Women in Politics

Sunday February 2 2014
by Bridget

I have had 3 years of learning and experiencing what is means to be a woman in politics, so it might be an understatement to say I have just a few thoughts on the subject. I have a BA in Political Science, and have worked on five political campaigns varying from local body, general election and also a Senate Campaign in the US. Each campaign I've played a different role but as I moved on to the next campaign I would be given more responsibility and control. I have been extremely lucky to have been given the opportunities to play such a pivotal role in what I believe is my way of changing the world. I would like to use this space to discuss the difference between working on campaigns as a woman in New Zealand and in the United States. Most people would assume that New Zealand would be far more progressive in having women in leadership roles especially when it comes to politics, however my personal experience has seemed to be the very opposite.

In New Zealand I have found it very hard to put trust in my own abilities and willingly put my hand up for positions on campaigns, the men seem to have no issue having faith in themselves and what they believe they can achieve. Women seem to need a push, we need someone to say to us “Hey, I think you would be really good at doing this,” before we would even consider ourselves. There is a lot of pressure to support other women around you, which normally would be considered an obvious decision, but when you are involved for a certain issue (e.g. marriage equality, abortion reform, mental health reform etc.) you want to make sure your vote is going to someone who supports the issues most important to you. However it may be that it is a male candidate who is best going to represent those issues. This situation has happened to me and lead to being called out as anti-feminist because I did not vote for the woman. The gender war in politics can become very toxic and not a positive environment to be around and is the reason why I took a break from politics in 2013. It needs to be said that not everything in politics is toxic and often the victories you experience will outweigh any of the negative stuff that has happened.

In the US I was working on a senate campaign for Elizabeth Warren, who was a first time candidate who had previously been a Harvard Law Professor specialising in Bankruptcy Law. Recently she has been working hard in the Senate to increase the minimum wage. I was situated in a small town out of Boston called Wellesley. It just so happened that I managed to get involved with the campaign in this town rather than being in Boston which meant working with a small group of people on a very grassroots campaign.

It was completely volunteer based and the two campaign managers were these two women, who were mothers, and just felt very very strongly that Elizabeth Warren needed to represent them so they got involved. I came along with a tonne of volunteer coordination experience and kind of took over that side of things for them so they could focus on basically everything else, I had never been so welcomed or told how invaluable my skills were. I was lucky enough to attend a Massachusetts Women in Politics panel which invited a range of women from different political backgrounds (democratic and republican), all different ages and experience. This was something I had never witnessed in New Zealand as many people think we have equality when it comes to women in positions of power so the dialogue is not in place. In somewhere like the US where women are fighting to create equality in both the Senate and Congress, people from all over the political spectrum happily get together to discuss how this can be achieved.

New Zealand can learn a lot from US grassroots campaigns when it comes to encouraging and supporting women, whether they are planning to run for a position or want to be volunteers on the ground making the change happen. ▼

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