Could a feminist political party succeed in Australia?

Soraya Pos reacts to the exit polls that give her a ticket to Brussels in the European Parliament elections, in Stockholm May 25, 2014.

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.

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.

 

41 comments

  • I don't like it when mummy and daddy fight.

    Commenter
    J
    Date and time
    May 30, 2014, 9:59AM
    • Sure, why not, it's a democracy. Perhaps you can tackle more interesting targets than other feminist groups, like this one in Sweden:

      http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/13/sweden-left-party-toilet-stand_n_1590572.html

      "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. "

      Hmm, good luck with that. To paraphrase the #notallmen group, while #notallfeminists hate men and call for their genocide, there are enough making loud enough noises that enough men have to deal with, that even if they're not in the party, your group will be lumped in with them.

      Commenter
      Swarley
      Date and time
      May 30, 2014, 10:14AM
      • If we really look closer to the vote for Feminist Initiative most of their supporters from a tiny district of Stockholm called Södermalm-Enskede, a district where all the “cool” people live.

        They propose re-education camps for men and a charter that makes the old Soviet Union look like a nice place.

        The Sweden’s Democrats party got almost twice the vote, part of policy stated:
        'our policy is the one that is really aimed at equality. With a consistently equal treatment under the law and against any form of quotas or special treatment, it is our policy to look at the individual instead of to their gender. With increased opportunities for families to shape their own lives.

        They received twice the percentage Feminist Initiative got, (standing at 9.9%) which effectively means that they’ll send two MEPs – twice that of Feminist Inititive.

        As is here feminism in it's present form is increasing being rejected as not the way forward.

        Commenter
        Bev
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 12:43PM
    • I am female. I am of voting age. But I would never vote for a 'feminist political party'. Especially if it was fronted by Julia Gillard or Natasha Stott Despoja.
      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" - Ms Gillard was also responsible for a swell of anti-feminist feeling. She was divisive. There was no common ground or thought of common good - just the rally cry of misogyny, and either for us or against us.
      Single issue parties are part of the problem in Australian politics, not the solution.

      Commenter
      Female
      Location
      Oz
      Date and time
      May 30, 2014, 10:33AM
      • Gillard divisive? I don't think so. Perhaps in the patriarchal society we live in and frankly, any woman in that position would have been simply because so many people were unable to handle a woman holding the most powerful position in the land. You should go back and review exactly how many things she managed to get through a minority Parliament - quite the acheivment considering she had cope with Sir Pository himself opposing everything. Now there is a divisive figure if you were looking for one.

        And I think your conclusion that the call was 'for us or against us' is flawed. The clarion call was for you to be 'with us', a big difference.

        Personally, I think a feminist party is a great idea & I'd be up for joining myself. However, I doubt it would be successful in Australia, not the least because of the current patriarchal mindset displayed not only by our 'government' elect but women such as Female above.

        Commenter
        Pink Peril
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 11:03AM
      • The most vocal proponents of modern feminism are so incredibly divisive that they could barely secure a significant number of feminists votes, never mind populist votes. The most scorn and hostility is usually reserved for successful women that shy away from the feminist label specifically because it is divisive.

        Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer was crucified for stating that very view, despite being a successful, intelligent woman who balanced motherhood along with a career at the very top of the technology industry. Let's not even get into the kind of hateful rhetoric for successful women that hold conservative views.

        Commenter
        James Hill
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 11:58AM
      • Wow! I'm really impressed to hear this from a female. There is hope for rational thought. Thank you.

        Commenter
        Voter
        Location
        Melbourne
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 12:17PM
      • Pink Peril,
        were you trying to prove Female's point?

        The two main problems I see with a feminist party gaining a significant number of votes are:
        1. The message being spread is "equality" but really it's only equality in areas where females may be currently disadvantage. Feminists rarely, if ever argue for equality in areas where men are disadvantaged. This removes pretty much half the population from your voting target.
        2.As James as pointed out above, feminists rarely even agree with each other on issues, how could they possibly construct a single, coherent policy platform?

        Commenter
        Freddie Frog
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 12:46PM
      • "Feminists rarely, if ever argue for equality in areas where men are disadvantaged"

        Actually, we do.

        For one, if we had a more equitable work-force, men would be able to contribute more to the home (which is one area in which men righfully complain that they are not given the same opportunities as women).

        A more equitable work force may also have flow-on effects for custody rights in the family court: equal contributions of monetary and emotional support over the course of a child's life might mean the courts are more inclined to grant 50/50 custody of and require 50/50 payment for said child.

        Not to mention trying to reduce the stigma of men in 'female roles' (whatever that means) by trying to debunk gender roles. Who would have thunk that men could be nurses and women could be pilots, huh?

        Feminism is not the devil.

        Commenter
        Donna Joy
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 2:27PM
      • @Donny Joy, action taken by feminists on behalf of women possibly, maybe having 'flow-on effects' that may (or may not) potentially also benefit some men in some small way is not in any way the same thing as actively speaking out against gender disadvantage where it primarily impacts men over women.

        Commenter
        Markus
        Location
        Canberra
        Date and time
        May 30, 2014, 3:04PM

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