.

  4. Patrick Scholtes says:

    Hmm.. Roger Marks, you sexiest, homophobic moron, is it any wonder you didn’t get elected to council. We can read the underlying tones of “sour grapes” within your response drum.

  5. Roger Marks says:

    Thankyou Patrick for your compliments. I wear them with pride, especially when they come from someone who is unable to present rational, intelligent alternative considerations.

    As for being a homophobic moron. I have never had an inordinate fear of homosexuals or homosexuality.

    Oh, by the way, who are “we?”

  6. Jtang says:

    Roger Marks, Did hitler make the right decisions? Being male guaranteed this.

    Did George W bush make the right decisions? Being male guaranteed this.

    When was the last time a woman went on a shooting spree? Sounds like women can be emotionally stable…

    Was there a woman on the board of directors of Enron when it failed? Nope.

    Wonder what I’ll wear out tonight? Probably the carpet between the beer fridge and the couch. Not sure who you are roger, but I don’t know too many people with two first names.

  7. Roger Marks says:

    Hitler thought he made the right decisions.

    George Bush thought he made the right decisions.

    What gave you the idea that women cannot be emotionally stable?

    I did not realise that women do not make any mistakes.

    Did you get drunk as planned?

    Do you feel deprived not having two first names?