Woman leader ‘would get more scrutiny’

CALLS for Julia Gillard to take over Kevin Rudd’s position as Labor leader recently have sparked debate on the status of women in politics.

A move towards more presidential-style election campaigning in Australia means that the public make their decisions based on impressions of figureheads rather than the whole party, according to some politicians.

Labor Member for Fremantle Melissa Parke believes this may worsen if Ms Gillard wants to take the top job.

“At the moment, Tony Abbott and Kevin Rudd are being scrutinised. If Julia Gillard was to take the leadership role, she would be studied a lot more closely than she is already,” Ms Parke said.

Women’s groups have lauded Ms Gillard’s high standing in the current government, however there are still obstacles for female politicians to overcome in order to balance the scales between men and women.

Gender and politics professor at the Australian National University Marian Sawer says that the issue is more complex than it seems.

“It’s always easy to say ‘You’re failing women because you haven’t spoken out on X or Y issue’, when that may be extremely difficult in terms of their own party ideology,” she said.

“In the Coalition there have been women who have championed gender issues in the face of increased social conservatism and that has often been detrimental to their career prospects.”

Despite this, Ms Parke is hopeful that the number of women in politics is increasing exponentially.

“When I joined the House of Representatives in November 2007, I was told that there had only been 78 women in there since Federation. That shocked me,” she said.

“Labor obviously has a higher proportion of women in comparison to other parties and I think that is also reflected in how many women in our party hold high positions and big portfolios.

“There has been a dramatic improvement and I hope that it is gathering speed.”

37% of Federal Labor Government members are female, followed by 22% in the Liberal Party and 14% in the National Party.

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