Female candidates are overlooked by both major parties as candidates for secure seats. A new analysis finds that only two in 10 female candidates have pushed forward for seats to be won in this year’s election, while safe seats are “saved for the boys”.
Research from the Australian National University’s Global Institute for Women’s Leadership shows that only 20% of female candidates running for coalition are competing for safe places, compared to 46% of men about to be elected. to become.
For the Labor Party, the numbers are slightly better, with 24% of the party’s female candidates fighting for secure seats, compared to 33% of male candidates.
The analysis considers a seat that cannot be won as one that the Australian Election Commission considers to have a “safe” or “reasonably safe” margin for the opposing party, i.e. seats with a margin of more than 6%.
The analysis focused only on seats where the main battle is between the major parties, examining candidates for 137 of the 151 seats in the House of Representatives, as well as incumbent MPs.
Prof Michelle Ryan, the director of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, said the research revealed the “glass cliff” phenomenon, where women were offered positions of greater uncertainty, often in circumstances where men were not interested.
The term was first coined for business to describe when women were placed on the board of directors during times of crisis or when a company’s stock price had fallen.
“The idea behind all of this is that women are being pushed forward into leadership positions that are risky and precarious,” she told Guardian Australia.
“So in this case with political candidates, it’s because their seats are unwinnable; or if they win the seats, they’ll be in this precarious, fringe state [and] they have to campaign all their time until the next election.
“It’s a poisoned chalice, it looks good from the start, but it’s not particularly big,” she said.
For Labour, 76% of its female candidates are what Ryan calls “glass cliff candidates”, who are in places they are unlikely to win or are unsure of keeping. The equivalent percentage of men walking in these chairs is 67%.
For the coalition, 80% of female candidates are in this category, compared to the equivalent percentage of males in these seats at 54%.
She said that while it was difficult to assess each party’s internal pre-selection processes, safe seats seemed overwhelmingly reserved for men by both major parties.
“If you have a nice, safe seat, you often see people being parachuted into that seat, and often it’s someone who’s part of the old boys club; so you keep the safe seats for the boys,” Ryan said.
“You could say the other chairs are just left for women — and I’m kind of charitable there — but the flip side is you’re saying, look, that’s a dog of a chair, who wants that? Nobody wants that, and you protects your boys from that sort of thing.”
“And if you really want to be charitable, you say ‘oh look, they force us to put in some women and we look bad if we don’t have enough women there, so let’s put her in there, like a bit of a sacrificial lamb ‘.”
In the 2022 federal election, 43% of Labor candidates and 29% of Coalition candidates will be women.
Labor has pre-selected a total of 62 female candidates, compared to 41 pre-selected by the Liberal and National parties.
In the 46th parliament, women accounted for 41% of MPs on the Labor team in the lower house, compared to just 20% of coalition MPs.
In both parties, at least six sitting female MPs are challenged by male candidates on fringe seats, while seven sitting male MPs are challenged by female candidates.
Incumbent female Labor MPs in Lilley, Cowan and Gilmore are challenged by Liberal men, while male Labor candidates try to topple incumbent Liberal women in Bass, Robertson and Lindsay.
Ryan said the study also highlighted the challenge faced by women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, who were even less likely to be preselected for safe seating.