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Lost Liberation

Women’s rights in a post-feminist world

AUSTRALIA WAS one of the first countries in the world to give women the right to vote and sit in parliament (federally in 1902).

Yet according to the Australian Government Office for Women, it was not until 1943 that the nation elected women to Federal Parliament.

Until 1966, women working in the federal public service had to resign when they were married.

But in 1969 women in Australia were awarded ‘equal pay for work of equal value’.

The 1970s and 1980s saw huge social change relating to the role of women including the introduction of federal legislation in 1984 to ban discrimination on the basis of sex.

Current reports from the Office for Women say that more women than men are now educated at secondary schools and universities in Australia and more women than men graduate from university with bachelor degrees.

In January 2008, 58 per cent of Australia’s work forces were women.

Yet women only hold around 36 per cent of public service senior executive positions.

In the private sector, the percentage of women in management drops to around 12 per cent.

Now, Australia’s Prime Minister, the Governor- General and even the General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia are women.

At Trinity Theological College, Brisbane, eight out of the 17 ministry candidates are women.

In Australia the popular 1990s saying “women can do anything” is, for the most part true.

In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly created UN Women, the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.

In March this year, the 100th Anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD) was celebrated all over the world.

The theme for this year’s event was “Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women”.

It is hard to believe that in 2011 these things would still be an issue.

The third of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) is to “promote gender equality and empower women”.

Yet according to UN statistics (2004) Sub-Sahara Africa, Southern and Western Asia, and some Pacific nations around Australia and New Zealand are lagging in the three target areas of ratios of girls to boys in primary, secondary and tertiary
education, share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector and proportion of seats held by women in national parliament.

On IWD on 8 March, United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-moon, said despite progress there are still too many societies where women remain second-class citizens.

“Only through women’s full and equal participation in all areas of public and private life can we hope to achieve the sustainable, peaceful and just society promised in the United Nations Charter,” said Mr Ban.

UN Women Executive Director, Michelle Bachelet, highlighted the gains made since the first IWD 100 years ago but said there was still a long way to go for global women’s rights.

“I suspect those courageous pioneers would look at our world today with a mixture of pride and disappointment,” she said.
“There has been remarkable progress as the last century has seen an unprecedented expansion of women’s legal rights and entitlements.

“But despite this progress over the last century, the hopes of equality expressed on that first International Women’s Day are a long way from being realised.

“Almost two out of three illiterate adults are women.

Girls are still less likely to be in school than boys.”

She added that even in the healthcare sector women are disadvantaged.

“Every 90 seconds of every day, a woman dies in pregnancy or due to childbirth-related complications despite us having the knowledge and resources to make birth safe".