The political sisterhood

Girl reading political books
Taylah Sewell, 20, learning more about politics. Photo: Athina Hilman CC-BY-ND-SA.

A select group of aspiring female politicians were taught the intricacies of politics when She Runs, a politically impartial organisation, ran its second course in late 2021.

The program, closely run by researchers from the University of Western Australia, consisted of workshops and networking opportunities with female politicians to help women gain the confidence to pursue a political future. 

UWA Business School associate professor Aleksandra Luksyte, a guest speaker at the 2020 inaugural program, said women found it hard to enter politics due to limited access to female mentors and the lack of political female role models to follow. 

While WA has elected 28 women and 31 men to the Legislative Assembly in Labor’s historic win in March 2021, over time the state has only elected one female for every 17.8 males elected.

“Politics is one of those fields where it is impossible to have too many friends.”

MP Jessica Shaw

Swan Hills MP Jessica Shaw said while she was lucky to have the support of her party in her early years, programs such as She Runs rectified issues with lack of mentorship by giving its participants the chance to not only meet like-minded people, but also a space to share knowledge and network with current female politicians. 

“Politics is one of those fields where it’s impossible to have too many friends, allies and people you can collaboratively work with, and programs like She Runs would have been a massive boon—to compare experience—for mutual support,” Ms Shaw said.

Although access to mentors can help encourage women to enter politics, Dr Luksyte said there is a stigma surrounding women who run for political office as they are perceived to have more issues with balancing family and work, compared to men.

Curtin University student Taylah Sewell, a participant of the inaugural 2020 She Runs program, said women with political ambitions face an uphill battle. 

“Once women get into politics, the hardest hurdle is being taken seriously by other politicians, by the media and by the voters,” Ms Sewell said. 

A study published in 2019 by the Australian Journal of Political Science revealed that while voters find women more capable of political positions, they are less likely to expect them to win due to pre-existing gender biases.

Ms Sewell credits She Runs with giving her the confidence to pursue a political career as she felt a little lost and unsure of how to get her foot in the door. 

“I think it will take effort from everyone to challenge their own gender biases and give women more credit for what they do for the world.”

Taylah Sewell, Curtin University student

While the program, run at Elizabeth Quay every Saturday for five weeks, was not a quick fix to the gender disparity issue in politics, Ms Sewell believes that the program can help set parameters for future changes. 

“I think it will take effort from everyone to challenge their own gender biases and give women more credit for what they do for the world. For the time being, She Runs and other programs mobilising women in politics is a great starting place,” she said. 

While She Runs does not divulge its selection process for its campaign school, many of its participants have had some political and policy experience.  

Applications for She Runs next year, which is free to participants with low income, will open in August next year with young women encouraged to apply on their website.

Categories: General, Politics, Women