Celebrate improvements but more women deserve to be honoured - Women's Agenda

Celebrate improvements but more women deserve to be honoured

Women took 40 per cent of the total awards in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list, and 46 per cent in the general division.

This is an uptick on previous years and comes thanks to the support of some excellent campaigns working to get more women honoured.

But it’s still not good enough. And not because women aren’t good enough — rather because women have been overlooked for decades.

Men have made up 70 per cent of all Order of Australia Awards, since 1975. So it’s clear more has to be done to get the women who should have been recognised in the past, recognised today.

This is especially true for women who’ve given significant time, energy and expertise to the care sector, and more traditionally female-based industries that have been underpaid, undervalued and overlooked. .We need to see more nurses recognized, more attention given to those who’ve improved aged care and disability support care. We need more effort for finding the stories of women who’ve been quietly giving to their community. They may not have PhDs, or sit on multiple boards. They may not have achieved significant sporting success in the past, or appeared on a television series – but they’ve been making the world around them better, often contributing unpaid work to support those in crisis, to enable schools to function and sporting clubs to thrive.

As we learn yet again from some of the stories of some of the women who have been honoured in 2022, it has generally taken decades for their work to be recognised in such a way.

Take Carolyn Stedman for example, now in her seventies. She has fostered 74 children, including newborns, with her husband since 1976, a career of 46 years that she started as a mother of two (and later having an additional four kids). How did it take until 2022 for Stedman to be recognised?

Even for women with public profiles, it’s taken serious time to get the recognition they received over the weekend.

It took 19 books for Dr Anita Heiss AM, an author, poet, activist and prominent advocate for Indigenous literature and literacy, to be appointed a Member of the Order of Australia. It’s taken years also for Catherine Fox to be recognised, who has been writing on workplace gender equality for decades, well before it became a prominent feature of business and careers reporting. With no engineers receiving an AO since 2017, Dr Marlene Kanga took that honour over the weekend — an acknowledgment that’s been a long time coming, given her significant work not only in engineering but also in advocating for diversity and gender equality.

We have so much catching up to do to see women hitting at least 50 per cent of all such prizes ever awarded. Identifying more opportunities to recognise those in female-dominated, care-based professions and areas of work that have typically been underpaid and undervalued, would help. While we also ensure that women who’ve fought through male-dominated fields like engineering and like journalism in the past, are also recognised and celebrated.

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