Friday, March 6, 2015

Happy Friday: Let's Hear it for the Girls

International Women's Day has rolled up again, and I'm sad not to have been able to make it to the usual lunch I attend on someone else's corporate credit card. So I'm just making up lots of empowering speeches in my head as I try to swim through the piles of work I feel I am drowning under.

I have been racking my brain to think about what has changed over the year since last International Women's Day. Has the place of women in society been improved? Apart from Dolce & Gabbana finally pointing out to the fashion world via it's Milanese fashion show that women get pregnant and have babies and can still be fashionable, I'm not sure. Tony Abbott as Minister for Women hasn't exactly revolutionised Australian women's rights, nor has he galvanised anyone into action over the myriad issues that still exist (and that's just for women in our lovely developed country - pity the women stuck in the sinkhole territories where they still can't safely attend school, drive a car or publicly exhibit their personal style).

Dolce & Gabbana

As the economy takes a nose dive, all the luxuries we had previously been thinking would come our way have ground to a halt. We were at dizzying heights at one stage, believing women might get half pay for 6 months while we raise our children (still pretty poor when compared to generous Scandinavian countries and even Iran, where women receive 2/3rds of their regular pay from public funds for a period of 12 weeks following the birth of a child).

But worse than that - and also believed to be linked to the worsening economy - are the rates of domestic violence in our country. So far this year, 2 women per week have died as a result of domestic violence. It's a little sickening to read that statistic. This is an increase on the usual level of 1 per week.

One woman per week in Australia, on average, dies at the hands of a violent partner. That number is increasing.

Thankfully, a national conversation around the issue - which is now being framed in terms such as "national emergency", "crisis levels" etc - is occurring. As State and Federal governments cut services - including closing women's shelters - vestiges of hope for many women are being snatched away. We simply can't allow it to happen, and nor can we allow women and children to suffer in silence as they are abused at the hands of their so-called "loved ones".

This isn't a situation that only affects women in lower socio-economic situations. As Rosie Batty, Australian of the Year, anti-domestic violence campaigner and mother to an 11 year old boy who was shockingly bashed to death on a cricket pitch by his violent father, very movingly and passionately stated on the ABC's Q&A program on Monday:

“I live in a nice house, I am an independent, single woman, I'm a professional, I’m educated — if it can happen to me, it can happen to everybody.”

If you think about it, you probably know a female who has at one point suffered abuse at the hands of a partner. I know a couple. They weren't killed, and they have moved on and have healthy relationships with other people now. But it happened to them, and as Rosie Batty can attest, it can quite easily spiral into something far worse.

So while at a micro level we should be looking out for our friends, at a macro level, it's time we did more. Gender inequality is linked to many things: pay inequities, maternity leave injustices, unconscious bias in the workplace, and domestic violence. We can't let these things slip through to the keeper any more, and we can't let a worsening economy hold us back from looking out for our friends, sisters, mothers, daughters and the girl on the bus copping it from her boyfriend.

Don't just talk about it, do something!

It's a long time to White Ribbon Day here in Australia, and an even longer time until the next International Women's Day. I hope we see progress, and I hope we all contribute in some way to improving the rights and safety of women. I think the national conversation is moving in the right direction, but ultimately it's our actions that speak louder than words.

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