In 1989, Dame Roma Mitchell, the first Australian woman to be a judge, a Queen’s Counsel, a chancellor of an Australian university and the Governor of an Australian state declared “for those who espouse the cause of human rights and equal opportunity the path is rough and stony”. It was true then, and it remains true now.
In Dame Roma’s lifetime (1913-2000) we removed barriers that denied women employment and control of our finances, permitted unequal pay, restricted our reproductive rights and even determined what sports we could play and clubs we could enter.
But if we want a world in which our daughters truly have the same possibilities and opportunities as our sons we have more to do.
Just as we had to reform our laws and practices which legitimised discrimination, we must also change the implicit rules – the attitudes and stereotypes which restrict women from reaching their full potential and achieving their full and equal role in our society.
In this, men and women will have to #pressforprogress together.
For all the laws we’ve passed and the progress we’ve made, the hard reality is that our daughters face the prospect of earning 15 per cent less over their lifetime, having fewer advantageous career opportunities and have less financial security (particularly in retirement) than our sons.
They are also more likely to be the victims of family violence, harassment and sexual assault. Women account for 79% of all intimate partner homicides, one in five Australian women experience sexual violence and a staggering eight out of ten women aged 18 to 24 report being harassed on the street in the past year.
Equality continues to be a work in progress right across our society. As we were reminded again during the marriage equality debate, there remain some in our community who fundamentally do not accept the principle of equality, who believe it is acceptable to discriminate, and are prepared to subject others to abuse, innuendo or casual bias.
Not many people today would be prepared to admit to believing that women are less able or less intelligent.
But not enough are prepared to take responsibility for changing a world in which half the population has fewer opportunities.
This systemic and deep-seated discrimination is what Elizabeth Broderick called ‘gender asbestos’ – attitudes, beliefs and unconscious bias that is built into the walls, floors, ceilings, structures and practices of organisations.
The extraordinary events in our Parliament just last week is indicative of how pervasive tacit sexism is. When gender discrimination reflects a mindset, a kind of subliminal attitude, when it is systemic and tacit, it is even harder to confront and remove.
We have made progress in calling out sexual harassment and the culture of silence which perpetuates it. #MeToo is a tribute to the brave women who have joined together and said “enough is actually far too much”.
But it is one thing to call out unacceptable behaviour. It is another to instill decency and respect. If we want to put an end to harassment, abuse and violence against women, if we want a society based on respect and inclusion, men everywhere will need to demonstrate that respect and decency towards women, to each other and to their sons.
So, as we celebrate International Women’s Day and the progress achieved by so many courageous women who have gone, let’s not rest. We have a lot more to do as together we travel this rough and stony path together.
So let’s get going and #pressforprogress together.
This piece was originally published on POPSUGAR Australia on Thursday, 8 March 2018.