Our representatives are women not many can name

28 Nov 2012

The room was filled to capacity; more than 100 women, attentive to the speakers at a marketing workshop learning about strategy and how to increase their access to market share.

The majority of those who filled the room were highly educated, formerly employed in the corporate world and now running their own business.

Every face was focused. They were taking notes. I heard only the occasional mutter or giggle.

Then I said: "Hands up if you can name our Federal Minister for Women."

The room fell silent. Not one hand was raised. I could see a few Googling on their iPads. Before their browser produced a response, I said: "Hands up if you can name the shadow parliamentary secretary for the status of women?"

Not one hand was raised for either question. No one knew the names of the women representing them in the Australian parliament.

When I mentioned the names Julie Collins and Michaelia Cash, a few mumbled "who?" Even when I called out their names, our federal Minister for Women and her shadow remained unknown to their targeted demographic.

As a lobbyist responsible for providing women business owners with a voice, I am fortunate to meet women in rural, regional and urban Australia. I have posed the same question on many occasions over the past year and the answer is always the same; no on can ever name our so-called advocates. The few who seldom venture to answer the question provide the name of another minister. It is these thousands of women who have taught me that "faceless women" in politics do in fact exist because no one knows who they are or what they do.

A conservative journalist named Alan Reid, as I recall from university lectures in politics and media studies, first used the term "faceless men" in 1963. In the same year, during the run-up to the election, the Liberal Party used the term against Labor. Menzies won the election with an increased majority.

After learning that so many women around the country are unable to name our Minister for the Status of Women, I wonder if we need to add the "wo" to the term faceless men.

OK, so Australian politics is constantly changing. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that we, as voters, are unable to keep up with all the political shifts across our councils, states, territories and federally.

Yet considering that women are still examining the reasons as to why we are not yet equal on more than one front, that equal pay is still an issue, childcare matters need to be seriously examined, sexual harassment continues in the workplace, and that rape and domestic violence are far from being eliminated, is it either appropriate or sustainable to have ministers who are faceless?

In the ACT, Queensland and New South Wales we have a Minister for Women; in the Far North there is a Minister for Women's Policy; in South Australia there's a Minister for the Status of Women; and in Victoria a Minister for Women Affairs. Tasmania appears not to have one in its state parliament!

At a federal level we have the Minister for the Status of Women (Member for Franklin, Tasmania) and a Western Australian senator holds the position of shadow parliamentary secretary for the status of women.

Can you name any of the eight women who represent you at a state, territory or federal level?

If the answer is no, perhaps you should ensure your voice is heard next time you vote.

Yolanda Vega

Yolanda Vega is the CEO of the Australian Women Chamber of Commerce & Industry. AWCCI promotes the importance and value-add of women-owned businesses to the economy and supports the development and growth of women-owned businesses through research, education and advocacy.

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