Australia's former PM says women 'have less capacity for politics'
John Howard, Australia's long-serving former conservative prime minister, has sparked debate after claiming that women have less "capacity" to enter politics because they are too busy caring for children and will always be outnumbered by male MPs.
"I'm not sure that you will ever have a 50/50 thing because it's a fact of society that the caring role - whatever people may say about it and whatever the causes are - women play a significantly greater part of filling the caring role in our communities, which inevitably will place some limits on their capacity," Mr Howard said.
Anticipating a backlash, he admitted that some people would regard his claim as "a terrible thing to say".
"It's not a terrible thing to say, it just happens to be the truth," he told the national press club in Canberra.
"Occasionally, you've just got to recognise that and say it. The mainstream should not be too timid to say things occasionally."
Critics described Mr Howard's views as dated and misogynistic, saying that parliament was increasingly supporting mothers to be MPs by offering childcare and allowing breastfeeding in the chamber.
"To ensure parliament looks like the community it represents, we need to be helping women find ways in, not just accepting under-representation of half the population," wrote commentator Wendy Tuohy in the 'Herald Sun' newspaper.
Women make up 32pc of Australia's parliament, though just 22pc of MPs from Mr Howard's Liberal party are women. Forty-four per cent of Labor's MPs are women, compared with just 14pc of MPs of those from the Nationals, the Liberal party's rural-based coalition partner.
Mr Howard, who was PM from 1996 to 2007, said he opposed formal quotas but preferred a "natural process whereby there are more women".