Pathways to Politics for Women opens more doors in busy election year

Philanthropy Australia Fri, 12 Apr 2024 Estimated reading times: 4 minutes

The award-winning Pathways to Politics for Women program has become fully national for the first time, now incorporating Western Australia and Tasmania. Building on recent successes in Queensland local elections, organisers are calling on more future female leaders who are passionate about politics and driving positive change in their communities to apply.

The program has helped hundreds of women to run for office, achieving 47 electoral successes across the political spectrum and at all levels of government in the country since it launched in 2016 – including 13 from the Queensland local council elections in March.

More than 50 program alums are expected to run for office in a busy year of local and state elections across Australia in 2024. The program, participation in which is fully funded through the support of its philanthropic and university partners, offers comprehensive practical training, workshops, mentoring and career-long support to female leaders from all sides of politics, and has played a pivotal role in advancing gender diversity and inclusion in Australian politics. Modules vary slightly in each state or territory, but cover topics such as political vision, campaign planning, media training, speechwriting and leadership skills.

An initiative of the Trawalla Foundation, the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia and the University of Melbourne, the non-partisan Pathways to Politics for Women programs are uniquely designed in collaboration with leading university partners across Australia, tailored to each local context. The program is also supported by sitting and former politicians representing all sides of politics.

Women account for 44% of overall positions in state and territory parliaments in Australia and 45% in federal parliament. Australia was ranked 26th out of 146 countries in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2023. This is an improvement from 43rd in 2022, but still lower than Australia’s 15th place in 2006.

Carol Schwartz AO, founder of program and Chair of the Trawalla Foundation, said she is exceptionally proud of the program’s achievements: “The remarkable successes of our alums running in elections across the country underscores the impact of Pathways to Politics for Women in empowering women to boldly make their mark in politics.

“As we enter this historic election year for the program, we are committed to continuing our mission of equipping diverse women with the skills, confidence and career-long support they need to thrive as leaders and make a profound contribution to society.”

Six alums of the program are sitting MPs in the Victorian Parliament, representing five different political parties: Juliana Addison MP (Labor), Gaelle Broad MP (Nationals), Sarah Mansfield MP (Greens), Georgie Purcell MP (Animal Justice Party), Kat Theophanous MP (Labor) and Bridget Vallence MP (Liberal Party).

Despite their political differences, the MPs say they share a common bond forged through their collective experiences on the program, which has fostered a spirit of collaboration and mutual respect transcending party lines. This underscores the program’s role in promoting cross-party understanding and co-operation for alums in office.

Dr Sarah Mansfield MP

Dr Sarah Mansfield MP, MLC for Western Victoria, said: “As a participant in the first year of Pathways to Politics in 2016, I look back on the experience as being pivotal in shaping my political journey. One of the incredible ongoing benefits has been the network of extraordinary women it has created, many of whom I now work alongside in state parliament. It has opened connections between us across party lines, opening the door for greater collaboration – which can ultimately drive better outcomes for our community.” 

Of the record-breaking 26 Pathways to Politics alums who ran in the Queensland local elections, eight of those elected are from regional or rural including the Western Downs, Fraser Coast, Gladstone, and Cairns regional councils, and the Ipswich, Gold Coast and Redland city councils. Two alums, Amy Eden and Jos Mitchell, were elected as mayors.

Sarah Diana Faraj

Sarah Diana Faraj, elected to Fraser Coast Regional Council, said: “My support network is my family, partner, other community leaders in the Fraser Coast and the Pathways to Politics for Women program. It answered a lot of questions and until then, I didn’t know where to ask those questions.

“After I finished the program, I knew I was going to do this. I had confidence in myself and saw so many other young women like me who wanted to pursue politics as well, and I thought, ‘If they can do it, I can too’.”

Sophie Bougoure

Sophie Bougoure, who has been elected as the youngest and first Indigenous member of the Western Downs Regional Council, said: “Every aspect of the course helped me prepare for the campaign. You look at things in a different way and that was a really good starting point.

“One of the things I thoroughly enjoyed was you had people from all walks of life, all parties there. It didn’t matter which party you were aligned with – we were all there for the same purpose. The networking is phenomenal.”

Applications for the 2024 program are open nationally until 24 April 2024.