Parties urged to create female parliamentary equality


All political parties should implement strategies to ensure at least 50 per cent representation of women in Parliament within the next decade, the conference on Women, Power and Politics resolved yesterday.

In its closing session, the conference also called on all governments in Australia to develop policies to achieve, by 2000, “substantive equality” for women.

The conference’s 900 delegates failed to agree on a motion calling for all political parties to follow the example set by the ALP and introduce quotas. But they did call for parties to provide special funding, or mechanisms by which special funding could be donated, to be earmarked to help women in the selection process and as candidates.

The conference recommended the setting up of a commission to develop and implement measurable strategies for moving women into private and public sector boards and senior management positions, progressively, with a final goal of 35 per cent representation by 2000.

The commission would comprise representatives of federal, state and local governments, as well as the Business Council of Australia, the Australian Institute of Company Directors, the Australian Securities Commission and the ACTU.

To cheers and applause, the conference accepted a motion “that dismay be expressed to the Australian bishops’ conference of the Catholic Church that women are denied full participation in the decision-making processes of the church and its ministry”. It recommended that exemptions for religious groups from sex discrimination laws be removed. There was applause, also, for the call to decriminalise prostitution.

Other sucessful motions were: * That an International Equity Association be set up to link groups that want to fight free trade agreements, for fear that the pacts will “create gross gender inequity and lead to the destruction of the gains of the last 40 years in social, equity and environmental initiatives”.

* That the Council of Australian Governments be called on to use women to develop a national vocational employment and training action plan for women, setting goals and targets to be realised by 2001.

* That pay equity for women be a priority for governments, unions and employers.

* That rape in war be designated a punishable war crime, that the United Nations become more gender-representative, and that Australia’s defence and foreign affairs goals be increasingly framed in terms of peace and international peacekeeping rather than military security.

The conference failed to agree to dozens of motions, including one condemning criminal sanctions for genital mutilation and two calling for the full decriminalisation of abortion. This was not due to their defeat on numbers, however, but to lack of time for debate. These and other motions have been given to a committee for further action.

First published in The Age.