No, COVID-19 vaccines don’t affect women’s fertility


Michelle Wise, University of AucklandSome women are holding off on being vaccinated against COVID-19 because of concerns the jab could affect their fertility, at times taking to social media to voice their concerns.

Anti-vaccination campaigners appear to be fuelling these fears and misleading women into thinking the vaccine may affect their chance of getting pregnant now or in future, or increase their risk of a miscarriage.

But there is no research evidence to support these claims. The science shows COVID vaccines have no effect on fertility, do not impact the chance of a miscarriage, and are safe and effective while pregnant.

Read more:
Should pregnant women have a COVID vaccine? The evidence says it’s safe and effective

COVID-19, however, can cause severe disease in pregnant women. Currently one in six of the most critically ill COVID patients in the UK are unvaccinated pregnant women.

Where did the fertility myth come from?

Myths about the vaccine affecting fertility can be tracked back to websites in the United States, which highlighted a claim by a European doctor in December 2020, while the vaccine was in Phase 3 trials.

In a blog post which has since been deleted, he hypothesised there were proteins in the placenta which have similarities with the spike protein in the virus. He thought antibodies in the vaccines that block the spike protein might also attach to the placenta.

But the viral and placental proteins are not similar enough that we would expect this to happen; studies have now confirmed this.

Read more:
Pregnant or worried about infertility? Get vaccinated against COVID-19

What else does the science say?

Since the vaccine rollout began, six billion doses of COVID vaccines have been administered around the world, including Pfizer and Moderna, the recommended vaccines in Australia for under-60s, including pregnant women. Pfizer is the only vaccine offered in New Zealand.

There has not been a concurrent epidemic of infertility nor miscarriage.

Young woman in mask, outside in the sun, smiling.
No fertility-related safety issues have been detected.

Several populations of women have been followed up after vaccination. Women who have received COVID vaccinations have no difference in markers of ovarian follicle (egg) quality compared to unvaccinated women.

Studies have demonstrated no difference in embryo implantation rate for women who had received vaccination against COVID prior to having in vitro fertilisation (IVF) compared to unvaccinated women.

Studies have also looked for an effect of the vaccine on male fertility. These have demonstrated no change in sperm volume, concentration, motility (the ability to swim the right way) and total motile sperm count when comparing samples taken before and after COVID vaccination.

Read more:
COVID-19 could cause male infertility and sexual dysfunction – but vaccines do not

What about in pregnancy?

Studies have also looked specifically at miscarriage. If antibodies against the spike did cause problems for the placenta, we would expect to see miscarriages. This is not the case.

The science is also clear the vaccine is safe in pregnancy. In studies of pregnant women in Canada and the United States who received the vaccine, minor side effects were similar to non-pregnant adults, and pregnancy complications and baby outcomes were similar to the background rate.

Pregnant woman in mask sits on bedroom floor, looking at laptop.
Pregnant women experience the same minor side effects as the rest of the population.

Research has shown there’s additional benefit of vaccination in pregnancy, with the baby gaining some protection against COVID. Antibodies have been found in cord blood and in breastmilk, suggesting temporary protection for babies (called passive immunity).

Getting vaccinated at any stage of pregnancy will provide this additional benefit.

What about future fertility?

The COVID vaccine – like every other vaccine you received during childhood, and like the flu vaccine that you get every flu season – induces your body to create an immune response. The components of the vaccine itself are broken down by the body within hours.

In other words, COVID vaccines don’t stay in your body. After vaccination, you are left with antibodies ready to act in case you get exposed to the COVID virus in the future. There is no link with infertility or miscarriage.

Read more:
No, COVID vaccines don’t stay in your body for years

Women who are pregnant, planning a pregnancy or are concerned about their future fertility might still have concerns or questions about getting a COVID vaccination. If this is you, talk to your own doctor or midwife who can discuss the science with you and answer any questions in a non-judgemental way.

Dr Erena Browne, Registrar in O&G at Auckland District Health Board, co-authored this article.The Conversation

Michelle Wise, Senior Lecturer, Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, University of Auckland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

No permanent settlement for Afghans who did not come ‘the right way’: Morrison

Michelle Grattan, University of CanberraScott Morrison has said Afghans in Australia on temporary protection visas who came by boat will not be given permanent residence.

These people had not come “the right way”, Morrison told a news conference on Wednesday.

“I want to be very clear about that. I want to send a very clear message to people smugglers in the region that nothing’s changed.

“I will not give you a product to sell and take advantage of people’s misery. My government won’t do it. We never have and we never will.”

Government sources say there are more than 4500 Afghans in Australia on temporary protection visas, almost all of whom arrived by boat.

Although Morrison is adamant they will not get permanent residency, the government is making it clear there will be no attempt to return them to Afghanistan as things stand.

Opposition leader Anthony Albanese is among those who have called for them to be granted permanent residence.

The government announced on Wednesday an initial 3,000 humanitarian places would be allocated to Afghan nationals within Australia’s 13,750 annual program which runs over a financial year.

Immigration Minister Alex Hawke said the government would give Afghan nationals “first priority” within the offshore humanitarian program. The priorities would be family members of Australians, and those facing persecution including women and girls, the Hazara, and other vulnerable groups.

Some 8,500 Afghans have been resettled in Australia since 2013 under the humanitarian program.

Hawke said the government anticipated the initial allocation would increase further over the course of the year.

Morrison stressed: “We will only be resettling people through our official humanitarian program going through official channels.

“We will not be allowing people to enter Australia illegally, even at this time.

“Our policy has not changed. We will be supporting Afghans who have legitimate claims through our official and legitimate processes. We will not be providing that pathway to those who would seek to come any other way. That is a very important message. The government’s policy has not changed, will not change.”

As the government scrambles to evacuate people who assisted Australian forces in Afghanistan, Australia’s first evacuation flight from Kabul took only 26 people. Morrison said they included Australian citizens, Afghan nationals with visas, and one foreign official who had been working with an international agency.

The Afghans being brought to Australia in the evacuation are not included in the 3000.

Morrison emphasised the difficulty of assessing those Afghans seeking to come to Australia on the grounds of having helped Australian forces.

“They may have worked for us four years ago or five years ago. And we knew where they were then.

“And we may not have heard from them for a very long time. And we don’t know what they’ve been doing in that intervening period in what has been a very unstable situation.

“So it isn’t just a matter of people coming along and presenting, you know, a payslip from the Australian government saying, ‘I used to work for you’. I wish it were that simple.”

The Refugee Council of Australia said in a statement: “Permanent protection is needed for the 4300 Afghans on temporary protection visas, recognising that members of this group are unlikely to be able to return in safety for many years to come and need the assurance that they can continue to live in Australia without the constant fear of forced return.”The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

The Taliban wants the world’s trust. To achieve this, it will need to make some difficult choices

Niamatullah Ibrahimi, La Trobe University and Safiullah Taye, Deakin University“We want the world to trust us.”

In the Taliban’s first press conference since seizing control of Afghanistan, this message was intended to allay fears of what a return to power could mean for the country.

In the wake of the Taliban’s stunning sweep across Afghanistan, attention is now focused on whether it can translate its rapid military gains to a political victory. This would require negotiating a governing system that can achieve both domestic and international legitimacy.

The movement’s media-savvy leadership has attempted to downplay fears of the return of its former repressive regime. However, the Taliban has not yet spelled out an alternative political system, aside from offering vague promises of pardons for government and military personnel and that women could continue to participate in society in accordance with sharia law.

Read more:
‘I feel suffocated’: Afghans are increasingly hopeless, but there’s still a chance to preserve some rights

In Kabul, which remains under the watchful eyes of the world, the group has largely shown restraint while pursuing an active media campaign. However, there are reports of summary executions, revenge killings of government officials and soldiers, forced marriages of young girls with Taliban fighters, and communications disruptions coming from other provinces.

For many Afghans who remember the previous Taliban regime in the late 1990s, trust will need to be earned.

Who are the Taliban?

The Taliban first emerged in 1994 during the anarchy and civil war that followed the collapse of the pro-Soviet government of President Najibullah in April 1992.

After it took control of Kabul, the movement tortured and killed the president, hanging his body from a pole, and declared a new government, the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan.

The group attracted international headlines for its violent suppression of women and minorities like the Shi’a Hazaras, as well as the restriction of all civil and political rights. It banned women and girls from attending school and joining the workforce, and prohibited music and photography.

The Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan was led by Mullah Muhammad Omar, a local religious figure with no notable reputation in Islamic law or Afghan politics.

Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar
The rarely photographed Taliban leader Mullah Muhammad Omar.

While the Taliban primarily sought to establish its rule over Afghanistan, it also attracted many foreign jihadist groups — most prominently Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. Following the disintegration of the Soviet Union, these groups had shifted their focus to the west, particularly the United States, as their main enemy.

The Taliban relied on brutal and excessive force to dominate much of Afghanistan from 1996–2001. The movement did not develop governance institutions that could provide for political representation — such as establishing a parliament — or perform basic state functions such as delivering social services to the people.

As a result of its repressive policies, it turned Afghanistan into a pariah state. It was only recognised by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. These countries saw the group as a proxy to limit the increasing influence of India, Iran and Russia, which were providing support to a coalition of anti-Taliban forces.

Read more:
Afghanistan only the latest US war to be driven by deceit and delusion

The Taliban’s fundamental weaknesses led to its rapid disintegration following the US-led military intervention in 2001.

The movement’s key leaders then fled to Pakistan, where they launched an insurgency against the new Afghan government and US-led NATO forces. After the death of its founder, Muhammad Omar, in 2013, the Taliban selected his deputy, Mullah Akhtar Mohammad, to replace him. He was killed in a US drone attack in 2016.

Since then, Haibatullah Akhunzada has been leading the group, though it has been years since he’s been seen in public. (There were even rumours he died last year due to COVID, which the Taliban denied.)

Much of the international focus has instead been on the leaders in the Taliban’s political office in Doha. This was set up in 2013 to facilitate direct negotiations between the Taliban, the United States and the Afghan government.

The deputy head of the Taliban Political Office.
The deputy head of the Taliban Political Office, Abdul Salam Hanafi (centre), during peace talks between the Afghan government and the Taliban in Doha last September.
Hussein Sayed/AP

Can the Taliban govern with legitimacy?

In its attempts to establish a new government, the Taliban is likely to face some difficult choices.

First, an attempt to restore the Islamic Emirate is likely to cost it international recognition, legitimacy and aid. This will, in turn, weaken its prospect of consolidating its hold internally and limit its capacity to govern.

The challenges facing the group are immense. Afghanistan is on the verge of a humanitarian crisis, exacerbated by COVID-19, a severe drought and a looming hunger emergency. The World Food Program says malnutrition levels are soaring and some 2 million children need nutrition treatment to survive.

The Taliban also needs revenue. The previous Afghan government was heavily reliant on foreign aid. But according to a recent UN report, the Taliban largely finances itself with criminal enterprises, including drug trafficking, opium production, extortion, and kidnapping for ransom. The UN estimates its annual income as anywhere from US$300 million (A$413 million) to US$1.6 billion (A$2.2 billion).

The Taliban spokesperson said in his press conference this week that Afghanistan will no longer be an opium-producing country. Without significant foreign aid, however, the question remains how the Taliban would sustain its emirate if it abandons its main source of income.

Second, if the Taliban embraces a more pluralistic and inclusive political system with fundamental human rights, especially with respect to women, it may face opposition from its more radical factions and rank-and-file members, who have spent years fighting to restore its emirate.

Another important constituency that the Taliban will risk alienating is its regional and global jihadist allies. These groups are now celebrating its victory, but they may turn against the Tablian if it is seen as compromising on its core ideological principles.

The movement has so far avoided dealing with these questions through vague rhetoric. But now it is in control, these issues are becoming urgent priorities.The Conversation

Niamatullah Ibrahimi, Lecturer in International Relations, La Trobe University and Safiullah Taye, Phd. Candidate and Research Assistan, Deakin University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As the Taliban returns, 20 years of progress for women looks set to disappear overnight

Michael Reynolds/EPA/AAP

Azadah Raz Mohammad, The University of Melbourne and Jenna Sapiano, Monash UniversityAs the Taliban takes control of the country, Afghanistan has again become an extremely dangerous place to be a woman.

Even before the fall of Kabul on Sunday, the situation was rapidly deteriorating, exacerbated by the planned withdrawal of all foreign military personnel and declining international aid.

In the past few weeks alone, there have been many reports of casualties and violence. Meanwhile, hundreds of thousands of people have fled their homes. The United Nations Refugee Agency says about 80% of those who have fled since the end of May are women and children.

What does the return of the Taliban mean for women and girls?

The history of the Taliban

The Taliban took control of Afghanistan in 1996, enforcing harsh conditions and rules following their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

A crowd of Taliban fighters and supporters.
The Taliban have been taking back control of Afghanistan with the withdrawal of foreign troops.
Rahmut Gul/AP/AAP

Under their rule, women had to cover themselves and only leave the house in the company of a male relative. The Taliban also banned girls from attending school, and women from working outside the home. They were also banned from voting.

Women were subject to cruel punishments for disobeying these rules, including being beaten and flogged, and stoned to death if found guilty of adultery. Afghanistan had the highest maternal morality rate in the world.

The past 20 years

With the fall of the Taliban in 2001, the situation for women and girls vastly improved, although these gains were partial and fragile.

Women now hold positions as ambassadors, ministers, governors, and police and security force members. In 2003, the new government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, which requires states to incorporate gender equality into their domestic law.

Read more:
Afghan government collapses and Taliban on verge of controlling country: 5 essential reads

The 2004 Afghan Constitution holds that “citizens of Afghanistan, man and woman, have equal rights and duties before the law”. Meanwhile, a 2009 law was introduced to protect women from forced and under-age marriage, and violence.

According to Human Rights Watch, the law saw a rise in the reporting, investigation and, to a lesser extent, conviction, of violent crimes against women and girls.

While the country has gone from having almost no girls at school to tens of thousands at university, the progress has been slow and unstable. UNICEF reports of the 3.7 million Afghan children out of school some 60% are girls.

A return to dark days

Officially, Taliban leaders have said they want to grant women’s rights “according to Islam”. But this has been met with great scepticism, including by women leaders in Afghanistan. Indeed, the Taliban has given every indication they will reimpose their repressive regime.

In July, the United Nations reported the number of women and girls killed and injured in the first six months of the year nearly doubled compared to the same period the year before.

In the areas again under Taliban control, girls have been banned from school and their freedom of movement restricted. There have also been reports of forced marriages.

Afghan woman looking out a window.
Afghan women and human rights groups have been sounding the alarm over the Taliban’s return.
Hedayatullah Amid/EPA/AAP

Women are putting burqas back on and speak of destroying evidence of their education and life outside the home to protect themselves from the Taliban.

As one anonymous Afghan woman writes in The Guardian:

I did not expect that we would be deprived of all our basic rights again and travel back to 20 years ago. That after 20 years of fighting for our rights and freedom, we should be hunting for burqas and hiding our identity.

Many Afghans are angered by the return of the Taliban and what they see as their abandonment by the international community. There have been protests in the streets. Women have even taken up guns in a rare show of defiance.

But this alone will not be enough to protect women and girls.

The world looks the other way

Currently, the US and its allies are engaged in frantic rescue operations to get their citizens and staff out of Afghanistan. But what of Afghan citizens and their future?

US President Joe Biden remains largely unmoved by the Taliban’s advance and the worsening humanitarian crisis. In an August 14 statement, he said:

an endless American presence in the middle of another country’s civil conflict was not acceptable to me.

And yet, the US and its allies — including Australia — went to Afghanistan 20 years ago on the premise of removing the Taliban and protecting women’s rights. However, most Afghans do not believe they have experienced peace in their lifetimes.

Read more:
Taliban ‘has not changed,’ say women facing subjugation in areas of Afghanistan under its extremist rule

As the Taliban reassert complete control over the country, the achievements of the past 20 years, especially those made to protect women’s rights and equality, are at risk if the international community once again abandons Afghanistan.

Women and girls are pleading for help as the Taliban advance. We hope the world will listen.The Conversation

Azadah Raz Mohammad, PhD student, The University of Melbourne and Jenna Sapiano, Australia Research Council Postdoctoral Research Associate and Lecturer, Monash Gender Peace & Security Centre, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should pregnant women have a COVID vaccine? The evidence says it’s safe and effective


Hannah Dahlen, Western Sydney UniversityHaving a baby brings enough stress and uncertainty without having to deal with a pandemic. Added to that is the difficult decision to have a recently developed vaccine or not.

Last week, pregnant women of all ages were added to Australia’s priority phase 1b of the COVID vaccine rollout. Pregnant women are now eligible for Pfizer.

But some are unclear if they should get vaccinated. Our survey (still ongoing) of 519 women who had a baby 12 months ago asked their intention to be vaccinated. We found 62% said they would, 12% wouldn’t and 26% were unsure, mainly due to fears over safety during pregnancy and breastfeeding.

Increasingly, international evidence supports the safety of COVID vaccines for pregnant women and demonstrates it is effective at preventing severe disease. Here’s what it says so far.

Read more:
Generation COVID: pregnancy, birth and postnatal life in the pandemic

What does the new advice say?

The peak medical body for Australian obstetricians and gynaecologists recently updated its advice in a joint statement with the Australian Technical Advisory Group on Immunisation (ATAGI), the government’s vaccine advisory group.

The two groups recommend:

pregnant women are routinely offered Pfizer mRNA vaccine (Cominarty) at any stage of pregnancy […] because the risk of severe outcomes from COVID-19 is significantly higher for pregnant women and their unborn baby.

There are also other benefits. During pregnancy, antibodies that pass through the umbilical cord may offer protection to the baby. We don’t know how long this protection lasts.

The statement also recommends breastfeeding women should get vaccinated. Evidence suggests antibodies pass to the baby through breastmilk and may protect the baby.

Why the change?

The main reason the advice has changed is new data from recently published studies.

A study from the United States of 827 pregnant women who had mRNA vaccines such as Pfizer, mostly in their third trimester, found no safety concerns.

The rates of miscarriage (12.6%), stillbirth (one baby), preterm birth (9.4%) small babies (3.2%) and abnormalities in the baby (2.2%) were similar to what would be expected in an unvaccinated group of women.

This study is still under way and includes nearly 4,000 pregnant women in total, many of whom were yet to give birth when this paper was published.

Read more:
Should I get the COVID-19 vaccine while pregnant or breastfeeding? Experts explain the safety, evidence and clinical trials

In July, a paper from Israel looked at 7,530 pregnant women who were vaccinated and 7,530 unvaccinated pregnant women.
Rates of COVID were higher among unvaccinated pregnant women (202) than vaccinated pregnant women (118).

Of the pregnant women who were vaccinated, 68 reported possible vaccine-related side effects, such as headache, body aches, pain at the injection site, but none were severe or prolonged or different to non-pregnant people. There was no difference in any other pregnancy outcomes.

Pregnant woman in a mask rolls up her sleeve to be vaccinated.
The research so far hasn’t detected any safety concerns.

What about clinical trials?

The studies above looked at what was happening in real world data, rather than testing the vaccine in trials, where people don’t know if they got the vaccine or a placebo (disguised as a vaccine).

Pregnant women are often excluded from vaccine trials. This is because vaccinating pregnant women has the potential to affect both mother and baby, and testing medications on them rightly makes us nervous.

But while animal studies of COVID vaccines show no fertility or pregnancy effects, we need more than mouse models to test safety and efficacy in humans. Calls are therefore growing for pregnant women to be involved in trials.

One such trial of Pfizer involving pregnant women is currently under way but only started in February this year so data won’t be available yet.

Real world data from the UK and US

In the UK, the professional bodies for midwives, obstetricians and gynaecologists have expressed concern about the effect easing restrictions will have on pregnant women.

Around 58% of pregnant women in the UK have declined the vaccine. The main reason for declining is waiting for more evidence to reassure them it’s safe for their baby.

Read more:
Pregnant women at increased risk of severe COVID – new study

One in ten pregnant women admitted to hospital with COVID symptoms in the UK go to intensive care. These women are more likely to have a baby born early (preterm), develop high blood pressure, need a caesarean during labour and become very ill, particularly after 28 weeks.

More than 100 pregnant women have been admitted to hospital in the UK in the past couple of weeks with COVID; none had received both doses of the vaccine and five had one dose.

Hospital trolley in a corridor.
Unvaccinated pregnant women are more likely to be admitted to hospital than those who have been immunised.

Meanwhile in the US, more than 130,000 pregnant women have received a COVID vaccine to date, and the data so far is reassuring. Side effects such as getting a sore arm or headache or feeling tired are common but don’t appear to affect the pregnancy.

What else do pregnant women need to know?

The Pfizer vaccine is recommended in Australia for pregnant women and doesn’t contain live coronavirus or additional ingredients harmful to pregnant women.

It’s now one of three vaccines offered in pregnancy, along with the whooping cough (pertussis) and influenza vaccines.

Read more:
Vaccines to expect when you’re expecting, and why

Pregnant women are higher risk of becoming very unwell with COVID-19 if they:

  • have underlying medical issues such as high blood pressure, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, immune problems
  • are overweight
  • are over 35 years of age
  • in their final trimester.

So getting vaccinated before 28 weeks will offer protection for mother and baby in the riskiest time.

If you are pregnant, keep in mind no vaccine is 100% effective, so it’s important to continue social distancing, wearing masks when needed, and keeping up good hand hygiene.

The decision to get vaccinated as a pregnant woman is not an easy one. The decision should be the woman’s and that decision should be informed and free of pressure or misinformation.The Conversation

Hannah Dahlen, Professor of Midwifery, Associate Dean Research and HDR, Midwifery Discipline Leader, Western Sydney University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

What is Barnaby Joyce’s ‘women’ problem? And why does it matter?

Narelle Miragliotta, Monash UniversityThere has been a mixed reaction to Barnaby Joyce’s return to leader of the federal National Party and deputy prime minister. Even some within his own party have expressed concern at his return to centre stage.

There are multiple reasons why Joyce’s restoration has failed to garner greater enthusiasm.

One concern relates to the optics of a leadership change. These events are rarely well received by the public and often lead to in-fighting and instability. They also tend to further strain public trust in the political class, particularly when the politicians involved have issued full-throated denials that a spill is imminent.

A second reason is linked to Joyce’s populist leadership style and more strident policy rhetoric on coal and climate change. Here the concern is that Joyce’s presence will exacerbate tensions within the party room, and also scramble relations with its coalition partner, the Liberals.

The third reason is the circumstances that occasioned Joyce’s resignation from the National’s leadership in 2018.

Joyce stood down voluntarily owing to a credible, but unresolved, sexual harassment allegation (which Joyce denies), and over serious concerns about the propriety of his conduct with his now partner but then staffer, Vikki Campion.

Read more:
Grattan on Friday: Blowin’ in the wind with Barnaby

The male culture of politics

Joyce’s (re)ascension signals that the Nationals are somewhat inured to growing public concerns over the unhealthy gender dynamics in parliament, even when the voices raising these uncomfortable truths are from within the party.

One of the most strikingly apparent and longstanding gender inequities in politics is the under-representation of women in Australian parliaments. Despite Australia’s strong democratic credentials, it remains one of the great laggards on achieving gender parity in parliament.

In recent decades, the problem has been especially pronounced among parties of the mainstream political right. They have consistently rejected the implementation of pre-selection quotas in favour of training programs targeted at aspiring women candidates. Although these programs can be of some help, research shows they are a less effective way of redressing under-representation.

The effects of the reliance on so-called merit-based pre-selection is especially striking in relation to the Nationals. Its record on electing women to Australian parliaments is particularly poor, a situation that academic Marian Sawer – three decades ago – attributed to the greater persistence of “sex-role conservatism” in rural Australia. Sawer proposed that the National Country Party (as the Nationals was known then) reflected this conservatism.

Data compiled by Anna Hough from the Australian Parliamentary Library shows the extent to which the party’s conservatism continues to reveal itself with the under-representation of women in Australian lower houses.

Federally, only 13% of Nationals in the House of Representatives are women. This compares to 22% for the Liberals and 43% for ALP.

A similar pattern is apparent in the states where the Nationals have a legislative presence.

In the NSW lower house, only 16.7% of the party’s contingent are women, which is much lower than for the Liberals (32%) and Labor (45.5%).

In Western Australia, while the Nationals are led by a woman (Mia Davies), she is the sole National woman in the Western Australian parliament.

In Victoria, 33% of the party’s number in the Legislative Assembly are women, and it also selected a female deputy leader (Steph Ryan).

The situation in Queensland (LNP) and the Northern Territory (CLP) is complicated because these parties are affiliated to the National and Liberal parties and not strictly divisions of the Nationals. Nevertheless, both the LNP and CLP are kindred National parties.

In the case of the LNP, only 18% of its members in the Legislative Assembly are women, compared to 40% in Labor.

The situation for the CLP is healthier but is still not a record to be admired. While the CLP’s parliamentary party is led by a woman (Lia Finocchiaro), only 38% of its MPs are female.

As Jennifer Curtin and Katrine Beauregard note, women have been “active as ordinary and executive members of the party”. Notwithstanding this achievement, low levels of women in party rooms, and in lower houses particularly – which are practically and symbolically important as the chamber of government – does seriously limit the diversity of perspectives that are represented in policy and law making.

Read more:
Barnaby Joyce’s return, and John Anderson’s loss, is symbolic of a political culture gone awry

Why Joyce’s return makes this situation worse

Joyce has not done much to instil confidence that he has learned anything in his years returned to the backbench.

While acknowledging his faults and remarking that he “hopes” he has “come back a better person”, it is not clear what new insights Joyce gained about the events that caused him to resign, especially given he has no appetite to “dwell on the personal”.

His lack of introspection is perhaps not surprising given how he managed the situation in 2018.

At the time, Joyce was quick to declare that none of the “litany of allegations” levelled against him had been “sustained”. He emphasised that he was stepping aside for the “person in the weatherboard and iron”, and not because it was warranted by his conduct.

The Nationals have calculated they will not pay much of an electoral price for their decision to return him as leader. As the federal president of the National Party, Kay Hull, reasoned:

“[s]ome women may be disappointed but […] the only women that will be voting or not voting for Barnaby Joyce will be the women of New England.

Hull may be right, but there are potentially other costs associated with the party’s actions.

As the smaller party in the coalition, the Nationals have not had to defend their record on gender in the same way as their Liberal counterpart. Joyce’s return will make it increasingly difficult for the Nationals to fly under the radar on this issue. At least, let’s hope that it does.The Conversation

Narelle Miragliotta, Senior Lecturer in Australian Politics, Monash University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.