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Op Ed: Gender equality in Victorian Parliament – the victory no one’s talking about

Written by Women for Election CEO, Licia Heath. Article originally published by Women’s Agenda on Wednesday, 22 November. 

Irrespective of your political allegiances, Saturday’s by-election in the seat of Mulgrave represents a considerable win.

Why? Because Eden Foster’s election to the state’s Legislative Assembly marks a watershed moment for gender equality in Victorian state politics: for the first time EVER gender parity has been achieved across the Parliament (averaged across the upper and lower houses).

However, reporting on this major milestone has been absent. Is it because achieving gender equality in the Victorian Parliament is no longer newsworthy?

This is a success we should be shouting from the (metaphorical) rooftops. It’s also illustrative of how policy settings that place gender equity at the forefront of decision making provide an environment for women and girls to step into leadership positions, for the benefit of our communities.

In September 2022, Dr Niki Vincent spoke at a Women for Election event to discuss her role as Victoria’s first Public Sector Gender Equality Commissioner. Dr Vincent was appointed in September 2020 and she discussed the advancements Victoria was making that is still eluding other states. These advancements are a direct result of Victoria implementing the Gender Equality Act 2020 and the recently established Commission plays a key leadership role in promoting gender equality in the Victorian community and workplaces.

Gender in politics will remain newsworthy as long as sexism in politics remains commonplace. Take, for instance, attacks levelled against Richmond Greens candidate Gabrielle de Vietri in 2022 for her use of ratepayer funded childcare whilst Mayor of Yarra. Such criticism would never be levelled at a male candidate.

What happened in Victoria on the weekend is a hard-won victory – exactly 100 years in the making – since state legislation was enacted enabling women to stand for parliament in Victoria.

In further good news, the recently announced establishment of a Chief Municipal Monitor,  with new powers to tackle poor councillor behaviour ahead of the 2024 local government elections, is a tangible improvement that promotes more women, or all backgrounds and lived experience, to engage in politics. Improve the culture, and women will join. With more women joining, the culture improves! It’s not lost on me that this decision was made by the Minister for Local Government, a woman in politics who wants to reduce barriers for future candidates. This positive feedback loop in making politics more accessible is something that Victorians should be proud of and it’s my hope that other States will follow Victoria’s lead. 

So when milestones are reached, we need to celebrate the wins loudly and proudly. Of equal importance is ensuring that we have a strong pipeline of politically-engaged women ready to run in the future. History shows us that a single election cycle can reverse hard-won gains when it comes to gender equality in politics. This is why Women for Election is proud to INSPIRE and EQUIP women across Victoria to run for public office – both through our partnership with the Women Leading Locally program and our new EQUIP: Power Edition course, coming to the state in 2024 (sign up to our mailing list for more information).

Congratulations Victoria. In my lifetime I hope we reach a stage where reporting on gender breakdowns of our parliaments and councils is genuinely, no longer newsworthy.