Greens Turn Family First - And It Matters

The secrecy of the Greens’ leadership spill has been the focus of media attention, but it seems they’ve missed the real news. This is significant far beyond party politics.

Adam Bandt clearly cites the birth of his child as a key reason for not contesting the leadership. Read media reports, however, and it appears that the birth of a child is irrelevant, for a male politician this should have no more effect than the arrival of a new dog – a photo op followed by paying someone else to take it for a walk. Yet shared parental responsibility is absolutely critical to gender equity, and here we have a politician promoting this not only in his words, but in his actions.

The media doesn’t need to accept Bandt’s claim at face value or make it into some hyperbolic act of self-sacrifice. It may well be, in part, due to party politics. Hell, if he was female it’d be due to party politics – because nobody would darn well elect a female with a baby on the horizon. It’d be nice, though, if we accepted that a man’s desire to be a present father and partner could validly impact his career choices.

The election of two deputies has a similar public justification – and has been met by a similar level of suspicion. Can politicians exhibit sufficient humanity to still feel the need to tend to their families? Media management is a 24/7/365 job; if we want people who have families (remembering the national struggle to accept Julia Gillard), we need to contemplate that they sometimes sit down to dinner without one eye on Twitter. This consideration is even more critical in a day and age where unpaid and paid work are often shared in domestic relationships. As I sit here with Facebook and Twitter and Mail and Thesis, not yet having answered that text from a friend, I remind myself that it’s a lesson for all of us.

Amongst all that, we have today lost the only non-straight-white-male-in-a-blue-tie that fronts a federal party. It’s disappointing that we’re constantly a tweet away from the 1950s. Yet female representation in the workplace will not arise just because we lament current realities. There’s a constant cry for real change and not talk – and when we get a glimpse, we need to notice it.

Male sharing of parental responsibilities, job sharing where possible and necessary – these are the things that on every level open the door for people who don’t fit the fraternity image. So perhaps we lost a female leader. We don’t know what went on behind the party room door. But behind the doors of gender equity, we saw small shifts that may yet facilitate greater gender equity in politics – and may reflect some of the gains thus far. Bandt’s baby steps should not be ignored.