Whilst doing my research for my most recent blog post, I analysed a range of opinions throughout social media on the topic of contraception and welfare. Naturally, these threads across various pages gathered the opinions of those not on welfare and those who are. Comments on social media give one an insight into the thoughts of a wide and varied demographic. Often thoughts on social media are contained to a particular thread on a particular topic; so it is always interesting to view the differences of opinion from many on that particular subject. This is particularly evident when it is a newspaper forum, or another general page which attracts a diverse range of people. People will group together on opinion and often there are long debates from those for or against a particular opinion. I love reading the opinions of people on social media, as narrative or discourse, gives us a glimpse of the social psyche.
Social discourse is a key element to social change. Many of the comments from people, as per my last blog post, painted those on welfare in a very negative light. In fact, the ones highlighted were of the very strong view that those on welfare ‘should not breed.” The Liberal National Coalition (LNP) Government has a very strong discourse on punitive measures aimed to punish people on welfare and sets this standard, through their unfair cuts to welfare and treatment of jobseekers.
Newspapers and media also seem to slant their stories to the negative. There were many comments highlighting that Sunrise had posted the ‘welfare and contraception’ story three different times on their Facebook page. In my local regional newspaper today, there is an prominent article with the headline “Hard-working Australian culture fading away” which has a 20 year old mechanic front and centre telling people to ‘not cry poor and go out a get a job” and “I don’t believe for a second there’s no work out there”.
This is in spite of the unemployment rate being 6.3% nationally, youth unemployment sitting nationally at 14% nationally and being as high as 29.3% in outback South Australia, 26.7% in south east Tasmania and 21.3% in Cairns. This is also in spite of skills shortages in 2014 identified in specialized and professional fields as external auditor, surveyor, sonographer, phsysiotherapist, midwife, software engineer and construction estimator. The jobs listed as skills shortages are not jobs that would be likely to match young people seeking employment, or unskilled jobseekers. This means that contrary to the social discourse occurring at present, job search is a highly competitive environment and those with little to no skills or experience, or who face any barriers to employment (including sole parenting), will find securing employment very difficult.
This does not even take into account age discrimination or Indigenous unemployment, which sits at 17.2% nationally and the Government’s changes to programs that will greatly affect this group. These changes show blatant changes which target people through race, which are discriminatory as compared to other parts of Australia.
The blog post I researched most recently discussed the argument that ‘People on welfare should be forced to take contraception.’ Single mothers were certainly a group raised for discussion. In particular, young mothers featured prominently, as did women from certain suburbs in Australia and another prominent single mother group attacked negatively were those ‘assumed to be refugees’ or from an ethnic minority background or non-white people.
Single Parents have only had to seek employment as part of Mutual Obligation since the 2005 – 2006 Howard Budget. This has continued to be evolved by successive ALP Governments since 2007 and remains as a focus for the Abbott Government. There have been calls from ACOSS that the inclusion of single parents in mutual obligation contravenes Human Rights Obligations. I strongly agree with ACOSS, not only for the economic affects outlines, but especially for point 2, which discusses discrimination against women:
The Bill violates the rights of single parents to non-discrimination under Art 2, paragraph 2
of the ICESCR and Art 11(1)(e) of the International Covenant on the Elimination of All
Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). Since the majority of recipients are
women, they will suffer indirect gender discrimination should the Bill become law. In
addition, sole parent families, identified for special measures due to their greater
vulnerability, will suffer discrimination through the loss of these measures.
As I delved into people’s conversations on social media whilst researching my last blog post, I noticed something quite prominent and thematic with young mothers and their arguments. I was becoming increasingly aware of the amount of young women (single mothers) who felt the need to defend their space in society. These young women felt the need to list every single effort they make to work in paid work, volunteering, job search or furthering their education through study or training. Often, they would write a long list of work and study they were doing at the same time, as well as caring for their child or children.
What this is saying to me, is that young mothers and single others feel the need to ‘reaffirm’ or establish themselves in the eyes of the privileged (those not a single parent) to be deemed worthy or accepted in society. My position is difficult here as I can only view the conversation and not seek clarity or construct any dialogue with these young mothers to further develop understanding; but I feel that these young mothers feel that there are societal pressures that say that being a mother 100% of of the time is not enough as set by the standards of society and in the eyes of those who view them as ‘sole parents.’
One theme that was quite prominent was when young mothers did list the whole range work or study activities they were undertaking as well as motherhood, people congratulated them on their efforts and ‘becoming a productive citizen.’ The comments resonated that being a mother was not being a productive citizen. Raising other little good citizens is being a productive citizen in itself.
I for one second do not take away any single parent’s choice to undertake any activities to better their future for employment etc., The key word there being choice. However, I question the need that there may be mothers who feel they cannot be a mother only, due to the strong social narrative that drives this pressure, which is enabled by the Government view of single parents. Something afforded by privilege to those who have this choice in a partnered relationship. I know many may argue that even women in partnered relationships need to go to work; but if a woman strongly wanted to be at home, they have the choice, through that partnership to adapt their lifestyle, so this can be supported on one wage in many cases. The fact of the matter is single parents do not have this choice even to contemplate, as that second wage is simply not there.
Some of the privileges afforded by those in partnered relationships or single people with no children, who set to condemn single parents are thus:
I will break out of the bullet points to direct attention to one that I am most passionate about. I will speak to this for mothers only. I would value input from how single fathers see this in the comments below.
Due to the mutual obligations forced upon single mothers by the Government, single parents have no choice but to have another person spend critical and valuable time with their child. They do not have the option that this may be the person they are in an intimate relationship with as a privilege afforded to partnered mothers who desire to return to work and have a stay at home father. Single Mothers are forced to pay strangers to spend critical and valuable time and input in the rearing of their child. Not only does this take away from critical and valuable parenting time, but places an extra financial burden on women as it cuts into money earned from employment.
This also places an additional burden on women fleeing domestic violence relationships and fleeing violent partners. It forces a woman to be engaged in employment (sometimes with no phone contact as enforced by the employer’s rules) and it creates more worry, stress and strain on a woman already experienced heightened anxiety and concern for the safety of herself and her children.
I find this absolutely abhorrent that this choice is taken away from single parents by force, rather than by choice. It takes away one of the most important and most treasured days of a woman’s life by force.
Although the majority of single parents are mothers, single fathers make up 12% of single parents in Australia. Single fathers also face particular burdens based on how society positions gender and parenting, based on the notion that only women are the natural nurturers and men are the breadwinners.
There is also appears to be an absence of research on single parents from a breakdown of a same sex relationship. Statistics included for single parents are inclusive of gay and lesbian parents as statistics do not specifically also target sexual preference.
There appears to be an abundance of literature on same sex parenting as a dual couple. However, the absence of literature on gay and lesbian single parents, makes for a gap in understanding the full picture of single parents and their lived experiences.
The Howard Government in 2005-2006 budget papers set forth the foundation for including single parents in mutual obligation. Successive ALP Governments since, have not sought to enable single parents by repealing this legislation, but have sought to tighten this legislation and provide even more restrictions and obstacles for single parents.
The Abbott Government’s response is hinged on ‘family values’ but defines this family as the predominantly white, dual parent family, with more than likely Christian values. Often classified as “The traditional family.” This is not representative of all families in Australia.
The Abbott Government has injected 20 million to “strengthen relationships and help improve personal and family well-being—it makes social and economic sense.” Because, you know single parents are a burden on society and a factor for social decline.
The Abbott Government has chosen to fund only Christian Chaplains in schools as a pastoral mechanism. Christian Chaplains would only advocate for traditional heterosexual relationships and traditional forms of family through marriage.
There is a lack of investment from the Abbott Government on Domestic Violence and funding for shelters and other programs for both women and men and an absence of understanding of the need for shelters for men who have experienced domestic violence or intimate partner violence.
There is an agenda of stigmatisation from the Abbott Government for those on welfare, adding to the layers of stigmatisation experienced by single parents, indigenous, the disabled, immigrants, people from low socioeconomic backgrounds and people in other minority groups.
If this blog post has resonated with others, I would encourage everyone to write to the Government and to both the ALP and the Greens to advocate to have mutual obligation as a forced measure removed from single parents and be implemented as a voluntary measure only, with no penalties.
One of the reasons behind me writing this blog post, was that I get so disheartened from reading harsh and judgemental comments from those in a position of privilege. The other reason was that I really want people to start assessing their own narrative when it comes to passing judgement of others on welfare.
The Abbott Government through their agenda of stigmatisation has really created a strong narrative to enable and encourage others to stigmatise those on welfare. If you oppose the Abbott Government, but contribute to this stigma by adding your voice, you are really supporting the Abbott Government by becoming a part of their agenda. Their agenda for stigma is strong as it paves the way for even more harsh cuts and unfair treatment of the disadvantage as the discourse becomes more widely sociably acceptable.
“Stigma is a process by which the reaction of others spoils normal identity.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
“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)
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.
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:
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:
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.”
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?
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:
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?