Sophia Shen was a candidate in the 2012 City of Greater Geelong elections. Her story about the journey is one shared by many women.
I always had a passion to serve the community and I had been involved in many community organisations. I was the President of the Chinese Association of Geelong Inc. and a board member of Diversitat, the Geelong Ethnic Communities Council, but I had no actual campaigning experience. I have always been a very active citizen in community therefore I got onto these committees by recognition and nomination not through campaigning.
When I heard that the Greater Geelong Council had only 25 per cent female councillors and yet there were more than 50 per cent women voters in Geelong, I thought women should have an equal say in local government. I come from a migrant and ethnic background and I thought we needed a voice too. So I thought I would have a go.
Greater Geelong City Council ran a Women in Local Democracy (WILD) workshop for women to step up for election; I went along to have a look. I had no real plan to participate in the election, but at the workshop there were some guest speakers who were previous councillors and most of them were like me without any campaign experience before election. So then I began to feel inspired to have a go, although I still wasn’t quite sure.
Around June last year, I was invited to a workshop that the Victorian Women’s Immigrant and Refugee Coalition (VWIRC) organised. There were lots of practical activities, we could be matched with a mentor to help us in the campaign and there were lots of role plays. I began to feel more confident and it was then that I decided to run.
I wouldn’t have nominated myself without the support from these two groups (WILD and the VWIRC). It would have been impossible. I needed to really understand the local community, as well as the process for election. Candidates who come from ethnic communities sometimes have lots of disadvantages; they need more support. But I always believe if you truly have passion to serve, the residents will vote for you as soon as people get to know you and trust you.
I learnt the skills and the knowledge to campaign. My confidence really grew. I used to be so shy in public speaking.
I delivered my first political speech in Springvale Town Hall at one of the VWIRC workshops and that really helped me when I went out campaigning. It also enhanced my skills in dealing with the public and the media.
Although I didn’t get elected, I went well in the campaign. I received the highest percentage of first preference votes. I didn’t fully understand the preferencing system, although they talked about the importance of this at the workshops, I didn’t listen but now I know if you want to win an election, you have to work within the system.
Everyone talks about the gender gap and the need for different voices in council, but this is all impossible unless there are the resources and strong support from government otherwise it is all just TALK