A Peaceful Call to Arms

July 26, 2021
Dianah Walter

Our State’s next General Election is to be held on March 19, 2022.

That date will mark 127 years, 3 months, 2 days since women in South Australia gained the right to vote on December 18, 1894.  They voted for the first time, two years later, in the election of 1896.  

The right to vote was a significant step towards gender equality in South Australia.  It meant that women could participate in public life by casting their precious vote and contributing to how the State is run.  

How much thought do you give about what happens when you cast your vote?  

Do you do so consciously and well-informed?

Do you understand the values and principles of the party and/or the candidate you are backing to represent you and your values?  Are you aligned with them? And they with you? Do they have your back?   Will they back your community?

What has been achieved in almost 130 years?  

I hope you have been motived to watch Annabel Crabb’s compelling new series,  Ms Represented, on the ABC.  It covers the past 100 years since Australia saw its first female parliamentarian elected.

Ms Represented is both enlightening and alarming. Catch up here: ABC IView Ms Represented.

“When Edith Cowan became the first woman to be elected in Australia, winning the seat of West Perth on March 12, 1921, she had to duck home if she wanted to go to the toilet as there were no women's toilets in the building. Thankfully, she lived close by the West Australian parliament, a brisk four-minute walk. She did this for the three years she was in office.”

Edith Cowan in her maiden speech, 28 July 1921: “Many people think … that it was not the wisest thing to do to send a woman into Parliament … [yet] the views of both sides [men and women] are more than ever needed in Parliament today.” Read more about this remarkable woman here: Defining Moments Edith Cowan

Some 100 years later those words are still as poignant and grounding as ever – I say again, ‘the views of both sides (men and women) are more than ever needed in Parliament today’.

Some numbers

At the 2016 Census there were 1,676,653 people in South Australia. Of these 49.3% were male and 50.7% were female. Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander people made up 2.0% of the population.

The borders or boundaries of each of our State’s Electorates are reviewed from time to time to ensure that the number of electors within each of the 47 electoral districts (of which Narungga is one) must not vary from the electoral quota by more than 10 per cent. (Note: The electoral quota is determined by dividing the total number of electors, as at the relevant date, by the number of electoral districts into which the State is divided.)  

The Electoral Districts Boundaries Commission was established to undertake this work. To review and carry out periodic redistributions of the boundaries of South Australia’s House of Assembly electoral districts. The redistribution undertaken in 2020 indicates that there are now 24332 electors in the Narungga.  I suspect that  around half are women.  That is just over 12,000 women who in casting their vote for me, can ensure that their voices are heard in our State’s Parliament. 

How may I represent your views?  Are your voices as women, mothers, daughters, sisters, aunts being heard? There are, after all, more men in out State’s Parliament making decisions every day that affect us, our families and work and our lifestyles.  Do they incorporate a woman’s view when they consider policy and bills and vote on matters that may impact you?  

Turn your thoughts to a range of issues, including but not limited to: 

  • Safety and wellbeing – women continue to experience violence in public places, at work and at home. “Violence against women is preventable. Our goal is to stop violence against women before it starts. To do this, we need to understand the drivers of gendered violence and what we can do, as a society, to prevent it.” Our Watch How can it be that our State’s Parliament does not even have a code of conduct for its members?  How can the matter of women’s safety in the community be taken seriously when it is not in the workplace of our law makers?
  • Women’s Health - Sexual and reproductive rights - being able to make our own decisions about our health, body and sexual life is a basic human right.  Yet, it was only in March this year that South Australia became the latest Australian jurisdiction to formally decriminalise abortion.  The bill passed 29 to 15.  Of the 15 members who voted against the bill, 14 were men (including the incumbent member for Narungga).
  • Pay equity - Women continue to earn less than men, are less likely to advance their careers as far as men and are more likely to spend their final years in poverty. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency 
  • Gender and policy development – we must continue to strive to include gender diverse, intersex and sexually diverse people (including children and youth) in policy development in our workplaces and our communities.
  • Leadership – Participation on boards and committees.  It is still a concern that in 2021 women are underrepresented on boards and committees.  Do you have an interest in this level of participation?  What skills and attributes would you bring?  Register here: Boarding Call for consideration on State Government Boards and Committees

Some 130 years on we still have many steps to take.  Having gender parity in representation in our State’s Parliament is so very important.   

A little while ago I read a superbly crafted book by Science writer Julian Cribb, it actually spoke to me. It spoke to me on so many levels but most of all it engaged me as a woman. Some pages shouted at me and rattled my senses and my nerve with indisputable facts and figures and other pages contained clear, simple yet effective calls to action.

As a woman who worries if her great grandchildren will have clean air, clean water and nutritious food; who sees the landscape around her as something not to take for granted; and who is in awe of science and looks to the night sky with amazement, this book truly spoke to me.

The calls to action under the headings of ‘What you can do’ across the chapters are smart and simple suggestions for every man, woman, and child in our society to consider and aim to do.  It made me think deeply about the power of the consumer dollar, the power of a casting a vote for a candidate with a conscience (one who cares about the planet, our precious environment and the power of choice, wise choice. 

“If women led the world, it would probably be vastly less toxic, far less prone to climate change, hunger, war and environmental devastation.” “Above all, this depends upon the leadership of young women. To survive, humanity now needs The Age of Women.” Cribb. I wholeheartedly agree.

I cannot help but wonder how our global political landscape might look if there were more women in significant leadership roles (indeed any level of leadership). I believe it is characteristic of most women that they are less likely to resort to bearing arms or aggressive posturing to resolve conflict.

Cribb and Crabb’s narratives validate my thinking and call me to action and is a call to arms…in a peaceful way.

The hand that rocks the cradle rules the world, and yes, could also save it.

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