ROVA Report | Where are the young women?

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Where are the young women? Young women and gender diverse people share their thoughts on Australian federal politics and the upcoming 2022 election - and what needs to change.

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Table of Contents 03



Key Takeaways



Data | Diversity in government

Data | Women in media



Data | Youth engagement with current affairs





Contact Information

Introduction Driven by the shared belief that all young voices should be heard, Raise Our Voice Australia has proudly partnered with The Body Shop to ask young women and gender diverse Australians about their political engagement. With over 500* responses, this research captured their reflections on media reporting and politics, and the impact this has on their political actions. Together, we hope to amplify these voices. It’s an entrenched belief that women and nonbinary people don’t engage with politics at the same rate as their male counterparts. Such assumptions might be traced to the formation of the ‘public sphere’, patriarchal gender roles, late access to voting rights and even later rights to stand for parliament. Add to this the assumption that young people are generally disengaged (despite significant evidence to the contrary including the School Strike 4 Climate, Teach Us Consent, and our own Raise Our Voice In Parliament Initiative), and we have a cohort that is doubly dismissed from political discourse. Raise Our Voice Australia elevates voices of young women and gender diverse people, challenging institutions to listen to and break down the systemic barriers that disproportionately impact this under represented cohort. Since our inception in 2020, significant public conversations have taken place regarding women in parliament and gender bias in media reporting of female political leaders.

Research by Plan International Australia found that 73% of young Australian women aged 1821 do not believe that women in politics are treated equally to men; rising to almost 78% among women aged 22 to 25 (We Can Lead report, 2021). Building on this, we want to highlight the impact of the political events of 2021 on young female and gender diverse leaders. Our research found that in response to these events and subsequent media reporting, otherwise engaged young women and gender diverse people are less likely to consider a career in politics or join a political party. Instead, they are favouring informal participation (with the exception of voting) including signing petitions and protesting. This must change. These aren’t the leaders of tomorrow. Young women and gender diverse people are already here, leading today - shaping the national curriculum, defining the conversation around sexual assault and calling for effective climate action. But until we shift the way we talk about female leaders, particularly in political spaces and in the media, it is unlikely that this group will aspire to a career in a formal political environment.

The Survey: Key Takeaways We created a 5-minute survey for women and gender diverse people aged 30 and under. Responses were received across states, metro and regional areas, from people living with a disability, LGBTQIA+, and culturally, ethically, or linguistically diverse communities.

There is a strong belief that Governments should reflect the diversity of the Australian populace Many respondents felt that people like them are not represented in politics.

Media portrayal of women in politics is seen as being predominately negative. This has a negative impact on the current and potential engagement of young women and gender diverse people in formal political spaces

Young women and non-binary people are paying attention. There was high recognition of political events that occurred over the last 12 months, however, engagement took place predominantly in informal spaces.

Diversity in government The young people surveyed strongly believed in the need for diversity within government. Very few respondents believed they are represented in political spaces. Despite claims of being the 'most successful multicultural society in the world', it is clear that our parliament has a long way to go before it is truly representative of the population - including a need for age diversity. In the 46th Federal Parliament, there was just one politician aged under 30, yet young people comprise approximately 12% of the population. Young women and gender diverse people comprise approximately half of that.

94% of respondents agree that it is important for a government to be diverse

13% of respondents feel that people like them are represented in politics

To get the greatest outcomes possible for the

And this narrowed to...

greatest portion of the population, it is critical


that decisions are made by people who reflect all of us, who understand our experience, can suggest well-targeted solutions to wellunderstood problems, and embrace the principle of "no decisions about us without us." Representation is not only crucial in a representative democracy but also in building and maintaining trust between a government and the population. Electing people from diverse backgrounds to political positions also creates role models for aspiring leaders, showing them that they too can hold that office.

of LGBTQIA respondents felt represented (15% said representation was not important)

6% for culturally, ethnically and linguistically diverse participants (16% said representation was not important)

Diversity in Parliament I am a South Asian, disabled, non-binary person. My experience and the experience of those more marginalised than me is not at all represented in politics. And if it was, we would receive even more negativity than the cis white women who are currently in politics.

35% of all respondents would consider a career in politics



of respondents aged 21-30 would consider a career in politics

of respondents aged 20 and under would consider a career in politics

The data tells us that young women and non-binary people are not generally considering a career in politics, with the portion of young people seeing politics as a viable career choice decreasing with age. To address the issue of under-representation in our parliament, we need the next generation of leaders to put their hands up to run for office - but there are a number of changes that need to occur before this happens. These changes include a greater presence of role models, a commitment to improving the safety of women and gender diverse people in political spaces, and a change in sexist and discriminatory media conversations. It is critical that we shape politics and political engagement in a way that encourages the participation of young women and gender diverse people. This will ensure they are well-positioned and willing to enter formal political spaces and create better outcomes for their future.

Women in media Overwhelmingly, survey respondents expressed concern around the way women are portrayed in the media. The negative and often disproportionate reporting of sexist and discriminatory tropes serve as a key deterrent for participants' willingness to consider a public career, such as one in politics. To combat this, participants expressed a tendency to curate their media to focus on outlets such as the ABC, SBS and The Guardian. Such outlets were perceived to have more balanced reporting with less sexist or discriminatory discussions around women and people from marginalised backgrounds. Participants also curated their social media feeds to feature more favourable reporting of women and people from marginalised backgrounds.

"Women in politics are disproportionately attacked in the media...The experience is worse when intersections of sexuality, ethnicity or religion are overlayed. Julia Gillard, Mehreen Faruqi, Julie Bishop and Penny Wong to name just a few - all across the political divide and the spectrum of treatment by the media" "I think the media has been mainly positive in their representation of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins. (Bar the daily mail #bonggate photo), I think there are issues with the diversity of representation. Where are the Aboriginal women, disabled women, people of colour, sex workers etc.? I also agree with the idea that these women are expected to "smile bitch" and be 'nice' to the same politicians, legal structures, mainstream media outlets that perpetuate patriarchy". "Not being very active in politics, the standout was the treatment of Grace Tame when she refused to smile with Scott Morrison. [This] is the primary reason for my response. Very negative and appalling to read the sexist statements".

87% of respondents feel that representation of women in politics by the media is mostly negative, with high recognition of recent political stories

Youth engagement with current affairs It's clear that young people are actively paying attention. Young people are engaging with current affairs, news and political conversations. Respondents indicated a high awareness of political events such as Brittany Higgins' allegations of sexual assault, Higgins' National Press Club address with former Australian of the Year Grace Tame, the release of the Jenkins Review and the March 4 Justice movement. There was lower awareness of the allegations against then-Attorney General Christian Porter, though over half of respondents were familiar with the story.

This completely contradicts the popular opinion that young people are apathetic, and disengaged from politics and the world around them, since we can clearly see that young women and gender diverse people are highly engaged with current affairs, including political events and stories.



familiarity of Brittany Higgins' allegations


familiarity of Brittany Higgins & Grace Tame's speech at the National Press Club

familiarity of the release of the Jenkins Report



familiarity of the March 4 Justice

familiarity of the allegations against Christian Porter

Given these conversations A key theme in the data was a preference for informal participation in politics (with the exception of voting), with participants expressing a preference for signing petitions and attending political rallies over joining a party or running for office.

49% of those 20 and over would not consider a career in politics, given the events of the last 12 months

44% of respondents were less likely to pursue a career in politics given the events of the last 12 months (compared to 23% who were more likely)

37% were less likely to join a political party given the events of the last 12 months (compared to 21% who were more likely)

Although we were pleased to confirm that young people are engaged with current affairs and politics, the trend toward informal participation (such as signing petitions and attending protests) is both heartening and concerning. Whilst informal participation is a valid and important form of democratic participation, formal participation has a much greater impact on national outcomes. Given the majority of elected politicians are from a political party, and the majority of our national policy is born from political parties and political party members, participation in these spaces is critical. Political parties could take meaningful steps towards greater youth participation by embracing an active youth engagement strategy. Despite these findings, it is uplifting to see the high portion of respondents who indicated that they will be making an informed vote this election.

Given these conversations

The way women are treated in politics by the media stops me from wanting to be in politics. Dredging up anything from the past etc. Makes me afraid of how they would ‘take me down’ if I was to join a political party." Though the lack of young women and gender diverse people in politics can be attributed to a number of factors, the survey findings underscore the need for active measures to be taken. There are linkages and interdependencies that require a holistic approach to ensure change. There are also connections between participants' belief in the need for a more diverse government, participant views on the media portraying women in a negative light, and reiterating that young people are engaged and paying attention in the realm of politics and government.

83% of respondents were more likely to make an informed vote



of respondents were more likely to sign petitions

of respondents were more likely to attend protests or political rallies



of respondents who were less likely to pursue a career in politics indicated that events of the last 12 months and the media reporting of them been a key factor in this decision.

of respondents with a disability who would not consider a career in politics

Recommendations for enduring change To ensure that young women and non-binary people feel included and invited to formal political spaces, a few key changes need to occur.

More young women and gender diverse people need to feel confident to pursue careers in politics and engage in formal political spaces 1. Fund the recommendations in the Jenkins Review and set timelines for their implementation It was encouraging to see funding set aside for implementation of the Jenkins Review in the 2022 federal budget - but, to ensure that this change takes place, there must be a timeline for implementation agreed to by all political parties. This will ensure accountability and demonstrate to young change-makers that political leaders are committed to creating a safer and less masculine environment which welcomes diversity, and their participation.

2. Political parties should create youth engagement strategies, and take active measures to ensure these spaces are welcoming, safe and accessible for young women, non-binary people, and people from traditionally marginalised backgrounds. Political parties are the home of politicians, as well as future political leaders. They create the room where it happens - so we need to get young people in there. To create meaningful change, it's crucial that young women and non-binary people feel safe and confident in joining political parties, and know that their membership will create the change they wish to see. Youth engagement through parties should move from being a byproduct of party membership to being accessible and meaningful, where young people - particularly young women and non-binary people - feel valued with their voices heard.

Recommendations for enduring change To ensure that young women and non-binary people feel included and invited to formal political spaces, a few key changes need to occur.

Media to be held accountable for sexist and gendered reporting on female political figures

1. Implement media reporting standards for reporting on women, political figures, and people from marginalised backgrounds. This action will ensure more balanced coverage of political figures with a focus on actions and policies as opposed to gender, appearance or bias. It will also create positive outcomes for the media outlets, which are more likely to be consumed by young people who perceive their coverage to be balanced and free from discriminatory tropes.

2. Social media companies to agree to, and meaningfully implement, standards for content on their platforms. This will add pressure to major media companies and meet young people where they are at, given young people are more likely to consume their media from online sources. It will also combat some of the negative online conversations around women and gender diverse people in public spaces.

"There are a number of positive stories about women in politics; however, there are not nearly enough to be satisfactory and often the language used is sexist and demeaning. The media has a large role in how the general public respond to politicians and I think they need to acknowledge the harm that can be done by using sexist terminology."


Recommendations for enduring change To ensure that young women and non-binary people feel included and invited to formal political spaces, a few key changes need to occur.

More diversity in politics and media 1. Political parties should create affirmative action measures around diverse participation. The use of affirmative action was demonstrated by the Australian Labor Party when it adopted gender quotas in 1994; a policy that has resulted in almost 50-50 gender representation in Parliament. To ensure that our Parliament reflects the diversity of the population, all political parties should adopt or extend affirmative action measures to other under-represented groups including the LGBTQIA community, persons with disability, First Nations individuals, and young people.

2. Media companies should set targets around elevating diverse voices and seeking opinions from diverse individuals. Media companies should create databases of diverse individuals who are well-placed to comment on current affairs. Media companies should set targets - and timelines for achieving them - for diverse voices in media reporting to ensure that a range of perspectives are being sought on all issues, including politics, which still attracts predominantly white male commentators (Women's Representation and Voice in Media Coverage of the Coronavirus: Global Institute of Women's Leadership).

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