Getting women to stand

Julie at The Hand Mirror writes:

 I put together a presentation for the women themed session of the Social & Community Development Forum about the topic.  My conclusions were that women’s representation seems to be plateauing at around 35%, and the problem is not with the voters but with the selections.
Now I have to eat my words, at least in part.
Thirteen.  That’s the number of women me or one of my running mates asked to run on our ticket for the Puketapapa Local Board.   Each one turned us down; immediately (a few), after a bit of a think (most), after being a strong maybe (a few), after saying yes please (one).  I believe every single one of them would have made a great Local Board member.  Maybe, hopefully, some will in future elections.
The under-representation of women in politics is an interest of mine. It would be good to have around the same proportion of women as politicians as there are voters. But of course I am absolutely against quotas.
When you look at why we have fewer women in Parliament, I believe there are three (not mutually exclusive) possibilities.
  1. Fewer women get elected than men
  2. Fewer women get selected than men
  3. Fewer women seek selection than men

I haven’t seen any data suggesting that female candidates in general elections do worse than male candidates. In fact, I suspect they may even do a bit better.

Of our 70 electorate MPs, 50 are male and 19 female and it is likely the new Ikaroa-Rawhiti MP will be female so say 50 to 20.

Seven (eight) of the female electorate MPs are Labour, one Maori Party and 11 National.

Like Julie, I think women do find it harder to get selected to be candidates in winnable seats, and to a degree in winnable list places. Certainly that is my observation in National. Ironically those who often are most against good female candidates, are other women.

But the biggest factor in my opinion is that which Julie has found. That actually getting women to stand can be the hardest challenge. For a number of reasons (combative environment, hours, children etc) significantly fewer women wish to be MPs.

So why did these wonderful capable intelligent women turn down this great opportunity to make positive change in their neighbourhoods and surrounds?  Mostly because of time. The Remuneration Authority recently calculated that Local Board members spend on average 24 hours a week on that job.  My observation is that that would vary wildly amongst those currently elected, but then we are the first to experience a brand new super-city structure.  Many genuinely didn’t realise the time commitment when they stood and haven’t been able to rearrange their lives to allow for that.   Others seem to think they can do the job justice by limiting their time to a few hours a week.  It will be interesting to see how the latter fare if they stand for re-election.
There aren’t a lot of part time jobs out there which allow the flexibility required for local body politicians to cover everything.  The pay for being a local board member isn’t enough to ditch other income options entirely, for most.  I get $36,000 a year (before tax) and I have so much respect for those who get by on that alone;  I work two days a week in another job as well.   I gave up an $80K+ pa job to do this (and I don’t regret it except when I go shopping).
So the time issue is considerable; wondering if you could keep doing your other job, whether your boss would let you go part time, potentially giving up a role you love or a project you wanted to see through, and then there’s working in with other obligations like family, being on a Board of Trustees, perhaps a health condition, or wanting to be able to travel.  
There were a lot of other practical considerations too; what if I have a baby?  Does it get nasty?  How autonomous is the role or does the chair order everyone around?  Would it create a conflict of interest with this other thing I’m involved in?  How much does it cost?  While the overriding factor given was time, all of these and more were in the mix for some.  
What I noticed from this was how almost every woman was carefully thinking myriad factors through.  Less focused on “do I want to do this, would I be good at this” but instead on “can I actually do this?”
In contrast there was no issue finding men to run.  There almost never is, from my political experience of the last fifteen plus years.  The men I’ve observed have largely been more likely to say yes, to put themselves forward, and worry about how it will all work out if they get elected after polling day, not before.  
To a degree, I think that is right. Men do tend to be more, yeah I’ll do it, and it will all work out okay.

Comments (33)

Login to comment or vote

Add a Comment