Women of the world unite

30 Nov, 2016 07:41 AM

IT has been an interesting year for political women, both leaders and aspiring ones, with the highest profile candidate Hillary Clinton, failing in her effort to be the first female president of the United States.

Another female politician did make it to the top - the top of the British political tree that is - after the Brexit vote and the resignation of the David Cameron as prime minister, Theresa May was elected the new Prime Minister.

She is only the second woman to attain that position, following the legacy of Margaret Thatcher, the PM who was condemned by the Left, but lauded by the Right as the person who stopped the United Kingdom's slide into irrelevance.

But female presidents, although not plentiful, are no longer unusual, with previous leaders including Bandaranaike (Sri Lanka), Meier (Israel), Nehru (India), and the German leader Angela Merkel.

Back at home, Australia has already had a female prime minister in Julia Gillard, but collectively it can be said that they were all capable people who were no better or worse than a similar group of male PMs.

Critics who claim that the female leaders were aided in their election by the positive discrimination ethos that pervades politics, should be reminded that being male is no guarantee of quality, with many of Australia's male PMs - including the incumbent - being very ordinary.

The trend towards female leaders has reached Canberra and the National Farmers' Federation (NFF), following the election of NSW farmer Fiona Simson as its first female president.

Her election to the NFF's top job follows four years as the first female president of NSW Farmers and two years as NFF vice president, a thorough apprenticeship for NFF's top job.

Women have had more success at a State level, with Victorian Heather Mitchell becoming president of the Victorian Farmers Federation (VFF) and NFF vice president back in the early 1990s.

Her CV showed a period as State president of the Victorian Liberal Party, a plus in many eyes, but a big minus in others.

Victoria is still known as the "dairy State", a factor that has influenced VFF operations, for it produced two factions, the dairy and the pastoral, with the numbers fluctuating between each division.

Heather never got beyond vice president at NFF, a result that I always considered was because her pastoral grouping lost out to the dairy group, for she was replaced in the NFF forums by a VFF dairy delegate.

The WAFarmers' dairy section was once led by a woman, a very smart lady who was unfortunate to be the dairy chief during the restructure battle and so was unsuccessful when she tried for general president.

WAFarmers still hasn't had a female president, although one female member of the general executive during my time was more than adequate for the task, but her husband's busy off-farm activities convinced her to defer her push until later.

She did start a comeback some years later, but after another period on the general executive, she declared that the same subjects were generating the same debates as before, and it became too hard to refrain from stating "been there, done that".

Her attitude perhaps indicates why so few women have made it to the top of politics, farm or otherwise, for it is certainly not a lack of ability that has stopped them attaining that goal.

Seeking political power doesn't seem the highest priority for many women - and who could say they are wrong.



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