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International Women’s Day: Are we there yet?

By Rebecca Vassarotti - 8 March 2018 0

This International Women’s Day, we reflect on how far we have to go to achieve gender equality.

It’s 8 March: so it’s International Women’s Day again. Once again its time to celebrate the successes we have had in creating an equal community, as well as being honest about where we still need to focus our effort on our journey towards gender equity.

Every year there are people who question the need for a day all about women, and each year there is the need to remind people that there is a long history of this internationally recognised day – a day that has been observed since the 1900s. We also need to remind people of the big issues we are still needing to tackle if we are serious about creating a community where everyone has the opportunity to achieve their potential.

The early International Women’s Days highlighted the struggles for voting rights, female political representation and fair pay for fair work. So, wouldn’t it be useful to think about how far we have come since the early 1900s?

First off, let’s celebrate the successes. Thankfully, we are not arguing for the right to vote, and now we see all citizens aged over 18 able to vote – no matter their gender or the colour of their skin. We are making progress around female political representation. Here in the ACT, we have set a great benchmark in relation to this issue. After the election in 2016, the majority female ACT Legislative Assembly was celebrated and in the last twelve months, we have seen female representation increase further. The election of Candice Burch MLA by countback after the sad passing of Steve Deszpot saw the Canberra Liberal parliamentary party reach a female majority.

Against this success, however, it is really disappointing to see the recent events in Federal Parliament where young women have been subject to slurs and rumours. This is not just a problem for now – the real concern is that this kind of behaviour will be turning off future female leaders from contemplating a career in politics. Let’s hope not!

We are still fighting for gender wage equality, with the last twelve months seeing the ACT going backward – still in the middle of the pack in relation to the performance of States and Territories – with the wage gap slipping from 11.6% to 12.6%.

The issue where progress seems so slow is perhaps the one that has been the subject of ongoing conversation in recent times – sexual harassment and gender-based violence. The current statistics are shocking, and don’t seem to be moving in the right direction. We know that one Australian woman each week is murdered by her current or former partner, and one in three Australian women will be the subjected to violence in their lifetime. Twelve months ago I was feeling more positive. We had experienced the inspirational Rosie Batty campaign as Australian of the Year and had seen real commitments through the introduction of the Domestic Violence Levy by the ACT Government. This year, however, with the revelations around sexual harassment and abuse across many industries, and harrowing stories shared through the #metoo movement, I am feeling less optimistic than before about making headway.

So this International Women’s Day, I will be expressing my gratitude to the many wonderful women and men who work every day to improve equality and reduce gender-based violence. What will you be doing to commemorate International Women’s Day?

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