Senate debates

Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Statements by Senators

International Women’s Day

1:24 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

In Australia and around the world, gender continues to be a barrier to equality. Last month, at the opening of the second session of South Australia's 53rd Parliament, Governor Hieu Van Le spoke of the need for the South Australian state government and, indeed, all governments to take steps to ensure that gender is not a barrier to full participation in the community. In particular, Governor Le said:

It is a poor indictment on our modern society that women are victims of discrimination in the workplace and of violence at home.

Governor Le outlined the steps that the South Australian Labor government will take to tackle gender inequality, including a review by the South Australian Law Reform Institute to evaluate legislative and regulatory discrimination. He also spoke of strengthening responses to violence against women, implementing a new court assistant service and an early warning system to provide an escalation point if there are flaws in the response of a government agency in the reporting of violence.

While I applaud the South Australian government for its determination, as a nation we need to be doing more to achieve gender equality. The South Australian Labor initiatives are a step in the right direction. However, if we are to achieve significant improvement we need to work together as a nation to do more.

This Sunday is International Women's Day—a day for all to reflect on progress made, to call for change and to celebrate acts of courage and determination by ordinary women who have played an extraordinary role. This year's theme, 'Make it happen', encourages women to actively pursue their goals and aspirations. But, unfortunately, in 2015 many women are still disadvantaged and are unable to pursue their goals. Even today, many women are still seen by some as second-rate citizens and as the property of men. Gender inequality is rife, and women around the world are continuing to suffer as a consequence of nothing else than their gender.

Twenty years ago, in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, world leaders committed to a future of equality. They committed to advancing the goals of equality, development and peace for all women everywhere in the interest s of all humanity. But still i n this world that has been transformed by the digital revolution and advances in medicine and human knowledge, by 2015 we have not been able to make any significant inroads into battling gender equality.

Back in 1995, 198 countries made firm commitments to achieving a path towards equality by 2005. Ten years beyond that goal, not one single country has actually achieved equality for women— not one. The little progress that has been made has been slow and unsteady. A lthough many nations , including Australia , have passed pieces of legislation to address inequality, there is still such a long way to go . This is not just a problem for developing countries n or is it a problem that just affects one segment of society or one predominant age group. Women around the world, young and old, well-off, poor or strugg ling, unfortunately share the common bond of gender inequality.

Last year in Australia, 40 per cent of the boards of the ASX listed companies did not include women. Females only made up 3.5 per cent of Australia's CEOs—and had a significant gender pay gap. Even more alarming, figures just released from a PwC study that ranks women's economic empowerment has shown that Australia has dropped six places to 15t h position during 2014, the largest drop of all the OECD countries measured. Much of that drop is attributed to the r apidly expanding gender pay gap, which has been steadily on the rise, increasing from t he November 2013 level of 17.4 per cent to where it sits at 18.8 per cent now. To put a dollar figure on it: as at the end of last month, men working full-time earned $1,587 compared to $1, 300 for women—a lmost $300 a week less .

In this day and age, it is unacceptable that women are still earning considerably less than their male counterparts. It is unacceptable that , while wage growth is slowing, the pay gap is widening. It is unacceptable that around t he world women get paid less, do most of the unpaid labour, are ove r-represented in part-time work and are discriminated again st in the household, in markets and in institutions. Because of their gender, women are more socially and economically discriminated against and are often highly marginalised based on their race, class, or income. At the Parliament House International Women's Day breakfast yesterday morning the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, said: 'Ending gender inequality is a job for all of us. Living in Australia, we can and must do more. We have the opportunities, the wealth, the knowledge and the resources to advance gender equality.'

Addressing violence against women is one of the biggest problems in bridging gender inequality. Family v iolence is one of the main mechanisms denying women equality, and it imposes an incredibly high social, health and economic cost. However, as at 28 February this year Prime Minister Tony Abbott— thi s nation's Minister for Women— had inflicted brutal cuts of $300 million on more than 50 organisations that provide critical services to victims of family violence , mostly women and children. These organisations and their services help women and children in times of need . T hey assist people to make positive life changes to improve their lives and escape the curse of family violence.

I welcome the announcement today by the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, that he is seeking the support of the Prime Minister and the coalition government to convene an urgent national crisis summit on family violence. Labor today also committed that, if elected, we would put an additional $50 million back into front-line legal services to assist women and children to escape family violence. Cutting funds to critical organisations, including services such as women's shelters, does nothing but exacerbate violence and impedes gender equality. We heard just this week the tragic news that a 28-year-old Canberra mother of three was murdered by her partner. Already this year, 14 other women are believed to have died at the hands of their partners or ex-partners. According to the White Ribbon organisation, another one will die next week and the week after that and the week after that. Going by last year's rates, a further 43 women will have been killed by the end of 2015. These deaths could have been avoided. Deaths like these must be prevented. But removing funding from services that help women in such situations is not the right way to go about it.

In the context of the national debate about the scourge of family violence it was unbelievable that late last year Australia's Minister for Women, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, cited the repeal of the carbon price as his major achievement for women in this country. That's right, this Prime Minister said his top achievement in his capacity as the Minister for Women was not promoting gender equality, putting more money into women's shelters, advocating for women in the workplace or addressing the gender pay gap; it was the repeal of the carbon price. It is an extraordinary admission by the government that that is the focus of the Prime Minister who mysteriously is the Minister for Women in this government—and we know there are only two women cabinet ministers in the Abbott government, which is also a shameful reflection on the coalition.

As I said at the beginning, we all need to work together to place a stronger focus on changing attitudes in order to improve the lives of women and girls. This International Women's Day we recognise and acknowledge the contribution women make to our society, but we can see that there is so much more to do. Like Labor's leader, Bill Shorten, I urge the Prime Minister to give bipartisan support to Labor's calls for a national crisis summit on family violence and to put money back into family violence services—to put in more money, not take it out of services which are so critical to women and children whose lives would otherwise be at risk because of family violence.


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