What Women Want (Australia) is a new political party formed in April that obtained federal electoral registration in August. It currently has almost 780 members, women and men, and is standing 14 Senate candidates across every state and the ACT, plus lower-house candidates in Wakefield and Hindmarsh in South Australia, Gippsland in Victoria and Stirling in WA.
WWW founder Janine Caines is a long-time campaigner for maternity services reform who says she was fed up with being "fobbed off" by politicians she tried to lobby for change. Caines, who is WWW's lead Senate candidate in NSW, told Green Left Weekly that women from across the political spectrum are attracted to WWW's aims of making parliaments more representative, giving women more of a say in policy development and promoting greater participation from women of all ages, cultures and life experiences.
WWW realised that its formation tapped an unmet need when 400 women and men joined the party via its new website within one week. "We don't need more women in the major parties, who get to certain level and then get squashed", Caines said. "WWW has engaged women who have felt they didn't have a voice. Our membership includes many women who you wouldn't class as political, but who felt very strongly about the issues."
Caines acknowledged that "there is a challenge in bringing many different women together as a group, but we've put our policies firmly on the table from day one and been fairly prescriptive — about women's right to choose [abortion], for example. We've been clear about where we sit in the political spectrum, and women have come to us who haven't joined progressive parties of another name."
Caines explained that many of WWW's members "are united on the everyday issues that make or break families and communities and impact so greatly on women, who have to juggle paid and unpaid work, child care and so on. We get lip service and vote buying [from the major parties], but these issues really aren't being addressed. Instead they've corporatised child care, for example. Women are at the point of saying 'enough'."
WWW's charter is not confined to what might traditionally be considered "women's issues". It includes commitments to, among other objectives, the cultural, social, land and human rights of Australia's Aboriginal peoples; equitable access to health care, education and housing for all; work that is safe, meaningful, fairly paid, socially useful, child-care supportive, and able to be a part of life, rather than the whole; the elimination of discrimination; peace and resistance to war and occupations; a nuclear-free Australia; greater resource and energy efficiency that uses environmentally sustainable technologies; fair trade; and an independent foreign policy.
Caines explained that one of the immediate major issues for members is pay equity. "Economic independence for women across the spectrum is very important, whether you're 21 and just starting out or 55 and looking down the barrel of a pretty poor retirement, or in the middle trying to juggle unpaid and paid work. Fifty per cent of women between 45 and 60 years old have less than $8000 in superannuation, for example. That's insane.
"A lot of women have joined WWW around issues of maternity health too, and this issue has a big impact across the whole health sector. The gigantic rate of caesarian surgery, for example, is now impacting on the waiting lists for other surgery in NSW, including delaying serious cardiac surgery."
Caines said that public education, violence against women and the "draconian welfare-to-work laws" are other crucial issues for WWW members. "We have a big contingent of single mums because they know that both the major parties are screwing them", she said.
Caines said that WWW is successfully marketing itself through the mainstream (including very supportive feature articles about the party in New Woman magazine, for example), "however, we're taking a progressive message there".
On WWW's chances of being elected on November 24, Caines said: "Our overall objective is to get us into parliament — we're not a stooge party. But we had to be realistic about what we could achieve in our own right and therefore look at the greater good ... We will deliver votes that would never have been secured by progressive parties and be able to flow them through preference deals.
"We've preferenced the Greens as the best chance of actually getting in and because a Rudd government with a Greens balance of power in the Senate would be an eminently better place than a Rudd government without that. The Greens have sympathies with, and a willingness to work within, our policies and interest areas so next year, if we don't have a seat in parliament, we can push forward by using that balance of power — hopefully — to get the Greens working on some major policy initiatives, and hold the major parties to account."
For more information, visit http://www.whatwomenwant.org.au.