I acknowledge the traditional custodians of this land.
I pay my respect to elders past, present and most especially on this occasion to mark International Women’s Day I pay tribute to the grandmothers, mothers, aunties and daughters who’ve nurtured children and built communities on this land for tens of thousands of years.
For more than a century now, women and men have been coming together on March 8th to celebrate progress on our road to gender equality.
Every year we vow to keep marching until we get there.
Ladies and gentlemen it is an honour for me to speak to you this morning about the challenges that lie ahead.
I was raised in the traditions of the women’s movement, brought up believing that women and men were created equal.
I remember, as a little girl, my Mum and her friends having passionate debates in our kitchen, long into the night.
I remember making banners, collecting signatures.
I was raised by my parents to believe in the power of activism, of organising and demonstrating and campaigning for change.
Lessons which continue to drive my involvement with Our Watch, working for the elimination of violence against women and their children.
But It concerns me deeply that 40 years after my Mum and Dad helped educate me about the dangers faced by women, the struggles to find safe accommodation, the psychological torment of living with a violent partner…not enough has changed.
- One in six women over 15 has experienced family violence ONE IN SIX.
- Eight women are hospitalised by that violence every day. SOMEONE IN THE NEXT 3 HOURS.
- Too many women still live in fear, fear for their safety, fear for their children’s security.
- Too many women
- Too many women suffer serious brain injury, or live with post-traumatic stress
- Too many children whose lives are one long haul out of darkness into the sun. [2.1 million Australians have witnessed violence towards their mother by a partner]
And too many men, good men, friends and family of women in need, are too afraid to do anything about it.
- Frightened to intervene
- worried about making things worse
- anxious about the family breaking-apart or cutting contact or disappearing in the night.
My friends this isn’t an issue just for International Women’s Day it’s an existential question for Australia. When anyone says ‘but women have equality now’, I remind them of these statistics.
In time, I’m sure that the elimination of family violence will stand proudly alongside all the other great victories won by women, for women that we celebrate today:
- Universal suffrage
- No-fault divorce
- The Sex Discrimination Act
- The Affirmative Action Act
- Paid Parental Leave.
When you look at this list, what you see are essentially
- acts of legal recognition,
- moments of legal progress toward legal equality.
But, it’s not legal change I want to talk about today.
Of course, leadership and legislation at the national level are still important.
They always will be.
But Parliament is not the be-all and end-all. Members of parliament don’t have all the answers…
It’s actually you; corporate leaders, employers, colleagues, friends, parents and partners who must lead this next wave of change. And I believe that the ‘fifth wave’ of feminism around the world- will be led by men.
Because many of the big challenges facing Australian women in the next decade aren’t legislative.
We need change that’s bigger, deeper and older than our statute books.
Something more co-ordinated and more sustained than movements or marches or demonstrations or petitions.
I’m talking about institutional change, cultural change, corporate change…
So I think the real test for you, and for this next generation is to match the theory with the practice.
Enhancing women’s real-world experience, so that it accords with our legal rights.
Bridging the gap between ‘paper’ equality and reality.
- there’s no law in Australia that prohibits women from holding parliamentary office,
- no gender bar that prevents us being pre-selected, elected or promoted.
Yet if you looked at the front bench of the government of Australia, you would think there was a rule.
- Only 32 per cent of the Federal Parliament are women
(and if you’ll excuse a note of pride, the ALP is at 46 per cent so that is dragging the average up!).
- promoting women
- encouraging our female colleagues to step forward for training opportunities
- giving our co-workers a chance to develop their skills and advance their prospects
- There’s no restriction on women being board members, or
- Only 26 per cent of ASX 200 board members are women.
- Only 11 of the ASX 200 companies have a female CEO.
- There’s no law limiting women’s pay to 85 per cent of men’s
- no legal instrument that says female employees have to work the first two months of the year for free, compared with their male colleagues.
That’s the take-home, real-world effect of the gender pay gap in this country.
Ladies and gentlemen a hundred years ago I’m sure there would have been a few beard-stroking, pipe-smoking experts around to say that this was all down to the size of women’s skulls, or phrenology…or whatever.
Today, no-one would take such an argument seriously.
But we do hear a lot of talk about ‘merit’ – and in a lot of ways, it’s just as silly an explanation.
- Surely no-one believes that women are only 85 per cent as capable, as qualified, as passionate and as driven as men?
- Surely no-one really thinks that women are only 85 per cent as good as men at leadership, or advocacy, or management.
And when you put it like that – the ‘selected on merit’ argument doesn’t stand up for long.
Challenging assumptions is an uncomfortable business.
Changing minds is hard work.
It’s not always fun to be the one who ‘calls out’ unthinking, unexamined sexism.
But that’s what is going to drive the next wave of change.
That’s what’s going to move the dial.
Not so much one-off speeches BUT persistent patient conversations.
- Conversations with our children,
our daughters and our sons.
- conversations with our colleagues – drawing attention to the lazy conventions that operate against women, particularly in the workplaces of Australia.
Let me give you an example:
When a male politician steps down from high office, they inevitably declare at a farewell press conference that they’re going to ‘spend more time with their family’.
It’s kind of ‘one last cliché for the road ‘
But when it comes to female leaders, whether it’s Gladys Berijikilan in New South Wales, or Jacinda Ardern in New Zealand…
…they never make it through their first press conference without being asked how their new job will affect the time they spend with their family.
Can you imagine if that was the first thing asked of you in your new leadership role?
Unfortunately, those questions reflect a deeply-rooted reality.
Right across our nation, it is still women
- who do the bulk of the work around the house,
- the bulk of the child-raising,
- the bulk of the unpaid caring work for elderly relatives.
- [Women are 92% of the primary careers for children with disabilities]
According to last year’s census:
- Women average between 5 and 14 hours of work around the house each week.
- Men, between 1 and 5 hours.
And that’s before we get into caring for the children.
Raising children has been the greatest joy and most extraordinary privilege of my life.
But I never realised that it made me part of Australia’s biggest industry.
A recent study by PWC found that unpaid childcare is Australia’s largest industry.
Larger than any other sector of the formal economy.
In terms of time and resources, it’s a $345 billion sector.
Almost three times as big as the financial and insurance services industry
If we measured the value of unpaid work, the Australian economy would be a third larger than under formal measurements.
There’s also unpaid caring work, most commonly for our parents as they age.
Women do the lions share – taking on 70 per cent of the time and responsibility.
Caring is work, I submit that if the bulk of this work was done by men – there would be more paid leave to support it and there would be better rates of pay for aged care and child care workers.
What I’m talking about today is more complex than remuneration or workplace relations legislation.
It’s about mindset.
It’s about all of us as employers, as colleagues and as Australians, getting past the idea that work and life is a zero-sum game for women, an either-or proposition.
We can’t tolerate any message that suggests the advances women make in their careers come at the expense of their partner and their children.
It must not be up to women to choose between the competing priorities of work and family.
Or trade one for the other.
It’s up to Australia to see care-giving and paid work as two kinds of vital human activity that can be done by either men or women.
Men and women.
That means men need to step up at home.
One of the ways men can demonstrate respect – not just talk about respect – is to do more of the unpaid work at home.
- Set an example for their sons
- Be a role model.
Show their children that the happiness of the household is a partnership.
That there’s no such thing as ‘women’s work’, just important jobs that need doing. This is a conscious process in my house because of how often Bill is away.
I remember when I moved to Melbourne with my two little children, Bill went to the supermarket for the four of us.
He came back with:
- A packet of Weet-Bix
- Some cheese
- A tub of hummus
- Sparkling water
- Some onions
…and that was it.
These days, Bill does the supermarket run every week, one of the kids in tow.
Achieving a fairer distribution of the work at home, will require cultural change at work.
At workplaces all around the country, women and men still fall into the trap of ‘presenteeism’.
- The idea that your contribution to the team is defined purely and solely by the time you spend at your desk.
- Unless yours is the last light off, the last car out of the carpark, you’re somehow selling your colleagues short.
We’ve come a long way with caring leave, paid parental leave, child-care facilities co-located with schools and workplaces.
Yet we still live in a world of work that assumes leaving the office for the school run, or to help at home…makes you
- less dedicated,
- less productive,
- less valuable than the person who spends another 45 minutes in the office refreshing Facebook.
Whether you’re a man or a woman, leaving work to go home
- and prepare dinner for your family,
- or help with homework,
- or talk to your kids about their day…
Is not the same as going out for a drink with colleagues.
It’s leaving your paid job, to do your unpaid one.
Bringing about that shift in perspective doesn’t rest on the boss’ shoulders alone.
Present-eeism is peer pressure as much as anything else.
We should not apologise when we make time for our families – and we should not judge when our colleagues make time for theirs.
That’s something we can all be mindful of, today and every other work day.
At the beginning of my speech, I spoke about what my parents taught me about change.
Even though we were raised in different states and faiths and circumstances, it’s very similar to what Bill’s parents taught him.
He likes the old union aphorism,
‘no victory without struggle’.
The point is that progress doesn’t just happen, positive change isn’t the gift of a generous benefactor.
It’s no good waiting around hoping something will turn up, waiting for attitudes and practices to shift on their own.
Glaciers will be gone from the earth long before discrimination disappears on its own accord.
If we want a change in
- our workplaces and
- our homes and
- our courts and
- our parliaments
We have to push and prod and persuade.
And sometimes you have to make a nuisance of yourself, you have to go against the flow, you have to be ‘difficult’ and ‘stubborn’ and unwilling to play along.
Women have been at the barricades now for more than a century, we need the other half of the population there too.
Because if you don’t do it – maybe no-one else will.
Now that’s a bit of a long speech – and it’s too much too tell our daughters or our sons in one go.
My parents used to boil it all down to a simple set of questions.
If not us, who? If not now, when?
That’s what we can ask ourselves. On International Women’s Day – and every other day.
If not us, who? If not now, when?