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Fighting Global Poverty with Gender Equality

By Kylie Henman:

Who runs the world? GIRLS! Or not, as Dr Helen Szoke was to inform us.

I attended Western Sydney University’s Open Forum “Fighting Global Poverty with Gender Equality”. Dr Helen Szoke, CEO of Oxfam Australia and special guest speaker, revealed that the top 1% of the wealthy in Australia are worth more than the bottom 60%. On a global scale, 62 individuals now hold the same amount of wealth as the poorest half of the population. The top financial institutions are now saying that the global inequality divide is growing, and this needs to addressed as a matter of urgency to avoid further damage to the global economy.

History has shown us that where you find poverty, conflict and insecurity, you also find women are the first to lose out. Dr Szoke discussed the need for pathways into the right jobs for women. The gender pay gap, that in most countries means a woman brings home only 60% to 75% of her male counterpart’s wage, must be narrowed significantly. When women have access to services, education, employment and improved wages, the economy wins.

And here we find ourselves again. Another election that appears it will be won by one of the two major, yet ineffective, parties on three-word slogans. Neither of the major party leaders have discussed the issues that NGO’s are highlighting as their community’s biggest struggles. There is talk about enforcing tax rules so that big business will pay its share (but there is also a promise to lower company tax). There have been massive cuts to funding in the community sector, with domestic violence refuges and women’s services some of the hardest hit. There is little talk of returning funding to the poorest of our citizens.

Dr Szoke informed the audience that research shows “Women aged 14-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war and malaria.” This is shocking. Now is not the time to become familiar or comfortable with these results. I am able to attend university, I have my own bank account, I have a mortgage in my name. But there are still fundamental inequalities that mean this is not an option for many women. These things I take for granted aren’t even best case scenarios for some individuals of my gender. After over 200 years of struggle for equality, one would have hoped this battle would have progressed further.

As to how unrecognised this issue is, there was a telling moment prior to the conclusion of the event. One gentleman stood to question the relevance of this conversation in Australia, as he felt that “things were pretty good for women in Australia.” Obviously his many years of experience as a woman in Australia gave him excellent insight and the authority to comment. Our gracious speaker politely referred him back to the facts and figures we had just discussed as evidence that this conversation was very relevant in Australia.

Dr Szoke said when meeting with various local MP’s, the majority informed her that “this isn’t an issue in my electorate.” Highlighting once again the need to bring this matter to light. How do you do that? Use your voice. Sign the petitions that NGO’s are producing regarding more fair taxation, gender equality, and funding for support services. Lend your time to organisations that are bringing these issues to the forefront and need bodies. Write to your local member, or better yet go and see them, and tell them this is an issue you want to see on the table.