17 young women are taking over Parliament today - here's why

A squad of 18 young women from around Australia set to 'take over" parliament house tomorrow, when they step into the seat of an MP for the day, carrying out one concrete decision, presenting a report on gender equality in politics and potentially speaking to parliament. They are also looking to pass a motion to recreate the position of Minister for Youth. (left) Ashleigh Streeter and  Caitlin Figueiredo. Photo by Karleen Minney.
A squad of 18 young women from around Australia set to 'take over" parliament house tomorrow, when they step into the seat of an MP for the day, carrying out one concrete decision, presenting a report on gender equality in politics and potentially speaking to parliament. They are also looking to pass a motion to recreate the position of Minister for Youth. (left) Ashleigh Streeter and Caitlin Figueiredo. Photo by Karleen Minney.

Caitlin??? Figueiredo??? still remembers the first time she told her class she wanted to be Prime Minister of Australia. Her teacher told her to sit down; she was a girl and girls needed "more realistic" dreams.

Now 22, the Canberra law student runs her own social enterprise, helps oversee Australian projects for the UN and sits on various boards and charities. Last year, she was named a Global Changemaker by Michelle Obama at the White House.

On Wednesday, Ms Figueiredo joined forces with 16 other local girls who share her ambitions for high office in a "takeover" of Parliament House.

"We're here to send a message, we are powerful," Ms Figueiredo said, as the team gathered on the lawns of the House Wednesday morning.

The young women, aged between 17 and 30, each hijacked the seat of a federal MP, as part of a global "takeover" in parliaments and boardrooms across the world to celebrate International Day of the Girl.

In Australia, women hold less than a third of all seats in parliament, and fewer than a quarter of ministerial portfolios.

New research from Plan International, which organised the takeover, shows half of young Australian women see their gender as their biggest barrier to becoming leaders.

The charity surveyed more than 1700 girls aged 10-17 and 530 men and women between 18 and 25 years of age about their views on gender equality and politics as well as their aspirations.

While two thirds of 15-17 year old girls aspired to be leaders, by the age of 22-25, less than half of women shared those goals compared to 60 per cent of men the same age.

Ms Figueiredo spearheaded Wednesday's action, along with Ashleigh Streeter, 23, to close the "dream gap" for Australian girls and demand a gender balance in parliament. The pair said it was more than a token photo opportunity, and each woman carried out at least one concrete decision by the day's end on behalf of their MP, as well as helping to write speeches, draft motions and raise questions in Question Time. After stopping by the party rooms of Labor and the Greens, the team presented Plan International's newly released 'She Can Lead' reportto the Prime Minister and sat down with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop.

So where would they start if they were in the top job?

"I'd ban sexist advertising and commentary in the media," said 18-year-old Asha Clementi, who stepped into the shoes of Xenophon Team MP Rebekha Sharkie for the day.

According to Plan's report, most young women agree, with fewer than one in four women believing men and women were treated equally by the media and 82 per cent saying more attention was placed on their looks than men's.

Ms Clementi also suggested introducing policies to speed companies towards closing the pay gap. At the current rate, the Year 12 student will likely be retired before gender parity is achieved in the workforce.

"I have so much I have to say to them, I hope I get enough time," she said.

The tampon tax, climate change, recycling and domestic violence policy were also key areas in the takeover team's sights. Like half of the girls surveyed by Plan, all 16 named gender equality as the change they wanted to see in the world.

Ms Figueiredo said she was disappointed that, after reaching out to more than 100 parliamentarians and "months and months of unreturned phone calls", no government minister followed through on an invitation to join the takeover.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham had previously agreed to take part before pulling out due to a "misrepresentation", leaving just four men to participate, including Greens leader Richard Di Natale and Nick Xenophon.

"Originally, I wanted it to be 18 Liberal men to make it equal," Ms Figeuredo said.

"If you look at who we're taking over, it's mostly women helping women."

Plan's report found 78 per cent of girls aged 15-17 thought it could be easier for them to lead if they got more support from boys.

But twice as many young men as young women thought women should focus on their family life before political aspirations.

Forty-one per cent of women listed a desire to start a family as a roadblock to entering politics, compared to just 11 per cent of men, and more than half thought it was harder for women to become politicians than men.

Young men were half as likely as women to say female politicians were treated unfairly by the media or talked over by their male colleagues.

Both men and women thought women were better at traditional "women's work" such as childcare, secretarial work, nursing and stay-at-home parenting, and less capable than men at jobs such as a police chief, pilot, firefighter, plumber or construction worker.

Most young women thought leaders needed to be confident, brave and ambitious, though fewer than half described themselves as having those traits.

Young men also saw confidence as important to leadership but less tha half said they felt confident, and fewer men than women thought of themselves as hard-working or ambitious.

Ms Figueiredo said the team were working to continue a mentoring program between the girls and their MPs. Next week, they hoped to table a motion in Parliament to create a Minister for Youth.

"If that gets through, it will be the first time since 2013 that young people have had a voice in parliament," Ms Figueiredo said.

Three quarters of all men and women surveyed said they wanted to see more young people in politics.

MPs who took part in Wednesday's takeover included:

The Hon Gai Brodtmann MP [Labor]

Sen Richard Di Natale [Greens]

Emma Husar MP [Labor]

Dr Anne Aly MP [Labor]

Sharon Claydon MP [Labor]

Senator Janet Rice [Green]

Senator Nick Xenophon [NXT]

Senator Lee Rhiannon [Greens]

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young [Greens]

Senator Claire Moore [Labor]

Senator Linda Reynolds [Liberal]

Senator Skye Kakoschie-Moore [NXT]

The Hon Dr Andrew Leigh MP [Labor]

Julie Owens MP [Labor]

Senator Stirling Griff [NXT]

Senator The Hon Linda Burney [Labor]

Rebekha Sharkie MP [NXT]

This story 17 young women are taking over Parliament today - here's why first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.