Women's movement in Australia
Today, women are faced with what seems to be a contradiction. The first women's liberation leaflet in Australia was distributed at a demonstration against the Vietnam war in 1969. In October that year Zelda D'Aprano and two other women chained themselves to the entrance to the Arbitration Court in Melbourne. For the first time that Court found in favour of equal pay for identical work. And in 1972 the Court ruled in favour of one pay rate for workers under an award to prevent employers continuing their evasion of equal pay by classifying jobs women did as different from men's.
Yet, thirty-two years later, Australian women working full time still earn on average 85% of male earnings. And when all women are compared with all men, the percentage is still only 66% because 70% of women work part time. And the gap is increasing again. In the year May 1999 to May 2000, male earnings for full time ordinary time increased 5.1%, but women's only by 4%.
We have a plethora of anti-discrimination laws and equal employment opportunity (EEO) is enshrined in legislation. Yet women remain concentrated in the low paid, often part time jobs with few career prospects. In the late nineties, in the Department of Education, Employment and Training, 50% of employees were women. In the two lowest levels, they made up 75%, but only 12% of management. A review of staff at Griffith University in Brisbane revealed the same inequalities. In 1999, women were 52% of all staff, 35% of academic staff and 62% of general staff. Yet women were over-represented in the lower classifications in both the academic and general areas. Women made up 86% of general staff level one, 73% in level three, but only 45% of level ten and 29% above level ten. They made up 55% of academic level A positions, 38% of level B, 33% of level C, 20% of level D, and only 14% of level E. When faculties were compared, the gender differences were striking. Women academics made up 94% of staff in the school of Nursing, but only 9% in Engineering, 23% in Science, 29% in International Business and Politics. And this is a university that claims its Affirmative Action program is working!
Thirty years after the sexual liberation movement burst onto the scene, media commentators such as Bettina Arndt regularly campaign against the right for single women to have children, single women are denied IVF in some states, older women who choose to use IVF are vilified. Lesbian women are still marginalised, portrayals of sex in popular culture remain male centred and ignorant of women's sexual pleasures. And the Catholic Church continues to discriminate against lesbians and gay men with impunity. Internationally, abortion rights remain tenuous with a new campaign to defend women's rights against the Bush administration in the US, and in other countries it remains illegal. Women are still openly treated as if they're sex objects in advertising, in popular culture and in a massively expanding sex industry.
Women's right to work is widely accepted today - for instance there has been no concerted campaign against married women's right to work during a decade and a half of mass unemployment. But it isn't that simple. The Howard government slashed funding to community childcare centres, virtually making work for many low-income women an impossible option as child care can eat up such a large percentage of their income it is not worth it.
So was the women's liberation movement worth the time and energy? In spite of it all the answer should be a resounding В«yes!В». It was worth every minute spent protesting, marching, writing leaflets, attending meetings and raising hell. In the sixties, pregnant women were simply expected to leave work with no access to maternity leave or pay. Contraception was primitive and unreliable, and illegal, backyard abortions were a nightmare waiting to happen, making sex a source of anxiety and guilt. In 1961 women were only 25% of the workforce. Only 17% of married women between the ages of 25 and 34 and 21% of married women 35 to 44 were in the paid workforce. In 1966 the participation rate in the paid workforce by women was 36% compared with 84% of men. By 1994 women were 43% of the workforce and 53% of women aged 16-54 were in paid work compared with 73% of men. However, the dramatic change was for married women with 63% of married women aged 25-34 in paid work and 71% aged 35 to 44. As late as the early sixties women were not able to serve on juries, could not get a bank loan in their own right, and there was no supporting parent's benefit for women (or men for that matter) if a partnership broke up until 1974. Divorce was a long drawn out, expensive affair and there were no refuges where women could escape a violent relationship until the 1980s.
So on the one hand, we h...