Woman Sawer, Marian

AO, International Political Science Association Wilma Rule Award Recipient, Australian Political Studies Association Lifetime Achievement Award Recipient

Auckland, New Zealand
Political scientist and Public servant
Alternative Names
  • Goodwin, Philippa

Written by Sharon M. Harrison, The University of Melbourne

Marian Sawer (née Goodwin) was born 20 August 1946 in Auckland, New Zealand. Her parents were Ralph and Marjorie Goodwin. She moved to Australia for her secondary schooling in 1958 and attended Sydney girls school Ascham. Sawer undertook her tertiary studies at the Australian National University, graduating with a BA (Hons) in 1968 and a MA in 1970. In 1975 she was awarded her PhD from the ANU for her thesis: The question of the Asiatic mode of production: towards a new Marxist historiography.

Sawer was awarded an ANU postdoctoral travelling fellowship on completion of her PhD; however, family responsibilities made overseas travel difficult. During the 1970s Sawer juggled postdoctoral work with the responsibilities of caring for three young daughters. At a time when there were few women in academic positions, little consideration was given to the problems faced by those with family responsibilities. Sawer commuted to Adelaide for a postdoctoral fellowship and to Sydney for a short-term lectureship. She cut short visiting fellowships at Stanford and Columbia Universities.

While holding yet another postdoctoral fellowship at the ANU, Sawer conducted a survey in 1979 on the status of women in political science departments around Australia. She found that the most common pattern was for there to be one woman on the academic staff and that a common attitude was 'why would one need more?' That same year, Sawer co-founded the Women's Caucus of the Australasian Political Studies Association (APSA) with Carole Pateman. Since then Sawer has continued to play an active role in the research and policy role of the Women's Caucus. In 1981 she initiated the Women and Politics Prize for the best essay on the topic of women and politics broadly defined and in 1985 she was elected President of APSA. She was also actively involved in the establishment of other professional bodies such as Women in Science Enquiry Network (WISENET), of which she was made an Honorary Life Member.

Sawer was appointed as full-time Equal Opportunity Consultant at the ANU (1983-1984). In this role she built on the work of Gwenda Bramley and Marion Ward who had been commissioned by ANU to prepare a report for International Women's Year (1975). At the time Federal legislation requiring universities to remove barriers to women was being developed. Sawer's report, Towards equal opportunity: women and employment at the Australian National University: a report submitted for the consideration of the Vice-Chancellor of the Australian National University, was tendered in 1984 and she helped establish an association of women staff to provide a political base for the report's recommendations.

In 1985 Sawer was appointed Director, Equal Employment Opportunity, at the Department of Foreign Affairs (1985-1990), where she developed a ground-breaking equal opportunity program. That same year, she published the edited collection Program for change: affirmative action in Australia. Launched by newly appointed Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Commissioner Pam O'Neil, the publication was intended to allay some of the fears surrounding equal opportunity both in universities and public sector employment. In the late 1980s Sawer continued her work in the Australian Public Service, combining work in Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Status of Women in Prime Minister and Cabinet with a senior research fellowship in the social justice project headed by Pat Troy at ANU. Her pioneering book Sisters in suits: women and public policy in Australia was published in 1990. This study provided empirical information about what had been happening in Australia as feminists engaged with the state. It was a revelation for many and became a building block for international theory and practice regarding 'state feminism'.

In 1990 Sawer returned to academia, taking up an appointment at the University of Canberra. She was subsequently appointed Associate Professor in Politics at the University of Canberra (1993-2000). In 1998 she took up a visiting position in the Political Science Program at ANU's Research School of Social Sciences, working on Centenary of Federation projects. Her work on parliamentary representation and electoral administration resulted in the publication of the edited volume Elections-Full, Free and Fair in 2001. Sawer became head of ANU's Political Science Program (2000-2003) and was promoted to professor in 2003. Her work on the centenary of Federation projects led to further collaborative projects with the Electoral Council of Australia and to the initiation of the Democratic Audit of Australia with Australian Research Council (ARC) funding in 2002. This was part of an international program of democracy assessment auspiced by the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance (IDEA) in Stockholm. Sawer acted as Leader of the Democratic Audit from 2002 to 2008, overseeing the publication of some 200 refereed discussion papers and 10 Audit reports, and co-authoring Australia: The State of Democracy (2009). She also contributed several discussion papers and reports over the life of the Audit. The ANU appointed Sawer Emeritus Professor in 2010. She is also Adjunct Professor at the ANU's School of Politics and International Relations.

Among other books, Sawer is the author of: Marxism and the Question of the Asiatic Mode of Production (1978); A Woman's Place: Women and politics in Australia, with Marian Simms (1984; 1993); Sisters in suits: women and public policy in Australia (1990); Working from inside: twenty years of the Office of the Status of Women, with Abigail Groves (1994); The ethical state? Social liberalism in Australia (2003); and Making Women Count: A History of the Women's Electoral Lobby in Australia (2008). She is the editor of Removal of the Commonwealth Marriage Bar: a documentary history (1996). She has also published many influential journal articles and book chapters and served on many editorial boards.

Sawer played a leading role in Women's Electoral Lobby (WEL), especially in campaigns in the 1980s and 1990s, around equal opportunity legislation, women's policy machinery and tax reform. In 1992 WEL presented Sawer with a WEL Australia Day award. As well as writing WEL submissions she provided briefs on women's policy machinery for UN and other transnational agencies and served on government advisory bodies. One highlight was workshops for national and provincial governments in South Africa on the eve of Nelson Mandela's launching of women's policy machinery in that country. Closer to home she was able to ensure the new ACT Anti-Discrimination Act became a model for reforms to the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act. She continues to be active in WEL and in advocacy around women's policy machinery.

In 1994 Sawer was appointed an Officer of the Order of Australia for service to women and to political science. She was appointed to the Centenary of Federation Advisory Committee and a member of the Constitutional Centenary Foundation Council (1992-1995). She was the Co-Winner of the International Political Science Association's Wilma Rule Award, for her paper Representation of Women: Questions of Accountability, delivered at the International Political Science Association IPSA World Congress in 2000. She has been a Member of the Executive of IPSA since 2006, Vice-President 2009-2012 and is Co-editor of the Association's journal International Political Science Review. She is also a former Chair of IPSA Research Committee on Gender, Politics and Policy (2003-2006). In 2008 she was a delegate to the Australian Government's 2020 Summit, leading the parliamentary reform section of the future of Australian governance stream. Sawer received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Australian Political Studies Association in 2009 for her longstanding contribution to political science and to the advancement of women in the discipline.

Sawer married Michael Sawer in 1967 and they had two daughters born in 1968 and 1970. Their marriage was dissolved in 1977. In 1978 Sawer married British-born political scientist James Jupp; they have one daughter, born in 1979.

Archival Resources

Australian National University Archives

  • ANU Archives Annual Lectures, 7 September 2012, 'Feminism for the 21st century'; Australian National University Archives. Details
  • Deposit N165 - Marian Sawer Collection, 1958 - 2006, AU NBAC N165; Australian National University Archives. Details
  • Series 208 - Papers relating to the development of the ANU Equal Employment Opportunity Program, 1983 - 1984, AU ANUA 208; Australian National University Archives. Details

National Library of Australia Oral History Collection

  • Interview with Marian Sawer, political scientist, feminist and Associate Professor of Politics, University of Canberra, 1993- [sound recording ]/ interviewer, Sara Dowse, 19 March 2001 - 21 March 2001, ORAL TRC 3998; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details
  • Women and politics : an ANU Convocation luncheon address given on July 22, 1982 [sound recording] / by Marian Sawer; introduced by Senator Susan Ryan, 22 July 1982, ORAL TRC 1153; National Library of Australia Oral History Collection. Details

Published Resources

Edited Books

  • Who's Who in Australia, Crown Content, Melbourne, Victoria, 1927 - 2013. Details

Online Resources