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Equality for women? Donít make me laugh

By Lin Hatfield Dodds - posted Tuesday, 28 June 2011


I have no time for those who airily claim that women have scaled the Everest of equality and triumphantly planted a flag right on the peak. Please. Don't make me laugh. Or cry.

Over the past decade or so, we've heard the victory cry that feminism is over – that it's no longer needed, that the battles have been won, that women have achieved equality.

It's true, some giant strides have been taken. We vote, we work, we run companies, head up political parties, mount expeditions to improbable parts of the world, achieve breakthroughs in science and significantly shape the arts.

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But we are still the primary carers of our children (and increasingly our parents), we are more likely to be in casual or part time than full time work, we are less educated and are still paid less than men.

In spite of the leaps we've made since the 1970s when women in Australia moved into the workforce en masse, the reality is that life is still pretty bloody tough for many women, especially those who are disadvantaged and living on welfare payments.

A life on welfare is emphatically not a lifestyle choice. Women on welfare struggle to survive on manifestly inadequate levels of payment, with little or no access to the supports and services that would enable them to scale the barriers they face to belong, contribute to and be valued by the wider community.

The Newstart allowance for a single person with no dependents is $238 a week. For a sole parent the rate is $257 a week. The single pension, the disability support pension, or a carer payment, is $335 a week. Rent alone in most Australian cities sets you back by more than those amounts.

Year 10 is the highest educational achievement for 80 per cent of single parents on welfare, the vast majority of whom are women. That's a big skills gap to the current labour market. Combined with the scarcity of appropriate, affordable childcare, it's not a big surprise that many single mums on the welfare cycle are in and out of low skill, low paid jobs.

In spite of the economic boom we've been enjoying for over a decade, more than one in ten Australians, many of them women, struggle to survive and make ends meet in the face of overwhelming daily disadvantage and exclusion. Ten per cent is an appalling statistic in a country as wealthy as ours.

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Income inequality is growing in Australia. The Government has a very challenging task, guided by the work done by Ken Henry, as it considers the adequacy, equity, and simplicity of our tax and transfers systems in what the Treasurer has called our patchwork economy.

There is a significant difference in average weekly earnings for men and women. While full-time adult earnings for both women and men increased by more than half in the ten years to 2007, over that period women's earnings were consistently lower, by around 20 per cent.

That's right, men earn, on average, 20 per cent more than women. When I trawled the data, I could not find one sector in which women earn more than men. From mining to manufacturing, from retail to finance and marketing, from government and administration to hospitality to recreational and cultural services to media, we earn less. Even in those bastions of women workers, the education, health and community services sectors, men still earn more.

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About the Author

Lin Hatfield Dodds is the National Director of UnitingCare Australia.

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