Still to be fought for: Equality, justice and freedom from violence for women
International Women's Day 2013 statement
The demands of the first-ever International Women's Day Rally in Australia, in 1928, were: equal pay for equal work, an 8-hour day for shop assistants, the basic wage for the unemployed and annual holidays on full pay.
A lot has been won through struggle since 1928 yet women in Australia today still have to struggle some of these issues:
- The average pay gap between women and men is 17.5% (worse than it was in 1984) on average full-time earnings but is greater in different sectors. For example, in the finance industry (where many women work) the gap is 32.7%!
- Women still work in jobs that underpay and undervalue their work and make up the vast majority of workers with few conditions and little job security.
- After a strong Equal Pay campaign of mass action led by the Australia Services Union, last year Fair Work Australia awarded pay rises of 19-41% to 150,000 mostly female workers in the social and community services sector. However, state and federal governments have yet to provide full funding for these pay increases.
- Working mothers are one of the most worked-stressed sections of the workforce, according to an ACTU study, and the recent cuts to public sector jobs in Queensland, NSW and Victoria, in particular, have disproportionately hit women (both as workers and service users).
- In 2009, two-thirds of Australia's 2.6 million unpaid informal carers were women. In 2008-09, the value of unpaid care was estimated as $68.4 billion. Women still do most of the household work and care for children, and sick, disabled and elderly relatives.
- The 2012 Poverty In Australia report by the Australian Council of Social Service revealed that women make up 53.8% of the 2,265,00 people living in poverty in Australia, one of the richest countries in the world.
- While formal legal equality has been won in most spheres, abortion is still illegal in most Australian jurisdictions (although the ACT, Victoria and WA have decriminalised this medical procedure in limited circumstances). Terminations remain costly and difficult to access for poor, rural and young women.
Sole parents under attack
Australia became one of the first countries in the world to introduce a single mothers’ benefit in 1973. This was extended to single fathers in 1977. However sole parents (mostly women) have had their rights attacked by the both the current Gillard Labor government and the former Howard Liberal-National government.
The sole parent pension used to be paid to sole parents until their youngest child turned 16. The John Howard Coalition government changed this so that new applicants on sole parents payments would be paid only until the youngest child turned eight.
The Gillard Labor government has now extended this to include existing sole parents who receive the parenting payment, so that they too are forced onto the lower Newstart Allowance when their children reach the age of eight.
Sole parents have now also lost access to other benefits, such as the pension education supplement, cheaper medicines for the children and subsidies for childcare.
On top of this, sole parents who are working part-time will have their Newstart reduced at a faster rate for each dollar earned than was the case with the parenting payment.
There is a desperate need for the Newstart Allowance to be immediately increased by $100 a week, and then for all pensions and benefits to be raised to a liveable amount. But this is not the full solution for single parents. Single parents have a right to receive a parenting payment. Forcing all sole parents into the workforce when their youngest child turns eight can be a big problem.
It is often difficult to find work that fits around school hours, and a sole parent working normal hours will have to leave their children home alone or put them in before and after school care, which is expensive for families on low incomes. It would also prevent the child from taking part in after-school activities such as swimming, football, or dancing. This increases the isolation of sole parent families as their children are unable to take part in inclusive community activities.
Sole parents who work full-time are often exhausted, being away from home up to 10 hours a day, and then coming home to do household chores. This leaves little or no time for parents to spend with their children.
The cuts will leave some households $100 a week or more worse off, and come at time when unemployment is rising, making work more difficult to find. This forces single parents and their young children to live in poverty. Women with children will find it harder to leave abusive relationships and some single mothers will be forced into sex work as a result.
This makes it an absolute travesty for PM Julia Gillard to try and paint herself as an opponent of misogyny.The Socialist Alliance calls for:
- the immediate reversal of all the attacks on welfare payments, in particular restoring the parenting payment for single parents.
- the Newstart Allowance to be immediately raised to the level of the age pension and all welfare benefits to be raised to the level of a living wage automatically indexed to real cost-of-living rises.
End violence against women
All around Australia this year, International Women's Day marches and rallies will be focusing on the ongoing crime of violence against women after the largest mobilisations in decades against sexual violence, following the brutal rape and murder of a young woman in the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick last year. Thousands of people rallied and marched to demand the right of all women to live without fear of sexual violence − in the streets or at home.
- Australia has a high rate of sexual assault, with an estimated 20% of women over the age of 15 having experienced sexual abuse.
- Many women in Australia who report sexual violence find that they are not believed, or that they are themselves blamed for the assault. This is the result of a sexist society that reinforces gender inequality and stereotypes through the mass media, and religious, social and government institutions.
- Sexual assault is also the most under-reported crime: an estimated 85% of women never report it because of shame or fear of recrimination and isolation (most perpetrators of gender violence are known to the victim).
- And only 1 in 6 reports to police result in prosecution in Australia. This is a serious indictment of the gender bias within the legal system: from an assaulted woman’s first contact with the police right through the court process.
All around the world – even in rich countries like Australia – sexism and discrimination are facts of life for most women. The oppression of women is woven into the fabric of capitalist society: in the home, in religious and educational institutions, in the media, in the judiciary and even in parliament. In such a society, sexual violence and the threat of it is used to control women.
To end the violence against women, we need to confront both the violence directly and the structural causes of women's lower standing that makes women vulnerable to the violence.
A recently published global study of violence against women, examining over 70 countries and spanning 40 years, shows that the strongest predictor of success in reducing violence against women is the mobilisation of a strong feminist movement demanding change.
Now, following a powerful lead from women and their supporters in India, a new worldwide movement against violence against women is emerging.
We need campaigns like this which directly confront violence against women — for instance, challenging rape culture on campus, in the media and everywhere else; demanding education in school and society to teach the importance of respecting "no" and ensuring consent in every sexual encounter; decriminalisation of sex work, which is less safe the more it is forced underground; and adequate funding and staffing of sexual assault services and refuges.
To put an end to the violence and misogynist assumptions that underpin we need to campaign to raise women's economic and social standing. We salute the worldwide struggles for this objective.Photo: Sydney International Women's Day march. Peter Boyle.