By Lauren Stanley:
“Gender equality isn’t a women’s issue. It’s a social and economic problem affecting us all”states the NSW Council of Social Services’ (NCOSS) in their ‘A New Year for Women’ discussion paper. NCOSS has designed a campaign called A New Year for Women, which focuses on the economic disadvantage felt by women and girls, and its’ cumulative effects. Through addressing the structural and social causes of economic disempowerment, and attempting to ameliorate its effects, NCOSS is pushing the issue of gender inequality in Australia to the forefront of the state agenda. According to the discussion paper economic empowerment reduces barriers to actions such as leaving violent relationships, decreases vulnerability to homelessness, and increases housing security.
A part of this campaign involves a series of view collecting ‘round table’ discussion sessions, where women of all ages, and from all groups gather to examine the questions that NCOSS has posed to them. All the questions relate around economic empowerment; such as your personal definition of such, and whether you believe it’s achievable for you. I am attending the ‘Young Women’s Panel’ in a matter of weeks. So that I could go to this panel armed with the views and experiences of my peers, as well as my own, ‘Social and Community Workers Western Sydney’ (SCWWS) hosted a pre-discussion round table event on Friday May 13th, in the Learning Commons at Parramatta campus.
Our event consisted of a small turn out of passionate women, with a plethora of experiences to bring to the literal and figurative table. For these ladies economic empowerment meant being financially literate and independent, it meant not being economically valued based on whether you had children or not, and it meant housing security. The economic aspirations mentioned were not lavish; they consisted on being comfortable, being in secure housing, and being able to actually retire – all of which are less easily achieved for women than they are for men.
The major concerns that were raised seem off topic from a conversation about economic empowerment, but they are linked in a far too significant way. Education for men and boys was top priority; there was not a woman on the table that felt like men truly empathised about how it felt to walk through your world feeling unsafe in so many places. Ideas mentioned around women’s bodies being property feed into this so thoroughly: women fear the common spaces (like car parks, night time streets) because our bodies still somehow don’t belong to us. This in turn plays a significant part in economic empowerment. Women are valued less in the workplace after they have had children, but are viewed as deviant if they remain childless; our body somehow defines our economic value. This devaluing of women in the workplace feeds into assumptions that the ‘pink collar’ jobs (caring professions that have been deemed women’s jobs) are less valuable – worth less money, and less esteem. All these factors affect women so greatly. The pay gap is not just the actual reduced turnover of money, it is the lesser superannuation that that garners, the casualization and part time nature of ‘women’s’ jobs, and the lack of financial literacy.
Another issue of high concern to the table was ‘at risk’ groups of women: those that have migrated, from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, lower socio-economic contexts, women from the queer community, indigenous women, and refugees. All that has been mentioned above should be tailored so that it fits the entire intersection of women, not just those who have access to resources, and education, all women need to be included.
The overarching theme of the conversations was always education, education, education. Financial literacy, ideas around consent, around healthy relationships, inclusive sexual education (not just heteronormative), not socialising children into their gender norms in the education system, and teaching boys about the experiences and feelings of women as they attempt to navigate the wholly male space that is our towns, cities, and homes. The government need to put their literal money where their figurative mouth is, and take a good, hard look at the very real gender inequality issue in Australia.
SCWWS will be holding a follow up event in order to disseminate the information that was uncovered during the NCOSS round table events. If you liked the sound of this event, then keep your eyes out for the advertising for that one – this time it will be inclusive of all gender identifications, and not just for those who identify as a woman.
Events and Communication Coordinator | Social and Community Workers Western Sydney (SCWWS)
Parramatta Representative | Western Sydney Women’s Collective
Student Representative | Parramatta Student Campus Council
Student Representative | Academy Advisory Committee