NSW state election, federal elections: Female MPs are few and far between

WOMEN IN POLITICS: MPs Pru Goward and Steph Cooke with candidate for the Orange electorate Kate Hazelton. Photos: FILE
WOMEN IN POLITICS: MPs Pru Goward and Steph Cooke with candidate for the Orange electorate Kate Hazelton. Photos: FILE

LARGE electorates, society’s expectations of who should raise a child, and a lack of confidence – there are many reasons why there are not more women in politics, two Central West MPs say.

In the lead-up to the state and federal elections, two sitting MPs and one candidate have spoken out about the issue.

Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke and Goulburn MP Pru Goward, who has already announced she will not recontest her seat, are the only two female MPs in the Central West.

Ms Goward said from her 12 years as a politician she has learnt that younger women were more “conscious” of having females politicians represent them.

“I think women increasingly do expect that they will hear people with their voices and their experiences in parliament, on boards [and] leading companies,” she said.

“I think younger women particularly expect to see more women.”

RETIRING: Pru Goward said from her 12 years as a politician she has learnt that younger women were more “conscious” of having females politicians represent them. Photo: FILE

RETIRING: Pru Goward said from her 12 years as a politician she has learnt that younger women were more “conscious” of having females politicians represent them. Photo: FILE

Ms Goward said there were a few reasons why women were so under-represented in state and federal politics.

“It’s still very expected that women are the primary parent and that’s a social expectation,” she said.

“I still find candidates having sneaky questions asked of them about ‘well how are you going to be able to manage your children?’ which is not a question they would ever ask a male candidate.

“It’s a tough process and I really take my hat off to women who do this with children.”

I think women increasingly do expect that they will hear people with their voices and their experiences in parliament, on boards [and] leading companies.

Goulburn MP Pru Goward

While Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said the geographical size of large regional and rural electorates meant that female and male MPs were often away for a week at a time.

“I’ve been in this role now for 14 months and I’ve done over 120,000 kilometres. It is incredibly gruelling in rural and regional areas where the seats are so large,” she said.

“I do think that’s an impediment to very, very capable women and men.

ON THE ROAD: Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said politicians are leaving their families for week at a time. Photo: FILE

ON THE ROAD: Cootamundra MP Steph Cooke said politicians are leaving their families for week at a time. Photo: FILE

“We are leaving our families for a whole week at a time and I think that’s a big call for women and men to make.

“I think that starts to explain why we have men and women retiring from parliament, perhaps earlier than we would have seen in the past, because they’re not afraid to say ‘my family comes first, now is the right time for me to step back and spend more time with my family’.”

Ms Goward said a general lack of confidence could also deters some women from entering politics.

“I think women do lack the confidence that men have more naturally,” she said.

“You get terrible treatment in the press – you get your looks pulled apart, you get your voice pulled apart, you make a small mistake in the way you’ve expressed something and that becomes a story.

“You need a lot of resilience and self belief to withstand all of that, let alone putting your hand up to make a statement.

READY TO GO: Newly announced Nationals candidate for Orange, Kate Hazelton says she's up for the challenge of being a MP for the electorate. Photo: FILE

READY TO GO: Newly announced Nationals candidate for Orange, Kate Hazelton says she's up for the challenge of being a MP for the electorate. Photo: FILE

“In politics you can be the cleverest person in the room, but if you don’t have self confidence then it’s going to be very hard for you to project and persist with your views and be noticed for them.”

While newly announced Nationals candidate for Orange, Kate Hazelton, hopes her former life as a nurse with the Army has prepared her well for a life of politics.

“I’ve been in situations that were pretty horrendous, I was in war-torn Beirut,” she said.

“But all through it, it was amazing to see how women banded together.”

Women, generally, can feel that they don’t have the “bravado that men have” and this can deter them from entering politics.

Ms Hazelton said gender was important in politics and women need to feel that they are adequately represented.

“We make up 50 per cent of the population so why shouldn’t we have a say,” she said.