Women in Parliament: The Current Situation

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Advice on legislation or legal policy issues contained in this paper is provided for use in parliamentary debate and for related parliamentary purposes. This paper is not professional legal opinion.


Briefing Paper No. 09/2003 by Talina Drabsch

This Briefing Paper is an update to two papers previously published by the Parliamentary Library. Women in Parliament by Marie Swain was released in 1995 and was subsequently updated in 1997. Whilst this paper revisits some of the issues addressed in the earlier papers, its focus is on any post-1997 developments. It also surveys the literature published in recent years.

It begins by examining the numbers of women in Australian parliaments, particularly in NSW and at federal level (Section 2 pp 1-14). The extent to which women are represented in various political parties is measured, as is their involvement in more senior political positions. This paper explores why women remain underrepresented despite numerous national and global initiatives to improve the number of women parliamentarians (Section 3 pp 14-17). The question of why women should feature in greater numbers is briefly addressed (Section 4 pp 17-21). However, due to increased acceptance of the need for more women parliamentarians greater attention is given to various strategies for improving numbers (Section 5 pp 21-27).

Research has indicated that political parties frequently present the greatest obstacle to women being elected due to their preselection procedures. Accordingly, the strategies adopted by individual parties to boost the number of female members are examined (Section 6 pp 27-34).

Australia currently ranks 23rd in an international list of the proportion of female members of the lower house of parliament of each state. Reference is made to the strategies adopted by countries with a greater number of women parliamentarians, and also to initiatives developed by countries where dramatic improvement has occurred in the last decade (Section 7 pp 34-41).

A table of federal women ministers since 1996 is included as Appendix A. A table of federal women shadow ministers since 1996 is included as Appendix B. The Charter for Political Reform released by Women Into Politics Inc is attached as Appendix C.