Bankstown’s first female MP, Tania Mihailuk, has been representing a large population of Middle Eastern Australians in the community since her election into public office in 2004.
As a working mother of three and wife, Ms. Mihailuk calls herself a feminist with traditional values and her vision for a progressive society is a hope to see more young Australian women of Middle Eastern descent in leadership positions.
“I was the first female councillor to represent Bankstown’s Eastward, I know it’s hard enough for women to enter politics and even harder for those who come from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, and so I can imagine how hard it is for women from a Middle Eastern background.
We see many men of Middle Eastern descent in politics, but I’d like to see more women with a voice being active as well. I think there are many cultural barriers within families and within greater society to overcome but it’s time we saw women from Middle Eastern backgrounds showcased as great representatives of their community.”
Ms. Mihailuk, who is the daughter of Russian migrants, believes that there is an entrenched social perception of working mothers that makes it difficult for them to break through glass ceilings to gain leadership positions in the workplace.
“You wouldn’t believe the amount of times I have attended a business function or meeting only to be asked, ‘who is looking after your children?’ If there is one question that drives me nuts it’s that question. We don’t ask men that question, so why do we insist on asking women?” she said.
In explaining her experience in politics, Ms. Mihailuk pointed out that stereotyping women based on traditional roles is what sets them back from their male counterparts, who she says are never subjected to the same judgments.
“The most difficult thing for former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was that her hardest critics were women and my experience in politics is the same. I think, as women, we need to be more supportive of each other and not make judgments on people’s social roles.
Some women, like me, prefer traditional roles like being a mother and wife. Meanwhile, others like Julia don’t [prefer traditional roles] and that’s fine too. We should not judge women on their life choices but on the contribution they make to society.”
Ms. Mihailuk says she is using her role as Bankstown MP to help change negative perceptions and promote multicultural harmony.
“I encourage young women from all backgrounds to value their education first, to be financially independent and aspire to make a positive change.”