Soraya Pos reacts to the exit polls that give her a ticket to Brussels in the European Parliament elections, in Stockholm May 25, 2014. Photo: TT NEWS AGENCY
The European Parliament elections are a ginormous affair.
With 751 seats up for grabs, it is enough to make even Antony Green go cross eyed. But as Europe watchers mull over the rise of far right parties in last weekend’s election, one Swedish party has made feminist history.
Human rights activist Soraya Post, 57, has become the first member of a feminist party to win a seat in the European Parliament under the slogan, "replace the racists with feminists".
Party workers at the Swedish Feminist Initiative, celebrate after exit polls make the party Sweden's second biggest party in the European Parliament elections. Photo: MAJA SUSLIN
Post’s win for Feminist Initiative was accompanied by the first specifically feminist French candidates to run for the European Parliament. And comes amid broader concern about a retreat on women’s rights.
While the European matrix is of course very different from the Australian set-up, the headline issues of equal pay, protecting women's existing rights and ending gender discrimination sound all too-familiar.
And as Canberra politics grapples with an unpopular new government, deep fatigue over what happened with the last one and a *splutter* diverse new Senate crossbench, it begs the question: how would a feminist party go here?
History is not promising.
In 1995, the Australian Women’s Party had a crack, with a platform of changing the constitution to ensure equal representation of women and men at all levels of government. It was deregistered in 2003 without making an electoral peep.
Hard-headed political analysts would also dismiss the idea of a femo party, arguing it would simply take initial votes away from the Greens or Labor, before having their preferences filter back there anyway.
But many recent events show that there is groundswell of public response to and support for women’s issues. And a hint of anger about them too.
Julia Gillard’s misogyny speech was a mega hit. And not necessarily because of what Tony Abbott did or didn’t do, but because of what Australian women had experienced in their own lives.
Online group Destroy The Joint sprang up in 2012 in response to Alan Jones’ comment that women were “destroying the joint” and now has more than 40,000 Facebook "likes" from those who are “sick of the sexism dished out in Australia”.
There has also been heartfelt outrage over the death of domestic violence victim Lisa Harnum (although admittedly not enough to prompt the kind of government reaction that violence in Kings Cross has).
Meanwhile, women are still underrepresented in parliament, in Cabinet and in boardrooms, while one in five Australian women experience sexual harassment at work. And it is universally acknowledged that we do not support parents anywhere near as well as we could when it comes to family-doable jobs and kid care.
An aspiring feminist party should also take heart from the fact that you don’t have to be an old-time party to win seats. The Palmer United Party emerged as an electoral force within a matter of months. And the Australian Motoring Enthusiast Party was elected to the Senate without anyone having heard of them before.
Presupposing an Australian feminist party did not have a leader with a truckload of money or the supreme luck of being elected with only 0.51 per cent of the primary vote; it would (shock) need to rely on its policies and a high-profile leadership team to get traction.
On the policy front, it is noted that Sweden's Feminist Initiative is not just focused on ending gender discrimination but, race, disability and gay and lesbian discrimination too. An Australian version would not have to be a single issue “man hating” party, but rather one, that unlike the others, comes from a feminist perspective.
On the leadership front, if she could be persuaded out of retirement, Natasha Stott Despoja would be a really smart bet. Not only is she revered by a certain demographic of women between 30 and 45 who still think it was so cool she wore Docs in the Senate, Stott Despoja has years of political experience and has kept her post-politics career focused on women’s issues.
The former Democrat leader is also liked and respected by both sides of politics and would not be dismissed as a hairy armpitted extremist.
Someone with the proven passion and communication skills of say, polymaths Tara Moss or Jane Caro should be recruited as well. They would also bring the freshness that can only come with not being a career politician.
But of course the real PR coup would be to bring back the woman who has unwittingly spearheaded so much of Australia’s femo feeling in the last two years.
She retired from politics before she wanted to, has said she’s worried about her achievements being undone by the current government and this week, was voted the second most admired person in Australia after Barack Obama.
The Gillard Feminist Initiative?
In Australian politics these days, stranger things have happened.