Reflecting on the Melbourne School of Government’s Pathways to Politics Program for Women

When I was little, I told Mum I wanted to be the Mayor of St Kilda.  At the time, my main motivation was to implement whatever idea I had for my suburb on a particular day, rather than an explicit goal to get into politics; I wanted to be a scientist instead.

Yet, after nearly a decade of working in research and policy development roles, I was fed up with seeing politics overrule evidence-based decision making.  I joined the Greens and put my hand up for local government.

The Pathways to Politics program came at the perfect time for me, starting just after my preselection and ending around the same time as my campaign.  Outside the university I was busy on the streets – talking to residents outside supermarkets and train stations, doorknocking, delivering flyers – so it was great to have four hours each fortnight to pause, reflect and learn.

There were twenty-four women in our cohort.  Most were already in a political party but others were exploring whether they wanted to launch into the political spotlight or create change through other sectors.  The camaraderie between us was established from the first session.  Despite having different political views, we shared a commitment to improving the gender balance in all levels of Australian government.

At each session we heard from content experts and from women in state or federal parliament.  The honesty of the MPs was wonderful; they spoke to us not as politicians but as fellow women talking about the challenges and successes in their jobs.  It allowed us to better understand what life was like for elected representatives.

The program was something I drew strength from during my campaign.  When things were hard I reflected on stories told by MPs about situations that were much harder than my own, and it inspired me to soldier on.  I felt that I was not just representing myself and my party, but the women and girls who see gender inequity in politics and feel their views aren’t adequately represented in government, or politics isn’t for them because it’s too much of a boys’ club.

I wrote this this article on the night of the mayoral elections at the City of Darebin.  The outgoing council included only two women out of nine councillors.  Now that’s tripled to six women councillors, including myself.  In this last week, several of my fellow councillors asked if I’d run for mayor – not of St Kilda but of Darebin.  I said: maybe next year.  In the meantime we’ve elected a wonderfully committed, knowledgeable and astute woman to lead us, and I couldn’t be happier.

We’re delighted to announce that Stephanie Amir has been appointed as the new program manager of the Pathways to Politics Program for Women. For information about applying for the 2017 program, contact her at stephanie.amir@unimelb.edu.au. The Pathways to Politics Program for Women is funded by the Trawalla Foundation.

Image: Provost Professor Margaret Sheil, Professor Margaret Gardner AO, Ms Carol Schwartz AM, Dame Quentin Bryce AD CVO, and Vice-Chancellor Professor Glyn Davis.