Creating a progressive Canberra for women

17 November 2015

Frances Crimmins

Frances Crimmins

Frances is the CEO of YWCA Canberra.

Image: Fair Go for Canberra

Image: Fair Go for Canberra

This is a transcript of the keynote address YWCA Canberra Executive Director, Frances Crimmins, gave at the recent Progressive Canberra Summit, held by Unions ACT and Fair Go for Canberra on Saturday 14 November 2015. 

I would like to start by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we’re meeting on and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

I am delighted to be here today, and to be given the opportunity to present on a progressive Canberra for girls and women. I want to start by noting that my white, able-bodied privilege frames my values and opinions. For Canberra to truly be a community where both women and men are able to equally participate, I need to acknowledge that the barriers and discrimination that Indigenous women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women with disability and young women experience are significant intersections layered on top of gender inequality, and need to be addressed before we can move forward.

I have just returned from a week long global conference with 500 other women from 72 countries. Our discussion focused on one key agreement to a bold and transformative goal – that girls and young women will transform power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war, inclusive of all women.

How does this translate to Canberra? Here in front of you, I present as a white, affluent middleaged women. I have a safe home to live in, I have two children and a loving partner and family – I live well.

But that is not the whole truth. The truth is that girls and women experience discrimination daily, and for some it has become so normalized  we just accept it. We live in a community where gender equality has not been achieved.  Where being born a female, you will still face the same gender barriers that we thought would be broken down decades ago.  In fact at the conference, with women from many countries like Sierra Leone, Nepal,  the Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Finland, Sweden, and the USA: not one nation was able to present  that they have achieved gender equality in their countries.  As the Canadian Prime Minister said in his  two word answer last week about achieving gender equality in his Cabinet – it’s 2015 .

On 25 September 2015, the 193 countries of the UN General Assembly adopted the 2030 Development Agenda titled Transforming our world: the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that were adopted offer us such a possibility and platform. The SDGs call on us to “leave no one behind.” To start with, those who are “most left behind.” In every situation, women and girls top the list of those left behind. Yet without women and girls progress for humanity cannot happen.

Goal 5 of the SDGs, ‘Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls’, has to be fully implemented by all of us.

In brief, these are the targets of Goal 5 of the SDGs:

  • End all forms of discrimination
  • Eliminate all forms of violence in public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual exploitation
  • Eliminate all harmful practices (such as child marriage and female genital mutilation)
  • Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work
  • Ensure women’s effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership
  • Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights
  • Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources
  • Enhance the use of enabling technologies, in particular ICTs
  • Adopt and strengthen policies and legislation

I am presenting this goal to you with the challenge that in Canberra today, we all have to work to achieve this goal. The SDGs are not just goals that apply to  developing nations, but that they are our goals . We all need to be single-minded about the fact that they are as applicable in  Canberra, and every town,  city and state in Australia as they are to the other 192 countries who signed onto the SDGs in September this year.

I had the privilege of hearing an address from Aung San Suu Kyi at the conference I mentioned earlier, and she said “A society that does not include or enhance the position of women is only half alive, a nation that does is fully alive.”

So, I will briefly talk about some of the data today on the status of women and girls in our community. Where Canberra data is not available I will reference the Australian data.

  • The average gender pay gap in the ACT in 2015 is 11.7%. The national gap is 17.9% and the extremely bad news for those women here today who work 15 minutes’ drive away  in NSW is the pay gap has been  increasing there, and is currently 19.3%.
  • Only two Canberra-based employers were on the Wokplace Gender Equality list for citation as Employers of Choice for Gender Equality- I lead one of them and my fellow speaker from UC represents the other.
  • The national gender pay gap in the private sector is 21.3% and in the public sector is 12.2%.
  • However the ACT public service in 2015 had a 2% pay gap and women held 42% of senior executive positions.
  • Since 2008, there has been a decrease in the percentage of women on ACT Government boards and committees, down from 48% in 2008, to 47% in 2012, and data we are waiting for confirmation on is indicating this has decreased again in 2014.
  • We do have a strong record of women in the ACT Legislative Assembly today, with seven women out of the current 17 seats.
  • On the 31st of October, the number of women on ASX200 boards was at 21%.  what this figure does not tell you is that many women hold more than one non-Executive Director positon and are counted by directorships – not in terms of individual women. So the pool of women on ASX200 boards is actually less.
  • Women entering the workforce as graduates earn on average $3,000 less per annum than their male counterparts, which equates to a 9.4%income discrepancy. When factors such as occupation, industry and education are accounted for, a gender wage gap of 4.4%remains unexplained.
  • Australia is currently ranked number one for women completing tertiary qualifications – but this is yet to close the gap on starting salaries and the pay gap. It should be the pathway for women into executive roles, roles in government and pathways into directorship roles on Boards.
  • The cumulative impact of this pay disparity and lack of opportunities into leadership roles is considerable, with women earning an average of $700,000 less than men over their lifetime, and retiring with around half as much superannuation.

So yes women in the ACT have more employment opportunities and are more educated than ever before, however gender equality for pay and obtaining senior levels in the workplace has yet to be achieved. Despite years of aspirational targets, workplace initiatives, and political rhetoric, gender equality in leadership and decision-making remains elusive. In senior leadership positions, men continue to outnumber women across both public and private sectors.

In addition to this, a range of systemic and cultural barriers continue to hinder equal economic participation and women obtaining leadership roles. This includes the inaccessibility of childcare, inflexible working arrangements, limited paternity leave options, entrenched stereotypes, and gendered biases that influence recruitment and appointment decisions.

And the structural issues that impact gender equality extend to basic human rights – such as access to shelter and a home.

A 2011 study by Swinburne University of Social Research Fellow, Dr Andrea Sharam, warned of a ‘tsunami’ of older single women in housing stress, due to the severe shortage of affordable housing. The study said that this group is: “the new face of homelessness, but they are barely acknowledged. Women were more likely to self-manage their homelessness by becoming housekeepers, boarding with others, or swapping sex for a place to sleep. They are a hidden statistic, and homeless women are not being accurately counted in state and national data”. What we do know from the 2011 Census is that 105,237Australians were homeless on Census night: the majority were single, and almost half were women, with 42 in every 10,000 women defined as homeless.

A landmark research project undertaken by ACT Shelter last year explored older women housing vulnerability in the ACT. They found that in 2011 there were 11,431 women in the ACT over the age of 40 on low to medium incomes who did not own their own home. In contrast, there were 7, 356 men living in the ACT in that same category.

Older women are particular vulnerable to homelessness due to gender-based economic and financial inequality.

I find that when I’m talking about these structural issues,  while they can draw plenty of debate, they are still safe /comfortable conversations to have.

Sadly though, this is not the case when we talk about some of the more pervasive, ‘hidden’ issues of gender equality. For me, the biggest indicator that gender inequality still exists in our society, and the issue we are not yet ready as a community to truly respond to, is violence against women. Before I continue, I need to acknowledge in a gathering of this size there will be survivors of domestic, family and sexual violence or you will know, support and love someone who has experienced violence. I hope you find my contribution to this conversation safe and representative of this issue. Anyone who is in need of help, please contact 1800 RESPECT.

I also want to make it clear that men are also victims of violence, and at times the perpetrators are women. However, the data and current statistics show that today in 2015, women are significantly more likely to experience domestic, family and sexual violence than men, and the perpetrator will most likely be a man. In fact, 1 in 3 Australian women have experienced an incident of violence in their lifetime – that is a staggering amount of women, and proof that this issue is an epidemic. As reported in the media this year, 76 women have died as a direct result of violence to date, the majority by a current or former intimate partner. Every three hours a women is treated in an emergency department. In 2014-15 ACT police received 17,697 crisis calls on domestic violence, and front line services are reporting significant increases in women needing emergency and post-emergency support.

We have to acknowledge that this is a gendered issue, and this is the conversation we need to have, despite the horrifying subject matter. At times our community has come together to say they’ve had enough, most recently this year with the tragic death of Tara Costigan, earlier in 2012 with the murder of Jill Meagher, and I still remember the first time I heard about Anita Colby when I was 15. These stories are shocking, and have stirred community action, but what’s really shocking is that violence is still occurring across our community, in women’s homes, away from the public eye.

In the case of male violence against women, we know that allowing this issue to remain hidden has been highly detrimental to the safety of women and children in our community. In fact more than half of women have children in their care who experience domestic violence. It is only by bringing these issues out into the open that they can be addressed. In fact, the rates of reported male violence against women is not decreasing at all. We also need to accept this is an under-reported issue, as many victims rightly fear hostility or continued violence if they do take action.

We can’t meaningfully address male violence against women while we continue to reinforce the notion that men should have power and control, and women should be nurturing and submissive. Entrenched gender stereotypes have a negative impact on our entire society – both men and women alike. These stereotypes particularly feed into to the overt and insidious sexism that women experience on so many levels, every day.

Sadly, many women today face death threats, rape threats, and violent outbursts on social media, simply for voicing their opinions. These kinds of incidents of sexism and harassment largely go unchallenged. If you ask any woman whether they would report the attacks they face online, they most likely wouldn’t know where to start.

By not calling out this behavior, and not challenging everyday sexism, we are in fact contributing to detrimental societal views on the roles of men and women, which feeds into men’s violence against women.

When we talk about overcoming gender inequality, it can sound so simple – treating women as equals to men in all aspects of our society shouldn’t be so hard. The feminist movement has achieved a lot, from securing women’s right to vote, the introduction of equal pay legislation, even allowing women to remain in the public service after they get married. However, we find that now, in 2015, we’re still having the same conversations about issues like entrenched gender norms that perpetuate gender inequality, the lack of women in leadership roles in our government, business and community sectors, and the gaping pay equity gap.

So what can we do about it? We need to take a multi-pronged approach by continuing to focus on changing government policies to remove barriers to structural issues of gender inequality, as well as changing attitudes and behaviours, which is a longer-term game. The fact is that in Australia, our culture continues to embrace gender stereotypes and enforce traditional gender roles, which make it impossible for us to truly achieve gender equality, no matter how much systemic change we make. This requires more than policy and legislation. We need to address gender inequality in our workplace or institutions, how women are portrayed in sport, media, films and other pop culture/ entertainment.

This is not just about improving the status of women and girls. Gender equality benefits everyone – men and women. Gender stereotypes are harmful to us all, and we need to make sure that our society recognizes this.

I  believe that this epidemic of violence is entirely preventable and I also believe that we as a community are no longer willing to not demand change and commit to prevention of violence against women through the achievement of gender equality.

We must be single-minded about the fact that change for women and girls is more posibble in our lifetimes than ever before. We are the first generation with a real possibility to change the power relations between men and women significantly, substantially, and enduringly. But only if we choose to focus our whole society on the most strategic, transformative and structural changes that remove recurrence of the intergenerational barriers to gender equality.

Together with a critical mass of men, boys, political and economic leaders, religious and traditional community leaders, youth, and media, we can remove some of the key pillars of patriarchy.

My progressive Canberra will not wait until 2030 to achieve the targets set  in the SDG.  We are one of the most affluent, educated communities, in one of the wealthiest countries at the most innovative time in human history.  We can achieve gender equality and not stop at our own community. Chief Minister Andrew Barr, you want us to be the knowledge Capital, well that includes  learning and building our  knowledge in the attainment of gender equality. Then our society will be fully alive.

Thank you.

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply