Australian women encouraged to simply shake off entrenched inequality

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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".

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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.