Ruth McGowan OAM, WFEA EQUIP training partner

There are dozens of political biographies and autobiographies written by, and about, Australian politicians. The vast majority of these tomes reflect the lives of male politicians, their achievements and musings as retired Federal MPs. 

This blog is not about them.

As an activist supporting gender equality in politics, I am fascinated by books ABOUT women in politics and books written BY women on politics. 

I am drawn to books that unpack the experiences of women who have ‘stepped into the arena’ of public office. When I read these stories, I am inspired by their dreams and their courageous approach to personal and political challenges. I admire how they have dealt with what former MP Julie Bishop called ‘the big swinging dicks’ and male egos that inevitably populate politics.  

If you seek drama, humour, pathos, tragedy, wisdom, and courage, it’s all here in these recently published must-read political books on my shelf.

Autobiographies by current and former women politicians

1. Cathy Goes to Canberra – Cathy McGowan (Independent)

Cathy made history when she won the previously safe Liberal seat of Indi as an Independent in 2013 and 2016. An inspiring story of how a community backed, independent woman harnessed a tribe of volunteers into a movement and did the unthinkable of winning a safe seat, twice. A great example of a sister doing it for herself.  

Read mood: When you want to be inspired that politics can be done differently.   

2. Power Play – Julia Banks (Liberal then Independent)

After a successful legal and corporate career, Julia won the ‘unwinnable seat’ for the Liberals in 2016 helping them secure government. Following the infamous Liberal leadership coup in 2018, she took a stand against what she described as an increasingly ‘toxic’ workplace and moved to the cross bench as an Independent.

Read mood: When you need extra stamina to smash a patriarchal culture.

3. TOO MIGRANT TOO MUSLIM TOO LOUD – Mehreen Faruqi (Greens)

The title is a feisty retort to the toxic trolls, misogynists and racists who have tried to tell Mehreen that she was not suitable to be a state and then federal politician. Her story of diversity in Australian politics is told with integrity, compassion, and justice.

Read mood: When you need to fight the insurmountable.   

4. Sex, Lies and Question Time – Kate Ellis (ALP)

An MP for 16 years, Kate tells the shocking and sometimes heartbreaking experience of being a young female politician, mother, and Minister as well as the policy wins ultimately making it worthwhile. It includes the stories of other women MPs on the general themes of what it’s really like to be a female politician in federal parliament.

Read mood: When you wonder if it is all worth it.

5. Sex, Drugs, and the Electoral Role – Fiona Patten (Reason Party Leader)

I had to include this book not just for the best title ever, but because when Fiona wanted to advocate on issues she was passionate about, she started her own party (the Sex Party, later REASON). This is a cracking story about how radical advocacy and persistence deliver action through political representation.

Read Mood: When your perspective on dealing with ‘skeletons in in the closet’ need checking.

6. Women and Leadership – Julia Gillard & Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala

When Australia’s only female PM joins with an outstanding international leader, former Nigerian Minister and now Director-General of the WTO, the resulting discussion on the impact of gender on women’s leadership is fascinating, enlightening and wise.

Read Mood: When you need advice from the lives of outstanding women leaders.

Other recommended reading on power and politics

7. The seven Necessary Sins for Women and Girls – Mona Eltahawy

Searing advice for women seeking to step up and disrupt patriarchal privilege. The chapters on Power and Ambition are essential reading for women seeking to enter politics. 

8. How to Win an Election – Chris Wallace

A thoughtful analysis of how Federal ALP lost the ‘unlosable election’ in 2019. Details the ten elements a political leader and political parties need to succeed.

9. From Secret Ballot to Democracy Sausage, how Australia got compulsory voting – Judith Brett

If you thought Australian democracy was dry, this engaging and fascinating book will change your mind. A fascinating history of our unique democratic processes, including the vital role of women in designing our electoral system.

10. Get Elected; a step-by-step guide to winning public office, local, state, and federal

Lastly, if reading these inspiring and fascinating stack of books makes you think about standing for public office, grab a copy of my book, available here.

Ruth McGowan OAM is a gender equity and local government consultant and valued training partner with WFEA Australia. With CEO Licia Heath, she delivers the flagship EQUIP workshops throughout Australia to support women to stand for public office at the local, state and federal level.