I am concerned that as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women, your narrative suggests a very poor understanding of women’s issues in Australia……..This is a letter I have sent to the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women today. I have published this as an open letter as I would appreciate feedback and discussion on these points. Many things have occurred in Government since this statement was made, but I haven’t forgotten the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women’s comments on 3AW in September and I am posting this to bring this back into the minds of people who care for and fight for equality for women. I will update you with a response, if I receive one.
Update: International Women’s Day 8th March 2014. I sent this via land mail to PM & Minister for Women, Tony Abbott, cc copies to Senator Moore and Senator Cash on 12 December 2013. I received an in-depth response from Senator Moore within two weeks. To date as of 08/03/2014 almost three months later, I still have not received a response from the Tony Abbott, Minister for Women or Senator Cash, Minister assisting the Minister for Women.
4th June, 2014: After assistance from Senator Larissa Waters of the Greens, I have now received a letter from Mikaela Cash on behalf of the Prime Minister for Women. My question of would he publicly apologise for stating on 3AW that “Women do not suffer legal discrimination in Australia” was not addressed.
Dear Prime Minister
I am concerned that as the Prime Minister and the Minister for Women, your narrative suggests a very poor understanding of women’s issues in Australia.
On Friday, 27 September, 2013 Neil Mitchell (Radio 3AW) asked you, “Do you believe women do suffer discrimination in Australia?”
Your response as Prime Minister of Australia and the Minister for Women was
“I don’t think women suffer legal discrimination and I don’t think anyone these days sets out to do the wrong thing but it is very difficult for women to combine work and family if they don’t have a fair dinkum paid parental leave scheme and that’s going to change very soon under the Coalition.”
Yet women in Australia do experience both legal discrimination and discrimination by default. Your comment above appears to be very short-sighted in terms that you view discrimination against women as ‘accidental’. Comments such as above will continue to enable our society to view discrimination against women as non-harmful and ‘nothing to really worry about’ and not as an ingrained, enabled and supported societal construct that urgently needs to be addressed.
It is also my concern that you appear to take the view, from your comments above, that a paid parental leave scheme is a panacea to eradicating existing discrimination against women. Many areas of discrimination will not be addressed by a paid parental leave scheme, regardless of the avenue of funding. In fact, some of the personal concerns from women detailed across various social media forums indicate otherwise. These women have expressed that they may be further discriminated against if an employer paid parental leave scheme was introduced. I have taken the time to list many of my areas of key concern; however, this is not an exhaustive list.
Discrimination against Pregnant Women in the Workplace
- The increasing casualisation of women in the workforce excludes many women from rights surrounding pregnancy in the workplace.
- Dismissals of casual women workers upon revealing they are pregnant
- There are significant issues for Indigenous women and pregnancy in the workplace. These include, requirement of additional time off for cultural reasons to travel home to give birth; higher rate of diabetes requiring more time off. This can be increasingly difficult for women in remote or isolated locations.
- Some women in rural and remote areas have no choice but to stop work, due to the inability to travel.
- Teenage pregnant women who experience discrimination do not have the self efficacy to use the complaints process.
- Some teenage pregnant women are not kept on after their traineeship, due to pregnancy.
- Women from non-traditional families and same-sex families experience pregnancy discrimination due to social attitudes in the workplace.
- Women with disabilities experience pregnancy discrimination as employers do not accommodate their changing needs
- Women experience pregnancy discrimination during the selection process for employment. Many women are asked at interview their plans for intending to have a family or increasing their family. (Source: Australian Human Rights Commission)
The Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) (SDA) makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly because they are pregnant, potentially pregnant, breastfeeding or have family responsibilities. It includes both direct and indirect discrimination.
Discrimination against Women and Parents returning from parental leave
- In 2011 to 2012, 21% of complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act received by the Commission related to pregnancy discrimination and family responsibilities. The Commission received 160 complaints related to pregnancy discrimination, 63 complaints related to family responsibilities discrimination and two complaints related to breastfeeding discrimination. The overwhelming majority of these complaints were submitted by women.
- Similarly, 21% of the complaints investigated by the Fair Work Commission in 2011-2012 related to an allegation of pregnancy discrimination.
- The ABS ‘Pregnancy and employment transitions 2012’ data reveals that approximately 67,300 women employees (19%) perceived experiencing some level of discrimination in the workplace while pregnant. The most common kinds of treatment women reported in the survey included: ‘Missed out on opportunity for promotion’ (34%); ‘Missed out on training or development opportunities’ (32%); and ‘Received inappropriate or negative comments from their manager/supervisor’ (28%) (Source Australian Human Rights Commission)
The Sex Discrimination Act (Cth) (SDA) makes it unlawful to treat a person unfairly because they are pregnant, potentially pregnant, breastfeeding or have family responsibilities. It includes both direct and indirect discrimination.
Discrimination against women in achieving leadership and management roles and
Discrimination by default, due to under-representation in management and board positions in Australia
- In virtually all sectors of the paid workforce, women are underrepresented in leadership roles.
- Women account for over half of academic staff, however only 27% of women are Senior Lecturer or above.
- 64% of law graduates are women, however only 22% of women hold senior positions in law firms. Only 16% of women are on the bench in the Federal Court of Australia.
- Women chair only two per cent of ASX200 companies (four boards), hold only 8.3% of Board Directorships, hold only four CEO positions and make up only 10.7% of executive management positions
- In 2008, women held 5.9% of line executive management positions in ASX 200 companies; a decrease from 7.5% in 2006. Line executive management experience is considered essential for progressing to top corporate positions.
- Women make up a third of members on Australian Government Boards and Committees.
- Despite comprising more than half of all Commonwealth public servants, women make up only 37% of the Senior Executive Service. (Source Australian Human Rights Commission)
It is reported that women are more likely to have postgraduate degrees than men and score higher academically. The statistics indicate that women are discriminated against in terms of accessing the appropriate training for progression or are discriminated against covertly during the recruitment and selection phases of appointments for leadership roles.
It is unlawful for an employer to take adverse action against a person who is an employee or prospective employee because of the attributes of the person.
Discrimination against Breastfeeding Mothers
- Breastfeeding mothers have experienced being denied goods and services
- Breastfeeding mothers refused lactating breaks to feed their baby in the workplace.
- Breastfeeding mothers are harassed, verbally abused and targeted to be subjects of humiliation in public, due to a lack of public understanding surrounding this issue.
- Breastfeeding mothers experience discrimination due to some service providers and employers not providing sufficient accommodations for breastfeeding mothers. (Source ADCQ; Australian Breast Feeding Association).
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds of breastfeeding
Discrimination in the justice system against rape victims through under-reporting, lack of convictions and poor sentencing outcomes and
Discrimination through the virtual denial of the right to safety.
- It is a fact that one in five women will experience sexual violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women and Women with a Disability are more likely to experience sexual and physical assault
- It is estimated that less than 30% of sexual assaults are reported. The perception that the victim will be blamed instead of the perpetrator and the high rates of acquittals in the justice system are two a main reasons for non-reporting of sexual assault.
- Sexual violence is less likely to be reported by Indigenous women.
- Younger women and teenagers are more likely to be sexually assaulted than older women and young women and teenagers are more likely not to report the sexual assault to the police.
- Where a matter does proceed to trial, evaluations of trial transcripts consistently show that many complainants are:
- Accused of lying or making false reports.
- Asked questions about behaving in a sexually provocative way.
- Asked about alcohol intake on the day of the offence.
- Asked about the way they were dressed at the time of the offence.
- Similar questions are asked of children alleging inter familial sexual abuse.
- A Victorian study that asked barristers, judges and magistrates for their opinions found that almost all of them believed that “rape complainants have a significantly different experience as witnesses than victims of other forms of personal violence”.
- The average length of questioning endured by victim complainants in sexual offence trials is double that for victim complainants in trials involving other assaults.
- The situation facing Indigenous victim complainants is significantly worse, with more questions, longer periods of cross-examination, and racist imputations being made in court. (Source South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault)
“Rape laws which do not specifically exclude the application of sexist, discriminatory, and Ill-informed attitudes and beliefs in determining outcomes of sexual assault cases tacitly condone rape, condemn women to suffer in silence, and perpetuate and compound this harm consequent on a sexual assault. Law and education play a fundamental role in challenging assumptions and stereotypes surrounding sexual assault” (Source – The Australian Institute of Criminology)
Discrimination against women arising from casualisation in the workforce and high numbers working in insecure employment and
Discrimination against women through the continuation of lower wages in ‘traditional women’s industries’, and the general availability of fewer opportunities of penalties and overtime. Please note that in 2011, the gender pay gap was 17.2% for full-time workers and
Discrimination against women in the workforce, or who are job seeking who either cannot access or cannot afford childcare
- More women than men in Australia continue to work in jobs that provide less security and stability
- Some of the lowest paid industries in Australia such as Accommodation and Food Services, Arts and Recreation Services and Retail trade tend to employ the highest proportion of female employees without paid leave entitlements (61 per cent, 48 per cent and 34 per cent respectively
- 30 per cent of female employees who are lone parents with dependent children, are casual employees without paid leave entitlements
- In 2012, the total cash weekly earnings by gender were $1189.00 (Men) $852.00 (Women) (Source Australian Bureau of Statistics)
Ingrained discrimination and ignorance against the stolen generation, mothers and children alike.
Although an apology has been given to the Stolen Generation by the previous Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd; there are a myriad of serious effects on those who were stolen and on birth mothers and fathers, and so much more work needs to be done. The extent of the abhorrent discrimination towards this group, by our Governments and services requires urgent attention.
As the Prime Minister of this country, your speech suggesting that there was too much reference to ‘Indigenous heritage’ in the History curriculum (Tony Abbott, National Press Club, September 2013); only serves to permeate in our society, a narrative that continues to discriminate against the Stolen Generation and their future generations. This narrative also seeks to exclude all people of Australia from the truth.
My other concern is if changes to our history curriculum are approved, future leaders will make policy and decisions based on truth built from ignorance; and the mothers, the women, men, girls and boys of the stolen generation, will never see an end to discrimination and disrespect on our Government’s behalf. Adequate compensation in dollar terms and the continual development of support services for this group will be an issue that will forever remain silent.
Discrimination by default suffered by women who, as primary parental care givers, end up with reduced superannuation earnings in retirement and
Discrimination by default suffered by women, will receive less superannuation over time, through the continuation of lower wages in ‘traditional women’s industries’
- Only 60% of Indigenous women have superannuation coverage compared to 80% of women in the general population.
- Many women work more than one casual job across different employers and do not receive super from any individual employer, due to earning less than $450 per month.
- The mean super balance of men earning under $5400 per year is just almost double the amount for women in the same group. (Source ASFA)
- Women have significantly less money saved for their retirement – half of all women aged 45 to 59 have $8,000 or less in their superannuation funds, compared to $31,000 for men.
- Currently, the average superannuation payout for women is a third of the payout for men – $37,000 compared with $110, 000.
- In Australia, women working full-time today earn 16 per cent less than men.
- Women also receive less super across the board, due to the gender pay gap of 17.2% (Source Australian Human Rights Commission)
Discrimination against women in current abortion laws
- Within Australia, women’s rights in terms of reproductive choice are not viewed as a humanitarian right. There is no federal approach to abortion as a basic humanitarian right and various states have different levels of access and legality.
- In some states, women have no reproductive rights, except on the grounds of serious risk to life or health of the mother. In some states abortion is criminalised.
- The limited access in place is inequitable for women based on their geographic location. The entire systems of laws for abortion are discriminatory towards all women, as these laws do not allow a woman to be in control of her own individual reproductive rights.
The under-representation of women in parliament, amounting, in the absence of any system to redress the imbalance, to discrimination
It is concerning that not only are women under-represented in Australian politics, but Australia is ranked number 43/142 countries for women in national parliaments.
The Australian Government Office for Women, which is part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; aims to ensure a whole-of-government approach to providing better economic and social outcomes for women. However, the analysis by Waring et. al. of the Inter-Parliamentary Union of women in politics; would indicate the Australian Government Office for Women is not well placed to achieve these aims, due to under-representation of women in Parliament, and an absence of a system to redress the imbalance.
I have outlined the reasons below:
- If women are not present at policy and decision-making levels, there is a democratic deficit. Decisions taken without women’s perspective lack credibility in a democratic context
- The participation of women leads to a new perspective and a diversity of contributions to policy-making and to priorities of development, and it gives the female population a role in deciding the future of their country and the rights and opportunities for their gender.
- A democracy which excludes women, or in which women are represented only marginally, is not a real democracy. Women’s participation in policymaking is a question of justice and equality
- Women’s greater participation would impact upon the traditional values held by men. Sharing of power and responsibilities would become reality. Political meetings and programmes would be scheduled to take into account domestic responsibilities of both men and women.
In the current Government we are now faced with very little representation of women in Government. Margaret Fitzherbert’s lecture (APH, 2012) outlines many reasons why the Liberal party lags behind in representation. The main reasons are:
- No persistent pressure to pre-select women
- Liberal party culture – a culture which largely tolerates branch members asking women candidates for preselection questions about their parental and marital status.
Margaret Fitzherbert sums up with, “It’s time for the Liberals to take a lesson from the past – acknowledge the problem, and stop relying on a blind faith in ‘merit’ to somehow provide a sudden increase in numbers of female MPs.”
Discrimination against women, through lack of legislation supporting marriage equality.
Although both men and women are discriminated against through lack of legislation supporting marriage equality; my focus for the purpose of this letter is to discuss points of discrimination, particular to women. I will address two areas, discrimination through legislation and discrimination by default through exclusion in society.The Subsection 5(1) of the Marriage Act 1961 defines marriage as ‘…the union of a man and a woman to the exclusion of all others, voluntarily entered into for life.’ The definition of the marriage act, merely states that this is a union voluntarily entered into for life. There are no specific parameters which specify what a union means. This is defined in Mary Case’s journal article, “What feminists have to lose in same-sex marriage litigation’
A marriage certificate now allows heterosexual couples to have an open marriage, to live in different cities or in different apartments in the same city, to structure their finances as they please, without having their commitment or the legal benefits that follow from it challenged (p. 1203).
As there are very little restrictions relating to the private behaviours of the marital union, this act is discriminatory purely on the grounds of sex. This is only for persons who identify with having physical, hormonal or genetic features that are distinctly characterised as male or distinctly characterised as female. Therefore, Marriage as defined as a union between a man and a woman, itself is discriminatory based on sex alone.
Women are discriminated within this act as it focuses on ‘sex’ and not ‘gender. This act excludes all persons who identify with a gender, that isn’t normative to their physically or biologically recognised ‘sex’. This act discriminates against all persons who identify as inter-sex. This Act excludes all persons on the grounds of sexual orientation.
Under the federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984 it is illegal in Australia to discriminate against a person either directly or indirectly on the grounds sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status.
Women are also discriminated against, through legislation informing a society, which excludes understanding and valuing the experiences of unions that are not specifically between a heterosexual man and woman.
Various academic journals discuss that marriage is ingrained in the patriarchal notion that women are subordinate in society. Although this notion is not as entrenched within our whole society today; a quick search of Google for ‘subordinate wife’ will return over six million hits, with a high volume supporting the subordination of women/wives, particularly in a religious context. Through legislating marriage as it currently exists, many women are discriminated against and are exempt from marriage, simply because they choose not to have a union with a man and some because they view marriage as placing women in a subordinate role to men.
Mary Case also highlights in her article, that before becoming pope, Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger advocated for a normative view on gender in relation to subordination of women. This is an excerpt of his 2004 Letter to the Bishops of the Catholic Church on the Collaboration of Men and Women in the Church and in the World.
“This theory of the human person, intended to promote prospects for equality of women through liberation from biological determinism, has in reality inspired ideologies which, for example, call into question the family, in its natural two-parent structure of mother and father, and make homosexuality and heterosexuality virtually equivalent, in a new model of polymorphous sexuality……… While the immediate roots of this second tendency are found in the context of reflection on women’s roles, its deeper motivation must be sought in the human attempt to be freed from one’s biological conditioning. According to this perspective, human nature in itself does not possess characteristics in an absolute manner: all persons can and ought to constitute themselves as they like, since they are free from every predetermination linked to their essential constitution.”
My concern is, if we do not allow same-sex couples to just ‘be’ as others are allowed to just ‘be’, our social fabric will always be woven by those in a superior position and superior privilege. Unless our social fabric allows for equal contributions from all, how will we ever have a full understanding of each other? How can our social fabric ever be complete, when we are unconscious to a discourse that is currently silent about family, love, understanding and togetherness as experienced by all?
Discrimination against Women seeking asylum
In a journal article published in the journal of Refugee studies, “Marginal Women, Marginal Rights: Impediments to Gender-Based Persecution Claims by Asylum-seeking Women in Australia”, McPherson et. al (2011) have identified two barriers to women’s claims of Gender Based Persecution: Emergence Barriers, and Assessment Barriers. Emergence Barriers speak to the factors impeding articulation of a claim. Although the Australian Department of Immigration and Citizenship has responded to the authors of this journal article, the following were not addressed:
- Women applicants should systematically be interviewed separately from their spouse and should be allocated a female case officer, interviewer and interpreter.
- Case officers should receive training and advice, from appropriately qualified staff working in the women’s violence services or refugee trauma support services, to help them understand the psychological effects of trauma, and its links to non-disclosure.
- Every negative decision should be independently reviewed by a second officer or panel.
- Applicants should be systematically informed, from the outset, that asylum requests may be based on claims of GBP.
This article also highlights that
“The bases upon which clients of our interviewees made asylum claims included sex slavery, rape, sexual abuse and attack, fear of honour killings, female genital mutilation, domestic abuse, emotional abuse, one-child policies, discrimination due to sexual orientation or feminist political activism, children being under threat, general religious restrictions on women, sexual harassment, denial of education, forced marriages, slavery, trafficking, and imprisonment” (p. 331)
It is my concern that your hard-line stance on Asylum Seekers and ‘turning back the boats’ has become instrumental in ensuring that the reasons women seek asylum remain silent, through the absence of leadership highlighting the atrocities asylum seekers are fleeing from, particularly women. It is also my concern that your hardline stance and popularity on the issue, has become instrumental to the increase in expressions of hatred and vilification of asylum seekers, particularly noticeable across social media forums. Once again, your leadership highlighting reasons women flee asylum is absent and you make no move to challenge this growing discourse. This only serves to further oppress and harm women, fleeing abhorrent levels of violence which ordinary citizens in Australia could never imagine. It can be summed up by this quote:
“Before atrocities are recognized as such, they are authoritatively regarded as either too extraordinary to be believable or too ordinary to be atrocious. If the events are socially considered unusual, the fact that they happened is denied in specific instances; if they are regarded as usual, the fact that they are violating is denied: if it’s happening, it’s not so bad, and if it’s really bad, it isn’t happening (MacKinnon 2006: 3, cited in McPherson, et. al, 2011).
The Hon Judi Moylan MP states in her article “Desperation, Displacement and Detention: Australia’s Treatment of Asylum Seekers Past and Present” Prison Service Journal (2013) that:
“It is axiomatic that tough deterrent policies have not stopped boat arrivals and it is unlikely that any civilised jurisdiction can invoke penalties so harsh, that they stop people escaping unimaginable brutalities. Managing the human dimensions of refugees fleeing war and civil unrest will require a return to regional processing, including ‘effective protections’ and a commitment to resettlement by participating host countries as indicated by UNHCR”
It is my concern that there is a plethora of research which highlights that this Government and the former Government’s stance on off shore processing, only seeks to place those seeking asylum, particularly women seeking asylum under more hardship and harm and as the Prime Minister and Minister for Women, your policies encourage this.
Thank you for reading my letter and taking the time to view my concerns. Would you now consider publicly retracting your original response to Radio 3AW and would you publicly advise the citizens and particularly women of Australia, how your office will address the above areas of discrimination outlined? It would be appreciated if each point could be addressed individually. I ask this, as each point affects women differently and each point deserves individual attention and not an ambiguous collective response, nor a response that disparages any former Governments. My interest is what are your commitments on these issues for the women of Australia?