Report

Representation of women in Australian parliaments

7 Mar 2012
Description

This paper presents a range of data illustrating the level of women's representation at the Commonwealth, state and territory, and local government levels, with a particular focus on the Commonwealth Parliament.

A key measure of women’s empowerment in society at large is their participation in politics.

There are currently more women parliamentarians in the Senate than at any other time since Federation. For the first time since the creation of the Commonwealth Parliament in 1901, women hold the Commonwealth leadership positions of Prime Minister and Attorney-General in the Commonwealth Parliament. In the states and territories, there is a female Premier in Queensland and Tasmania respectively and, for the third time, a female Chief Minister in the Australian Capital Territory. Despite these high-profile roles, women comprise less than one-third of all parliamentarians in Australia and occupy less than one-quarter of all Cabinet positions. The number of women in the Senate reached its highest point after the 2010 Commonwealth election, while the number of women in the House of Representatives declined. When comparing the proportion of women in national parliaments internationally, Australia’s ranking has slipped from 21 to 38 over the past decade.

This Background Note presents a range of data illustrating the level of women’s representation at the Commonwealth, state and territory, and local government levels, with a particular focus on the Commonwealth Parliament. It presents statistical information about women parliamentarians, women in parliamentary leadership positions and ministries, women as chairs of parliamentary committees, and female candidates. It also includes some comparative data relating to women’s representation in the state and territory parliaments, identifies current and historical trends, and refers to recent research on structural, social and cultural factors influencing women’s representation in parliament.

This paper is a timely contribution to the significant and ongoing debate about the nature and level of women’s representation in Australia’s parliaments. Since Prime Minister Julia Gillard became the first woman to hold this office in 2010, the issue of gender and leadership in parliament has assumed even greater focus and attracted extensive public commentary. Whilst it is beyond the scope of this paper to analyse the views and perceptions of women parliamentarians held by their colleagues, the media and the electorate, it does draw attention to relevant research and articles by other writers who have examined gender issues in Australian parliamentary and political life.

Publication Details
Published year only: 
2012
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