The Guardian • Issue #1971

Women in Australian politics meet to address “toxic” workplace culture

Earlier in July, a number of female politicians, staffers and academics met to form the basis of a model for the nation’s parliamentary conduct. The results from the summit will be handed to the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces at the end of July.

The ANU Global Institute for Women’s Leadership summit called for an end to workplace inequality. Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard chairs the institute, which has stated its aim is to “understand and address the causes of women’s underrepresentation.”

While Gillard promotes glass-ceiling feminism, her government itself disenfranchised many single parents. The majority of whom were women. Her government’s bill pushed single parents onto the Newstart allowance and came at the same time she gave her “Misogyny Speech.”

The summit will hand down their recommendations to the review, trying to fix a system of governance plagued with inequality in all forms. However, the summit and similar stratified approaches to fixing gender parity will only treat the symptoms of misogyny and not the core.

“Progress on gender equality is not just slow – in some places it is reversing,” states Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard on the Institute’s website. “This lack of movement, combined with the current public debate about how women are treated in workplaces and wider society, means there has never been a better time to tackle these issues head-on.

“The Global Institute for Women’s Leadership is well-equipped to do so. It works to help create a world in which being a woman is not a barrier to becoming a leader in any field, nor a factor contributing to negative perceptions of an individual’s leadership.”

It is irrefutable that workplace culture in Australian politics is fraught with misogyny. The summit follows on from many women who have come forward this year about the abuse and harassment faced in their parliamentary roles.

“Revelations of sexual harassment, misogyny, bullying and even criminal behaviour between and among parliamentarians and political staff have rocked Australia and sparked mass protests across the nation,” the Institute’s website says. “While Australian parliaments were early adopters of some practices to ensure parliament was a more gender-equal workplace, in other areas they lag behind the rest of the world.

While the first female Australian prime minister may rally for change in a parliamentary setting, the issues women from lower socioeconomic backgrounds face remain outside the corporate and political world of Gillard and her peers. The kind of equality that glass-ceiling feminists espouse does not form class solidarity and only feeds into individualistic notions of empowerment. The only way that women and gender diverse people can work towards equality is through class solidarity and action outside of the boardroom.

It may sound bold to hear Julia Gillard state that she “will not be lectured” to by the likes of Tony Abbott. However, it is contradictory to the goal of equality when women in positions of power misuse it when their actions have implications for the lives of other women and minorities.

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