David Campese recently gave us a nice insight into what he thinks about the role of women when he publically questioned why a female journalist would be covering a rugby union tour.
What could a “girl” possibly bring to the table in such a role? What would she know about rugby union - a man’s sport?
Surely to say that a woman can accurately grasp the concept of scrums and line-outs is almost as ridiculous as suggesting that women’s rugby is a real sport.
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The sex wars which erupted in federal parliament last week are only the tip of the iceberg of a deep vein of discontent in society about the difficulties facing both women and men as they juggle work and family.
In an extraordinary 15 minute speech last Tuesday, Australia’s first female Prime Minister gave voice to the silent rage of generations of Australian women.
The rage of grandmothers who wonder, if not for society’s undervaluing of their abilities, if could they have been chief financial officer of a major company instead of running the books of the family business.
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So the Australian Industry Group’s Heather Ridout says yesterday’s historic equal pay decision by Fair Work Australia is “dangerous”, because it “will lead to a raft of union claims in other industries”. The Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry calls it “disturbing”.
Goodness, not another ‘dangerous precedent’. Dangerous precedents have peppered history – like votes for women, the American Civil Rights and the Mabo decision on native title.
Maybe AIG and ACCI have been catching up on some episodes of ‘Yes, Minister’, which defined a dangerous precedent for us: “if we do the right thing now, then we might be forced to the right thing again next time. And on that reasoning nothing should ever be done at all.” But this time something – the right thing - has been done.
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The tired old chestnut of equal pay gets trotted out every time there are new job figures or the latest batch of income statistics are released.
“It’s a deplorable situation,’’ comes the plaintive cry. “Women still only earn X per cent of men’s wages.”
Don’t get me wrong, that would be deplorable - if it were true. But sadly it’s much more a case of creative mathematics than a widespread mysogynistic conspiracy.
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Sometimes we are so busy getting on with our lives we don’t notice history is being made before our eyes. That is precisely what is happening right now with equal pay.
Forty years ago an Australian woman doing the same job as a man was not guaranteed the same pay. The law allowed employers to set two rates of pay, one for men and one for women, the unspoken basis being a woman could not hope to be as efficient and productive as a man. Work was often seen as a temporary thing for women, before they became wives and mothers. Women in some jobs, like teaching and the public service, were required to resign once they got married.
No women had sat in Cabinet, on the High Court or served as Governor-General. Or, Heaven forbid, led the union movement.
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It costs nearly $1 million dollars more to be born a woman in this country. While the average 25 year old male will earn $2.4 million over the next 40 years, the average 25 year old woman will earn only $1.5 million.
Of course there are a number of reasons for this gender pay gap. Women are more likely to work part time, take more time out of the workforce to undertake unpaid caring responsibilities and continue to bear a disproportionate share of the responsibility for unpaid household work.
Traditionally feminised jobs in the caring and community sectors have been historically undervalued and consequently, underpaid.
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When people ask me what I do for a living I tell them, then I bite my tongue. You see, I’m a community development worker.
In my outer-suburban neighbourhood centre I manage a host of programs for people who need support: grandparents who’ve taken custody of their grandkids in distressing circumstances, playgroups for toddlers with teenage mums, skills training for long-term unemployed, to name a few.
You could put your last $5 on the response (and I am often down to my last fiver so maybe I should). “Oh, you must be an angel!” they say; and, “it must be great to have such a rewarding job.”
I bite my tongue, because expletives from a woman of my years might come as a shock.
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