Australian women encouraged to simply shake off entrenched inequality


Senator Larissa Waters

Harper's BAZAAR nominates Julie Bishop as it's 2014 Woman Of the Year.

Harper's BAZAAR nominates Julie Bishop as it's 2014 Woman Of the Year. Photo: Jez Smith/Harper's BAZAAR

This week Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop was named Woman of the Year by fashion magazine Harper's Bazaar's.

"Stop whingeing, get on with it and prove them all wrong," she told the magazine, reflecting on her role as a female leader in a male-dominated cabinet.

But by telling women that when it comes to sexism they need to "stop whingeing and get on with it", what Julie Bishop is leaving many women to "get on with" is living and working with entrenched inequality.

Bishop's comments also included, "Please do not let it get to you … Don't make it front-page news".


But the women who struggle most because of gender inequality, don't have the same power as the Minister for Foreign Affairs to influence what makes front-page news.  

The few women who do have the opportunity to shape public debate, like Julie Bishop, should use it to help other women, regardless of whether they personally have faced discrimination and sexism themselves.

The courageous women I know who are loudly, proudly advocating for equal rights and opportunities for women are certainly not "whingeing" – they are feminists, they are leaders and they should be applauded for their work.

We have real and growing gender inequality problems in Australia and they should be front-page news.  

New research by Curtin University shows that Australia's gender wealth gap, like our gender pay gap, is widening.

From 2002 to 2010, the gap in average net wealth between single men and single women grew from $18 300 to $47 000. The gap was highest for younger Australians. In 2010, single men aged under 35 had an average net wealth of $120 200 while single women under 35 had $63 500 in net wealth.

That's a giant gap of 89 per cent.

This is astonishing, especially when you consider that young women are more likely than young men to go to university.

The research comes as our gender pay gap is at its most inequitable in decades, with women earning on average 18.2 per cent less than men.

There's also a massive discrepancy in retirement savings, as a result of women earning less and being more likely to take time out of the workplace for unpaid caring work.  The average superannuation pay out for women is a third of that of men.

One of the most tragic consequences of financial gender inequality is that it can trap women in domestic violence.

Last week, the Senate Inquiry into domestic violence that I established heard first hand from women's refuges that they are struggling to keep up with the tragically high demand and that domestic violence is the biggest cause of homelessness for women.

Yet the Abbott Government's budget threatens to make it harder for women to escape domestic violence, with cuts to single parent support, community legal centres and affordable housing.

Unfortunately, with this government, we're forced to first talk about what they need stop doing before what they need to start doing to fix gender inequality.

Overall the government's budget disproportionately impacts women, especially women with low incomes. 

The government's planned interest hikes on uni loans also unfairly impact women, who are more likely to take time off work to have and raise children, while the interest keeps on piling up.

On top its unfair budget, the government is trying to water down requirements for companies to report on gender pay equity in their workforce, including which positions women occupy, and how they are paid compared to men. This is important data that will give us the tools tackle the gender pay gap.

The government has also teamed up with Clive Palmer to scrap the low income super contribution from 2017, which will hurt half of all working Australian women and 80 per cent of women working on a part-time or casual basis.

And of course there's the issue of political representation, which has seen Australia slip down the World Economic Forum's index on gender equality.

The Abbott Government has only one woman in its Cabinet, Julie Bishop, and she is telling us to ignore sexism and carry on.

When Julie Bishop looks around the Cabinet room and sees that there are no other women at the table, surely she must realise that a business-as-usual approach isn't working.

To achieve gender equality we need to make changes and the government can start by undoing the backward steps it has already taken.

If the government needs more than the goal of gender equality to do this, they might be compelled by the fact that women are unlikely to follow Julie Bishop's advice to "get on with it" and " don't make it front-page news".

We'll continue to call out sexism and inequality, especially where it results from regressive attacks on women's rights by government. 


Senator Larissa Waters is the Australian Greens spokesperson for Women.




  • Thank you for this article! I have been reading pieces about why women on the right are so hesitant to claim feminism and have been yelling (okay ranting) about the women left behind. Now I feel like I can cease my ranting.

    Date and time
    November 11, 2014, 10:52AM
    • Why, once again, does Daily Life, just get an author to criticise Ms Bishop?

      So she has her own view on Femiinism , can't there just be some support for her? Why all the hate against someone doing her best in her job

      As Madelleine Albright said, and it seems equally applicable to both sides here..."There is a special place in hell for women who don't help other women. "

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 11:28AM
    • i completely agree, however don't believe its time to stop the yelling as equality of genders in Australia is a huge issue, and we've got a long way to go.

      I actually wrote to Julie the other week regarding this issue (yes... i'm not just an annoying person here) and did get a reply.. most likely from one of her staffers... which paraphrasing said 'I am a passionate advocate for gender equality and acknowledge that while equality for women has been achieved in many areas, there are still issues around discrimination in workplaces, pay gaps and perceptions about women’s capacity'.

      To me this is just a textbook reply and I would argue as Senator Waters has stated, there is an opportunity for a very (ok, I don't agree with most of her politics) capable woman to make a stand and a point, for her to influence the cabinet makeup as the men there certainly can't be the most capable people we can find and make gender quality front in centre in Australia.

      To me none of the issues Ms Bishop wrote me about are being address... and as it is quite clear our current prime minister has no interest in this,it is time for someone like Julie to makes these front page issues... as things aren't getting better, they're actually getting worse.

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 11:41AM
    • "it is time for someone like Julie to makes these front page issues"

      Hey cuteclaudia :)

      Unfortunately, Bishop has to toe the party line. It is quite clear that the government has no interest in supporting feminists or feminism.

      For Bishop to claim she is feminist would essentially be the end of her career (although she claims to be "a passionate advocate for gender equality"....someone really should give a name to that group of people who advocate passionately for gender equality....I know! How about "feminists"!).

      Donna Joy
      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 2:13PM
    • Probably one of the most profound statements on feminism I have seen - "just get on with it and prove them wrong".
      The laws of this land ensure equal pay for equal work for all award employees or Enterprise agreement workers. A factory worker gets paid the same regardless of tenure or gender as long as they are performing the same task.
      For professional workers, salary increases are primarily based on performance reviews - if you take 5 years off work to raise a family, you should expect that your colleague who has remained in the workforce will have skipped ahead. Is it fair to argue that when I return to work after 5 years raising my boys that I should automatically be given the same payrises that the other lawyer in our firm recieved (by the way, SHE has chosen not to have kids yet).
      How is it fair on her if the company gives me the same increase she got for working her butt off to cover my duties as well as her own while I was out of the workforce?
      By the way, I am male...

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 2:25PM
  • It would be great to see statistics that compare like for like instead of the same old gross gender wage gap number that doesn't take into account men and women working different hours in different jobs and taking different amounts of time out of the workforce. Looking at the graduate careers website data from 2012 it shows that on average across 23 different fields female graduates working in the same field (but not necessarily job) earn 96.5% of what their male peers earn per hour worked. So a 3.5% wage gap instead of 18.2%, and that's without adjusting for different jobs within each field or for working in the public vs private sector.

    So if single women aged 35 and under have a different amount of wealth, perhaps that is because of their own choices to work lower hours (about 2 hours less per week, or 4.6%), work in jobs which don't pay as much (social work, humanities) and therefore don't have as much money left over to build wealth then perhaps it shouldn't come as a huge surprise that they don't have as much.

    Similarly given that women are far more likely than men to take time out of the workforce to look after children, it shouldn't be a surprise that they are less likely to get the promotions and pay rises at work as they don't have the same experience as a male of similar age who hasn't taken time out for children has. So again it is entirely expected that someone who took time out of the workforce and therefore didn't get the promotions and payrises as someone who devoted more time to their company did ends up with less in retirement savings.

    Date and time
    November 11, 2014, 11:20AM
    • Things are not this simplistic, Hurrow. Firstly, there are the women now living in poverty who were forced to leave work upon marriage and therefore lost their independence and who, in many cases, were later divorced, and those who had to work low-paying jobs because the education of girls was not prioritised.

      Things have improved, but it is still imperative that women who have children leave the workplace for some time at least, and it is true that a break of any length of time will affect that woman's chances of promotion. Our male-focused culture needs to recognise this and change it (there is no reason that a woman who has had a break to have children is automatically no longer capable or rising through the ranks at the same pace as her male colleague, including her male colleague who is also a parent but who didn't have to take time out because he had a wife to do that).

      There are also many instances in which female graduates doing the same job as male graduates earn less (female dentists in one study received $14,000 less than males). This gap will presumably remain and then increase should the female decide to have children. Remember, procreation is a joint male-female project, but it is almost always the woman who bears the long-term cost.

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 1:52PM
    • +1000 Cam. The fact that women do not have children by themselves is always overlooked. Bottom line is that there should not be a wealth gap at all given that for every mother there is a father of a child.

      for the love of
      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 2:10PM
    • Cam if women chose to marry men who "forced" them to leave work upon getting married that is a choice that they made. I agree that it's unfair that women's education was not prioritised in the past, on the other hand we now have more women going to university than men so the reverse is now true.

      Your employer is not responsible for the choices you make in your personal life. If you and your partner choose to have kids, you should also be deciding who will take time out from work to look after them, ideally in advance. Anyone who takes time out from working is going to be behind the curve compared to their colleague who has been at work the entire time, that's the way the world works. You don't get to say I've been away for 2 years but I should be entitled to exactly the same as someone who has been putting in the hard work for the employer the same time, particularly if you aren't going to be working the same hours or are going to need more time off to pick up kids etc. That applies to men and women.

      The study you quote also pointed out that median salaries for public health dentists was 70k, private sector ones got 96.8k and was across 65 graduates, 21 male and 44 women. If most male graduates went into private practice and most women went into public health then that accounts for the 14k pay difference.

      Men and women both have choices about study, public sector vs private employment, working hours, who to marry, who looks after kids etc, and those choices have consequences for earnings and wealth.

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 2:46PM
    • Cam - You take a shot at Hurrow for apparently oversimplifying this and then you go on and do exactly the same.

      "Things are not this simplistic, Hurrow. Firstly, there are the women now living in poverty who were forced to leave work upon marriage and therefore lost their independence and who, in many cases, were later divorced, and those who had to work low-paying jobs because the education of girls was not prioritised."

      - When were women "forced" to leave work after getting married? When was the education of women a low priority? Perhaps that may have been true 60 years ago but today? Come on.

      Date and time
      November 11, 2014, 4:14PM

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