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Despite winning the right to sit in Parliament in 1894, it was a further 24 years before a woman stood for Parliament in South Australia in 1918, and a further 41 years before a woman was elected to the South Australian Parliament in 1959.

Back in 1894, Mary Lee and Catherine Helen Spence were the high profile women who helped secure women's suffrage, but neither was prepared to stand for Parliament, despite some encouragement. Why didn't they stand for Parliament?

However, the women's organisations they helped establish, and others that developed later, soon took up as one of their prime roles, the encouragement of women to stand for Parliament, both state and federal, and for local government. The important suppportive role of the League of Women Voters is shown in three letters received from the first two women elected to the South Australian Parliament—Jessie Cooper and Joyce Steele—and from a member of the New South Wales Legislative Council, Eileen Furley. Even a newspaper editorial of 1954 posed the question Why no women in Parliament?.

The story of Dame Nancy Buttfield, the first South Australian woman in Parliament is an important one. Also interesting are the stories of women in The Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL).

In the 1990s it is still difficult for a woman to choose a Parliamentary career, and only a small minority of women make it. Why is this? The scent of power: on the trail of women and power in Australian politics has some of the answers.

In 1993 the Minister responsible for the Status of Women in South Australia, Hon Anne Levy, proposed that a national project be undertaken on the lack of women politicians in Australian parliaments. South Australia was put in charge of the project, and Women and parliaments in Australia and New Zealand: a discussion paper was prepared by Coopers & Lybrand for the Commonwealth/State Conference on the Status of Women. (Australia : s.n. , 1994?). Following on from this, the Minister for the Status of Women in South Australia in 1994, Hon Diana Laidlaw, proposed a Joint Committee of the South Australian Parliament be established to investigate impediments to women standing for Parliament, strategies for increasing the number of women in the political and electoral process, and the effect of Parliamentary procedure and practice on women's participation in the South Australian Parliament. Extracts from its Report on women in Parliament are included here, together with progress toward its recommendations.

Another interesting publication was published by the commonwealth Office for the Status of Women Every woman's guide to getting into politics prepared by Kate Tully for the Office of the Status of Women. (Barton, A.C.T.: The Office, 1995). Several years later, Women parliamentarians in Australia 1921-1996: a register of women members of Commonealth, State and Territory Parliaments in Australia was prepared by David Black.(Perth : Western Australian Parliamentary History Project, 1996).

To complete the picture for South Australia are Statistics of South Australian women in Parliament.

Should you want additional profile on current South Australian women in Parliament, you can visit the websites which cover the South Australian and the Federal Parliaments.


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This page last updated on Friday 11 April, 2014 15:17



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