Female politicians agree much work remains in gender equality fight

October 19, 2020 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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Australian federal Labor shadow minister for education and training Tanya Plibersek agreed with former Meretz chairwoman Zehava Galon that despite both Israel and Australia having had female prime ministers the political glass ceiling remains firmly in place in both countries.

Tanya Plibersek, Deb Whitmont and Zehava Galon Photo: Screenshot

They were in conversation with journalist Deb Whitmont last Wednesday 14 October as part of a New Israel Fund Australia webinar attended by several hundred people.

Galon, who is now the head of Zulat, an Israeli activist human rights think tank, said that Israel’s first female prime minister Golda Meir never sympathised with the feminist movement and that women in Israel today are still discriminated against, excluded and rendered invisible. “I blame Golda Meir. Although she was the prime minister so many years ago, we still feel her attitude. Even now we find some men in our politics or ministers in our government who say, ‘What’s the problem?’” A long-time advocate for minority rights, Galon noted that only a quarter of the current Knesset members are female.

Plibersek, the federal member for Sydney, noted that when she was first elected there were similar ratios in Australian politics. However, the Labor party has set targets for women “aiming for at least half of the positions in parliament, senior levels of public service, and in NGOs.” These measurable outcomes have helped improve female representation in her party.

“Former Labor leader Julia Guillard paid a high price for being Australia’s first female prime minister,” said Plibersek, speaking of the extreme vilification and abuse that Guillard endured. In retrospect, she feels that they waited too long to call out the misogynistic behaviour.

“[It was] failure on my part as a colleague of Julia’s, but it shouldn’t have been just the women in the Labor party doing it. “It should have been the men and the women and, frankly, people well beyond Labor politics.” She added that not only was Tony Abbott, the then leader of the opposition, unwilling to distance himself, but other community and business leaders should have called out the inappropriate behaviour.

Both women lamented the fact that high profile female politicians in Australia and Israel have faced threats of violence and rape. Galon revealed that she has had to have a bodyguard for years as she’s faced significant abuse, not just for her feminist views, but also for her work promoting peace and ending the occupation. Galon said that Israel can’t be considered a democratic society as long as it continues to occupy the Palestinian territories. She warned that “occupation is not there, it’s here, within the green line,” pointing out the increased police brutality and norms that have been imported from the army.

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