Speech by Alicia R – Our Lady of Mercy College
My name is Alicia R and I am a young woman. I have grown up being told that the world is my oyster, and the world is what I make it. And yet, I am left to question, when I look at the representation of women in all levels of government, how true this really is. It is so apt that we join here together in the iconic Parliament of Victoria building to explore this issue.
There is an obvious gender disparity in senior roles in all levels of government, including local governments which is my focus today. Women are highly underrepresented. I am here to tell you that this is because we as women are not putting ourselves forward for these positions. You could be the voice to fill the gap.
The role of local government is to handle community needs like waste collection, public recreation facilities and town planning. Specifically the role of a more senior position in local government such as councillors, mayor or CEO is to play a vital leadership role in creating and implementing their communities’ vision, strategic direction and values. As the closest level of government to the community, it is imperative that they are offering their best services in order to meet the diverse range of community needs. We want a government who is diverse and can share the values of all groups and backgrounds – and the female perspective is most definitely part of this.
Without this perspective, our Australian population is not accurately reflected through local government. It is funny how over 50% of Australian population is ‘Female’ yet some local governments struggle to even reach 15% representation by females in elected positions and 5% in chief executive officer roles! So how can we expect that the needs of the whole community are being met with the males’ perspective being dominant? The only way that our local governments will truly reflect the communities’ needs is if we encourage each other as women to stand up or in fact have belief in ourselves as women that we can do it and be successful. I wish the young women of my generation could see how their capabilities can make a difference in helping their community. Wouldn’t that be more worthwhile than using our capabilities to hunt down all the Pokemons?
So today, let me share with you the journey of females in local government from the past to the present and to what we can make our future.
So, let’s begin with the past. Historically women have always been under represented in Local governments, and if we look back to the 1900’s we can see that it is simply because of the powerful stereotypes placed on women – to be the perfect wife, mother and homemaker and nothing else. However Mary Rogers, the first ever female to be elected to council in Victoria, tried to break this chain so she could support herself and her children as a widow. During her campaign she promised to bring to the community what a man could not – a female perspective.
So, with examples like Mary Rogers to look to, why are there a lack of women running for senior positions today? Let’s look at the present. Although society has evolved and is less stereotypical, even in the year of 2016 women are still expected to play the role of the wife, mother, homemaker and caregiver, all in addition to having a successful career. With the long, hard hours that Councils put in, it can particularly be difficult for women to find a work-life balance – but hey, when isn’t this true for all women?
Truthfully, women also can be intimidated by stepping into such a male dominated field as it means that you will be one of the only females. These roles require a woman to be thick-skinned and strong as at some point they will face conflict, negative public opinion and criticism.
It’s not all negative, though. When women are in senior local government roles, the female perspective has a significant impact. The outcomes are positive. Councillor Julie Williams, from Darebin Council, brought a whole new perspective to her local community. With no political background or interest whatsoever, her passions and values won over the public and she was encouraged by her own community to stand for council. A few days after being elected as Councillor, her daughter was diagnosed with a severe disability and Julie had second thoughts about taking on the role due to her personal commitments she had not anticipated. Since then, Julie has made a significant influence by updating every playground in Darebin so that their facilities and equipment can be used and enjoyed by children with disabilities. If she had become aware of her daughter’s disability before being elected, Julie said she would most definitely not have run for councillor, but today Julie says it was a “blessing in disguise” as she has been able to help her community and her daughter by taking on this position. I quote Julie: “I am the voice for people that don’t have a voice”. Isn’t this what we want to see more of?
Former mayor and current Councillor of Banyule council, Jenny Mulholland, is another great example of what we need to see more of in our local governments. Jenny has been a councillor for 16 years and is currently the only woman elected, representing Banyule. The reason that Jenny enjoys serving her council is the fact that she has always enjoyed politics and has always been supported by her family and friends. However, the most poignant message that she shared with me was that “It is no longer a man’s world, but it is an equal world”. This is the message that I want to promote today – that in the year of 2016, we as women need to grasp every opportunity, not just catch every Pokemon. This is why it is so important to have a balance of gender so that everyone’s needs in the community are met. This can only be achieved by people putting themselves up for the job. Rich or poor, white or coloured, religious or atheist, disabled or able bodied, man or woman – we need balance. We need variety so that our local governments can reflect the specific community’s needs, thereby making improvements to our community, and the female voice is essential here.
But what can change? I want to look towards the future. Before researching for this speech, I had little clue that this was even an issue in our society. I just thought the local government picked up my rubbish! But now, I see the importance of advocating for more women to represent in local government. Looking towards my future, I see that there is a gap in the current representation of women in my local council, and local councils around Australia. My name is Alicia , and I am the voice that could fill that gap; you are the voice that could fill that gap. It was hearing the stories of councillors Julie Williams and Jenny Mulholland that truly inspired me to see this as something I can achieve, not something I can’t. In our democracy, I already have my vote (or I will when I’m 18), and I need to put forth my voice. Because all that is required is passion, hard work, dedication and the desire to help our community – and that doesn’t sound that daunting to me. And why stop here? This is the opportunity to build a platform to increase female representation at state and federal levels, too. As Michelle Obama recently shared “As women we must stand up for ourselves. As women we must stand up for each other. As women we must stand up for justice for all.” I wish the young women of my generation could see how their capabilities can make a difference in helping their community. We need the young women of my generation to be the voice to fill that gap. Thank you.