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Political futures: Disrupting the game

18 July 2018

Our national politics has a problem. For a nation that prides itself on being the most successful multicultural society in the world, both our state and federal parliaments have a long way to go before they reflect our population. Last year, I set out to disrupt the status quo with the Girls Takeover Parliament program.

Forbes recognised us as 'youthful visionaries' for challenging conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation of female leaders.

This year, the program landed myself and my co-founder on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia 2018 list. Ranked 10th overall as the leading young social entrepreneurs in the region, Forbes recognised us as ‘youthful visionaries’ for challenging conventional wisdom and rewriting the rules for the next generation of female leaders.

Run in conjunction with Plan International Australia, Girls Takeover Parliament is a unique program that extends the political table to include young women as the decision-makers. During the Federal takeover, our participants ran party room meetings, wrote speeches for Hansard, sat in the advisers’ box and pushed the boundaries by becoming the youngest Australians ever to write motions for the Australian Federal Parliament.

The program influenced the Australian Labor Party to put gender at the centre of their strategy with Setting The Agenda. Overall it reached over 10 million people, achieved over 32 local and federal commitments on gender equality across all the major parties, and a number of participants were invited back by their MPs and Senators to join their staff as interns.

But while the program was a success, it’s also a concern.

While Girls Take Over Parliament was heralded by Forbes as a game-changer, myself and many other activists/ advocates are trying to create a world where it shouldn’t need to be. It is somewhat disheartening to know that a program as simple as this is considered revolutionary because it’s filling a gap that shouldn’t exist.

While we have seen some progress in this area both nationally and internationally, our politics remains stale. We’re listening to debates we’ve heard before, watching grand standing we’ve seen before and hearing promises being broken again. Unfortunately, this is no longer a surprise for voters and as the generation whose future is on the line, we’re fed up.

Hearing commentators say that young people aren’t engaged in politics is simply incorrect. Around the world we are witnessing a revitalisation of activism and the construction of “the new youth era”. Young people are optimistic about the future and empathetic towards marginalised groups. We are progressive and forward thinking, as we saw in both the Brexit vote, where young people overwhelmingly voted to remain in the EU, and the American election in 2016, where only 37% of 18-29 year olds voted for Trump. We recognise that politics – a system which has existed for many hundreds of years – remains subject to bureaucracy, short election cycles, business interests and older voices. The system needs a shake-up.

We need more disruptors both in Australia and more broadly. We need to challenge the existing systems and find new ways of doing things. We need to think creatively, innovatively and ensure we are operating under best practice. Where innovators look for new ways of doing things, disruptors change the way we think. The process of disruption is often uncomfortable and messy, but it forces people to have conversations they don’t want to have and face alternative ways of doing things.

Luckily, while young women’s attributes and contributions so often remain invisible in the political arena, leaders around the world are beginning to recognise that it is vital to tap into the creativity, energy and drive of the next generation. Recently, former President Barack Obama has taken it upon himself to raise a generation of 'one million young Barack [and] Michelle Obamas’ to take on the baton of ‘human progress’, as he recognises that young people take on the ‘responsibility that so often adults had failed to take in trying to find a solution’.

After the Forbes recognition, I realised that I need to continue to press for change and work harder to engage with more parliamentarians, more institutions and more young people. The fact remains that for a better world, we need equality, intersectional representation and youth inclusion as a norm. We need programs like Girls Takeover Parliament, which encourage, up-skill and embrace the next generation of leaders.

While being listed on the Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia list is a huge honour, I hope that soon these programs are no longer considered the exception, but the norm.

This article originally appeared on BroadAgenda, and can be viewed here.

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