Only way is up for women in politics

Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard with Hillary Clinton.
Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard with Hillary Clinton.

At my wedding, I walked over Enid Lyons, Annabelle Rankin, Joan Child, Margaret Reid, Quentin Bryce and Julia Gillard.

First women elected, first female ministers, speakers, Senate presidents and of course the governor-general and prime minister.

Their names and more are recorded on the Centenary of Women’s Suffrage monument in the gardens of Old Parliament House.

Within months, I was sitting in the Blue Room at Parliament House late at night watching Julia Gillard say: “The reaction to being the first female prime minister does not explain everything about my prime ministership, nor does it explain nothing about my prime ministership.”

It was her final press conference as prime minister.

The question of whether things are getting better or worse in elections for women is a tricky one.

It depends a lot on whether you’re a voter or a candidate. Which political party you represent or support.

The debate is also slightly different if you’re talking about the women already elected and their place in politics, or the women seeking to be elected. But on the whole, I’m inclined to think things are probably going to get better from here.

Across the world, women are having a moment. The recent mid-term elections in the United States saw a wave of women voted into various positions.

Julia Gillard said just this past week she “genuinely believe(s) that when the history books are written about this period, it will be identified as another of the great feminist waves of change”.

And last week in our own federal parliament the women sure found their voices – and people paid attention.

Kelly O’Dwyer telling her colleagues voters see their party as “anti-women”, Julia Banks and Lucy Gichuhi calling out bullying during the Liberals’ leadership spill.

Sarah Hanson-Young’s ongoing battles with the old men of the Senate.

Jane Prentice and Lucy Gichuhi losing preselections to men while Ann Sudmalis dropped out of her race.

The prime minister making unthinking smutty insinuations about Pamela Anderson.

But I think the fact we’re hearing about these is a good thing.

If we can’t see a problem, don’t talk about it, how are we ever going to fix it?

It’s similar to the issue of domestic violence – it took a strong campaigner in Rosie Batty and other supportive voices around her, like then Chief of Army David Morrison, shedding constant light on the problem to spur politicians and policymakers into solid action.

Next year’s federal election will be the first in the #metoo era, or Gillard’s “great wave of feminist change”.

What, if anything, might that mean?

If the 2010 election saw gendered campaigning on a macro or national level, I suspect in this next one we will have it on a more targeted, micro level.

I think we saw a taste of this in the recent Victorian state election. I happened to be in Melbourne the weekend before the election and I was fascinated to see what looked like the weaponisation of the #metoo movement by Labor against the Greens.

I was staying in Brunswick, where the Greens were expected to do well, and there were posters everywhere with quotes about allegations and mishandling of sexual harassment by the minor party.

Labor premier Daniel Andrews and ministers piled on in the media, persistently accusing the Greens of having a “cultural problem” and highlighting allegations of rape against one candidate and misogyny by several others.

The Greens called it “one of the dirtiest smear campaigns we’ve seen in a generation”.

A Fairfax opinion poll days before the election showed the attacks seemed to be working, with the proportion of women intending to vote Green halving during the course of the campaign.

As counting stands now, it looks like the Green vote dropped about two points in both houses from the 2014 election.

As long as the national conversation around harassment and treatment of women continues, I suspect we will see more highlighting of problems and allegations as a campaign tactic.

Look out for what happens in the NSW election around Labor given the allegations against Luke Foley – although he won’t be running again.

Just over five years after I walked along that mosaic monument to the women who have shaped our nation, I gave birth to my daughter.

Before she was born, I had more worries about her future than I did for my son.

But if the parties seek to get more women preselected, fund their campaigns, help them into safe seats so they can focus on senior roles, if it becomes normal and unremarkable to see women filling parliamentary benches, then I hope that - should she seek to join the ranks of the women shaping our nation - it will be easy.

Katina Curtis is AAP's Canberra chief of staff