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Fair go for women

By Kellie Tranter - posted Friday, 7 March 2008

International Womens Day is intended to celebrate the efforts and achievements of women who have, for more than 100 years, struggled for nothing more than basic equality.

In 1908 15,000 women marched through New York City demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights. To a large extent their goals have been achieved: fundamental “legal” equality has been achieved, and general economic prosperity has eased other burdens against which they rallied, but how far have we really come?

How do Australian women really fare in 2008? Do you have a daughter? A wife? A sister? A mother? A friend? What does their future hold?


Well we know that:

  • women do more than twice as many hours of unpaid domestic work than men, provide the most unpaid childcare and family care, and do more voluntary work;
  • anywhere from 40 to 57 per cent of Australian women will experience physical or sexual violence at some point in their lives. Staggering statistics when we consider that Australia’s population is now more than 21 million;
  • Australia and the US remain the only OECD countries without publicly funded maternity leave;w
  • women hold just 7 per cent of the top earner positions (80 positions out of total of 1,136);
  • a female CEO earns two-thirds the salary of her male counterpart;
  • in Human Resources, where women are more commonly found as top earners, the pay gap is still 43 per cent;
  • in 90 per cent of industry sectors, the median salary for women was less than that for men. There was no industry in which women were more likely than men to be top earners;
  • 60 per cent of female top earners work in the bottom 100 ASX200 companies by market capitalisation; and
  • by May 2007 female average weekly earnings were just 83.6 per cent of males’, evidencing a gender pay gap of 16.4 per cent.

It’s a bloody disgrace.

Statistics like this lend the lie to proud claims that our Australian culture is based on “fair go” values.

Although they are often described both privately and publicly as being difficult, or as “man-haters”, or worse, women who speak out for equal rights - the same rights, not special rights - or even for “a fair go”, should feel no shame.

Many women, particularly young women, shudder at being labelled a feminist and are reluctant to speak or act. It’s a sad phenomenon, but it’s not new. It was described by Rebecca West, in "Mr Chesterton in Hysterics: A Study in Prejudice," The Clarion, November 14, 1913: “I myself have never been able to find out precisely what feminism is: I only know that people call me a feminist whenever I express sentiments that differentiate me from a door mat or a prostitute.”


I once heard overheard advice being given to a young woman before she went for a job interview: “Don’t be more man than man, you have to show that you have the fire but don’t be too aggressive, you have to sell yourself but don’t be overconfident, be feminine but don’t wear too much perfume or makeup, don’t let them talk over the top of you but don’t interrupt them, you will find that the male applicants will be judged on their potential but you will need to demonstrate your experience ...”

I have wondered from time to time whether a Hollywood director shouldn’t have escorted that young woman to her job interview. One would need such expert direction to play such a difficult role of juggling. Unfortunately, living a life of such contradictions is quite common for Australian women.

The challenge from here is to make a change, and to do that we need to “unlearn” the emotional, sexual, and psychological stereotyping of women within the home, within business, within government and within our society. The first place is to start is with the creators and manipulators of popular psychology. Just look at how women are deliberately portrayed in the media. It might sell products or improve ratings but it’s not particularly helpful or healthy.

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About the Author

Kellie Tranter is a lawyer and human rights activist. You can follow her on Twitter @KellieTranter

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