Extraordinary Ordinary Women
Strong, tenacious and persistent. These characteristics define women in representative roles, according to a new book launched at Parliament House in Melbourne.
Extraordinary Ordinary Women documents and celebrates the pioneering women of the Victorian Parliament.
In presenting the stories of women who led the way in Victoria, the book captures some of the defining traits that brought them into public life, and why those were needed to overcome the resistance they faced.
It notes that the commonalities between female members of parliament, particularly in the 1970s and 1980s, were in many respects greater than their most obvious differences.
“Many women on both sides of the political fence started their trailblazing careers in community activism, local politics and local government, often encouraged through organisations such as the Women’s Electoral Lobby (WEL),” the book states.
It recognises the significant effort that was and still is required for women to be elected.
“Whether it was seeking a seat at local council, preselection battles for a most unlikely seat, or the hurly burly of a general election campaign, at least in the early days, the media failed to take the prospective ‘lady members’ seriously—these pioneers constantly fought battles that their male counterparts simply, because of the privilege of their sex, did not,” the book notes.
“In 2017, with 51 members of the Victorian Parliament and nine cabinet ministers, it is tempting to posit that these struggles are over—but this would be erroneous. The battles continue today.
“While women may no longer be viewed as a ‘political liability’, debates continue as to what the ‘appropriate’ level of female representation in the Parliament should be. Should a quota system be utilised or is this tokenistic? How can the balance be redressed? Should women be chosen solely on their merit and what does the somewhat tenuous notion of merit mean in these circumstances?”
In her foreword to the book, Andrea Coote, who served as a member of the Legislative Council from 1999 to 2014, writes that the threads drawing together the women representatives featured in the book are not their age, religion, race, marital status, socio economic circumstances or even political party to which they belong.
“It is their lived experience and their basic belief that they needed to make a difference, from the most influential platform in the State, The Parliament. To do whatever they could to enable the people of Victoria to lead safe, independent lives of dignity and respect, regardless of their circumstances,” she states.
Written by Peter Johnston from the Victorian Parliamentary Library, Extraordinary Ordinary Women can be purchased from the Parliament House gift shop or by phoning (03) 9651 8223.