The inauguration of Kamala Harris signals new era of diversity in politics

In October 2020, I wrote an article on the disappointing lack of diversity in the ACT elections. I reflected that “one day, maybe someone like me, a young South Asian woman, will be elected– and that will be a great day for democracy.”

A few days after it was published, I found myself glued to the tv screen as the US election took place. For the first time, I was seeing a woman from a diverse background like mine, in a country similar to mine, centre stage, garnering a majority vote. Of course, Joe Biden was the President people were voting for, but his choice of a woman of colour as his running mate was a huge deal.

There are only a number of days now until Kamala Harris is inaugurated as Vice President of the United States. And as a young Indian Australian in Canberra, with no direct links to the US or their election results, I could not be more excited.

Born and raised in Australia, I am surrounded by whiteness. Even with the pockets of diversity here and there, I have never had every aspect of my identity represented.

The candidates in the ACT election were somewhat diverse, however rarely in more than one aspect. Either they were women, or a person of colour, or belonging to the LGBTQI+ community – I actually do not recall anyone identifying as someone living with a disability. It made me question whether diversity is only socially palatable on that condition – you can only belong to one minority. More than that, and you become too much.

The reality for so many is that our identities are multifaceted, comprising memberships of many groups. Sometimes this may be through choice, but many are definite, unchangeable parts of our being. Intersectionality exists far beyond this in real life, and the groups we belong to create varying degrees of discrimination and privilege. This diversity is important, but is yet to be reflected by those who represent us, and guide the society we live in.

Being a recent law graduate, I am acutely aware of how the law affects our day to day lives. We are governed by the law. We must adhere to the law or suffer the consequences. However, the law is used for more than just regulation. It can be a tool for creating social change and encouraging equity. It can be a tool for building societal acceptance and harmony. It can be used to pull others up.

These laws are primarily made in parliament by elected parliamentarians. Because we live in a democratic country with principles of representative and responsible government, our elected leaders should be just like us – from our community, and representing our shared views and values in Parliament. Were every elected leader a true representative of their electorates, they would push for laws that we wanted and those that were in our best interests.

But this is not observed in practice. Our citizens and our communities are far more diverse than our political representatives. Without reflecting us, knowing our experiences or understanding our intersectional identities, how could we expect our politicians to create the best world for all Australians?

Time and time again, we have seen governments create laws targeting a specific social or ethnic group, claiming the laws are for their benefit, whilst actually having minimal understanding of those groups, or being unwilling to act on advice from said groups.

From terribly translated COVID-19 notices in Melbourne and officers unable to communicate with the members they were policing, to the laws such as the Alcohol Harm Reduction Act 2017 (NT), targeted at Indigenous Australians; we have seen how ignorant and ill-informed governments can have disturbing and devastating impacts on minority communities.

We need intersectionality in our politics to tackle this issue head on.

Instead of making the rich, straight white men in power understand the struggles of minorities, elect minorities who can make those needed changes themselves. This serves not only to ensure that our laws are suitable for all Australians, but also empowers minorities to be involved in decisions which affect them. This representation will encourage more diverse candidates to run, creating a cycle of more inclusivity, acceptance and understanding in our elections.

Seeing Kamala Harris, a woman of South Asian descent, being accepted as the Vice President of the United States invokes hope. She has become the symbol of social progress and unity in diversity. Many people said she broke the glass ceiling – she did– but not just for women. She broke it for ethnic minorities and people with intersectional identities.

Seeing her become normalised and centralised creates hope that there is space in politics for the rest of us, and her existence in that position will hopefully trigger waves that flow on into Australia. Hopefully, this new era will see one of a truly representative and responsible government who are made from our community members with our best interests in mind. No pressure, Kamala!

by Divya Joshi

Divya is a recent ANU Law graduate, with a keen interest in politics and an advocate and activist, focusing on diversity and women’s rights.

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