Saturday, April 21, 2012

The UnFairer Sex

This time a month ago, you could line up our Prime Minister, Queensland Premier, Tasmanian Premier, Governor General and the Governor of Queensland, and you'd have wall to wall women. In fact, every Australian state except South Australia has had at least one female Premier. These women are high achievers, role models, imperfect, but proof that women can make it to the top in public office.

Undoubtedly, the corporate glass ceiling becomes more just a little more fragile each year. Gail Kelly is CEO of Westpac. The top spot on Australia's rich list is held by Gina Rinehart.   The Spotless group includes three female General Managers.

So everything is good, then? Men and women have equal opportunity to achieve in both public and private sectors?

Er, no. Some extraordinary women do make it to the top. The overwhelming majority of women do not. There are as many reasons for that imbalance as there are women, and yet themes exist. Physically and culturally, the family demands of women are greater. Most corporations reward a culture which is subtly skewed to favour men. Equal opportunity initiatives don't extend to internal promotions. Old-fashioned prejudices and traditional expectations still exist.

Here's the result:

Only 8% of senior executives in Australia are women.
Women make up less than 15% of Australia's military.
The average wage for women is about 16% lower than the average wage for men, and the gap is increasing.
43% of women reported surviving violence by a previous partner*
23% of women reported enduring violence by their current partner*
76% of domestic homicides involved a male offender and female victim*
More than 4 in 5 single parents are mothers.

Women have opportunity, but it is not equal.

Queensland Premier Campbell Newman, son of Jocelyn Newman, who served Prime Minister John Howard twice as Minister assisting the Prime Minister on the Status of Women, has no Minister in his cabinet whose chief responsibility is women's issues. In fact, Premier Newman has rolled responsibility for women's issues into a crazy mishmash portfolio, best described as the Department of Touchy-Feely-Handle-With-Care Issues.

Tracy Davis MP is Queensland's new Minister for Communities, Child Safety and Disability Services, which includes such responsibilities as Homelessness, Youth Affairs, Women's Policy, Seniors, Adoption, Disability Services, Carers, and the Registration of Charitable Organisations.

In fairness, these portfolio areas are ones with which she is familiar, having covered many of them in her one previous parliamentary term when she served as Shadow Minister for Child Safety, Disability Services and Mental Health. 

She is also experienced at promoting women's causes. According to her own website,

"Tracy has an ongoing commitment to encouraging women’s political participation at organisational and parliamentary levels.  She has held the position of Vice-President of Liberal Women’s Council QLD, and until her election to Parliament was the Policy Chairman of LNP Women."

Well, Ms Davis, the Sisterhood wants to know why you let your boss get away with this? Only 3 members of Premier Newman's cabinet are women. Sixteen percent. Queensland's population is 50.4% female. 

Campbell Newman has effectively devalued the status of women in Queensland to that of a minority or special interest group. Perhaps as he looked at his predecessor, he assumed that all was well with the status of women.

I dream about that day; the day when we won't need a special ministry dedicated to making women less unequal. That day isn't here. It's not even close.

* For more terrifying stats on violence against Australian women, click here.



  1. Sal, Bill has just introduced me to your blogs. I need to get my own computer to read your incisive, intelligent comments. Really impressive.

  2. *More than 4 in 5 single parents are mothers* I wonder how many men would like to be a single parent, but the change over from the away from home primary income earner to primary caregiver would be enormous. Just like being the primary care giver for most women to primary income earner. It rarely happens and so I think this stat doesn't add to your argument of a culture against women. Men generally do what they did before the breakup and so do women.

  3. Thanks for your input, Wondalli. You might be right that people tend to do what they did before, yet I don't think that makes it fair. If anything, it's worse.