Participants reflect on their experience and discuss opportunities in politics following the Pathway to Politics Program.

In Australia, women are under-represented across all levels of government, business, civil society and positions of influence. To address this imbalance, the Pathway to Politics Program was developed to encourage more female-identifying people to represent their community and succeed in running for elected office and thrive as political leaders.

UNSW Law and Justice Professor Rosalind Dixon and PhD candidate Elisabeth Perham delivered the inaugural program in New South Wales. 

“Now more than ever, the time has come for Parliament to become more diverse, learn from and listen to women who make up over 50 per cent of the Australian population and almost half of the workforce,” said Professor Justine Nolan, Director of the Australian Human Rights Institute, which supported the Program.

Over 12 weeks, the Program explored the various components of a career in politics including how to run a successful campaign, media training, speech writing, ethics, people management and leadership and public integrity. 

“The Pathways to Politics Program is transforming women's representation at all levels of government. The Division of Equity, Diversity and Inclusion are UNSW is delighted to support the Program and participants. We are excited to see it continue to flourish and change the face of politics in Australia,” said Professor Leisa Sargent, Senior Deputy Dean, UNSW Business School.

Get to know the participants and why they chose this Program

Participants in the Program came from all walks of life, but they all had one common goal –making a positive impact in their community. A number of participants in the Program are running for local government in December 2021.

Emelda Davis decided to enrol in the Pathway to Politics Program to gain the practical skills and knowledge needed to succeed as a political leader. A second generation Australian South Sea Islander, Emelda is currently standing as a candidate for the City of Sydney Council and looks up to Mayor Clover Moore for her continued advocacy to enable local community voices. 

“Reviving local business and community development is a strong policy of the council as well as strategic planning in lowering carbon emissions. Increasing access and development for more affordable housing, parklands, safer bike lanes and walkways across the city while combating over-development of our communities are a few of the priority measures for our city,” she said.

An advocate for women’s rights, equity and equality, Mariam Mourad has worked in many roles in the community service industry for more than 30 years. 

“I am currently the Chief Executive Officer for the Bankstown Women’s Health Centre and the New Fairfield Women’s Health Service. I regularly speak on the issues of women that addresses gender inequality to the different channels of the media. I have the voice and the passion to advocate for Women’s Rights, equity and equality, and I will continue to advocate and strive towards bringing about substantial positive change in women’s health and wellbeing, especially those who are disadvantaged in our community.”

For Georgia Steele, the decision to go into politics was due to current politicians’ lack of interest and support in climate change.

“If you’re not exasperated with the current state of politics in this country, you’re not paying attention. I’m exasperated – in particular, at the lack of action on the climate crisis. So, I’m stepping forward. I believe that community-minded independents are the critical circuit breaker required to force change, in this moment. To ensure, as a country, we take the action necessary and seize the opportunities available on these most pressing matters, and others. The UNSW’s Pathway to Politics Program has been an invaluable experience. It has given me the skills and confidence I need to see this through,” she said.

Born to Greek parents, participant Ellie Robertson is living with a significant physical disability and gets about in a motorised wheelchair. Ellie is now running as an independent candidate in the Liverpool City Council elections in December. She is currently serving on three Liverpool council committees, is a Board Member for Australian Local Government Women’s Association and Southwest Scripture and previously served on the NSW Management Committee of the Animal Justice Party. 

Ellie strongly believes in protecting our environment and wildlife and for better animal welfare standards.  Ellie is also passionate about equal rights for Indigenous Australians and people living with disabilities, particularly women. 

For Sally Sitou, a current doctoral researcher at the University of Sydney, the reason why she chose politics was one shared by many migrant families – one of “sacrifice, hard work and resilience”.  

“What made my family’s story possible was the vision of political leaders to make difficult decisions that were life changing for my family. The promise of a good government is only possible when our political leaders act with courage and compassion. I’d like to make my own contribution to making the lives of those around me better. I want to have done my part in handing over a more sustainable, just and equitable world to my young son and his generation.” 

Prior to that, Sally was an international media adviser at the University of Sydney and an adviser for Federal MP Jason Clare. She also worked internationally for NGOs and AusAID. 

Miriam Makki is the first to graduate from university in her family and is a Commercial Lawyer at top tier firm, Clayton Utz. She holds several leadership positions including on the board of the Multicultural Youth Affairs Network NSW where she has volunteered for the past six years and is currently Chairperson. Miriam is also the President of the Muslim Legal Network (NSW) and sits on a school board in Western Sydney.  

As a first generation Australian, Miriam feels an enormous responsibility and commitment to this country for the privileges that it has given her. 

“I am also cognizant of the gaps and failures we are yet to address, including adequate representation for women, diverse people and first Australians. My goal is to achieve better decisions around policy that are truly reflective of the society we operate in.”

Participant Rebecca Pun is an accomplished investment management professional with more than 20 years of industry experience in Australia and the UK. Rebecca has held senior roles in the world’s largest & most successful investment banks, and boutique investment managers. 

She is passionate about sustainable finance and helps deliver real world solutions for the benefit of current and future generations. Rebecca grew up in the Sutherland Shire of Sydney and lives in the Shire with her young family. She is passionate about her community and seeing her community thrive. 

Minolie Govender has known for a while that she wanted to explore a career in politics, but never thought that she was a good fit. 

“I wasn’t involved in student politics or unions, nor did I have strong connections to a party.

The course taught me how to navigate these things, and recognise what I did have, as a strength – a knowledge of how government works and being a member of a major party. 

I actively sought to build on these strengths and leave the course now with a role in the party and with the pathway to a career in politics much clearer.”

Participant Michelle Bishop is a tourism business operator on the NSW South Coast. Through her advocacy and representation of the tourism industry at all levels of government, Michelle was called on to contribute to policy making and as a key industry stake holder as the tourism industry has dealt with the impacts of bushfires and COVID-19. Having been in several community leadership positions, Michelle was often, both formally and informally, encouraged to nominate as a future political candidate. 

“I participated in the UNSW Pathway to Politics Program to learn more about political systems and as a process to help decide if this was something I wanted to pursue in the future. As I have found out through the Program, the reality of pursuing political candidacy at any level of government requires a lot of planning, time, and support from a broad range of people. 

“If I decide to run in the future, I would be doing it being very well-informed as to what is involved. Through the course I have made a lot of great friends across the political spectrum and look forward to seeing them all representing their communities in the near future. I would recommend the course to anyone interested in being a community representative and entering politics at any level.” 

A few words from the Directors of the Program

“It has been a great privilege getting to know so many wonderful women, from all backgrounds, parties and walks of life, who are thinking about running for public office – and helping them think through their decision and equip them to be more resilient and informed office-holders, should they run and be elected. I feel like I have been on the journey with them over the last three months and feel lucky that we can help deliver this Program at UNSW,” said Professor Dixon, Co-Director of the Program.

“It has been wonderful to be involved in a Program aimed at equipping a diverse range of women from across the political spectrum with skills and knowledge to support their aspirations to run for political office. I believe strongly in the importance of truly representative politics and am excited to see some of our participants run for office in the next months and years. It has been a real pleasure to meet with the group each week over the last three months (particularly once lockdown started!), and to get to know everyone,” said Ms Perham, Co-Director of the Program.

The Pathway to Politics Program for Women is part of a national network of independent programs run by universities in partnership with the Trawalla Foundation and the Women’s Leadership Institute Australia. It is modelled on a program developed by the University of Melbourne in consultation with the Women and Public Policy Program at the Harvard Kennedy School with reference to their long running From Harvard Square to the Oval Office practicum. It is hosted by the Gilbert + Tobin Centre of Public Law at UNSW Law & Justice, with support from the Office of the Deputy Vice-Chancellor Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at UNSW, the Australian Graduate School of Management at the UNSW Business School, the Australian Human Rights Institute, the UNSW Centre for Ideas, and the Social Policy Research Centre at UNSW Arts, Design & Architecture. The NSW program is also supported by the English Family Foundation.