I will tell you something for nothing. Australia can be a better country. A more equitable, sustainable and prosperous country. I know that a nation in which all women are safe and equal is a nation in which everyone benefits.
(And it’s not just a wild hunch! There’s a stack of research that proves the vast social and economic benefits that flow from gender equity.
Notwithstanding serious and sobering signs to the contrary, I honestly believe Australia is getting closer to the cusp of becoming a country in which all women are free to live and work safely and reach their full potential. At the very least we are finally having the serious conversation these issues warrant.
There are countless reasons for the reckoning that is underway that is nudging us in that direction. A pandemic that slammed women. Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins. Formidable, relentless journalists like Laura Tingle and Louise Milligan and Lisa Wilkinson and Sam Maiden. Reams and reams of research and knowledge and expertise on the barriers women continue to face and the multitude of compelling solutions.
All of these things have led to a moment in time where many women – right around the nation – are feeling apoplectic with impatience and frustration at the lack of progress, the urgent need for change and the sheer injustice of it all.
The issue of women’s safety and economic security is finally taking centre stage as a significant social and economic priority. Not a side issue. Not a peripheral concern. A fundamental and urgent priority that needs to be tackled.
That is the reason that on Wednesday morning, in Sydney, a historic collaboration between the Business Council of Australia, The Australian Council of Trade Unions, Chief Executive Women, Goodstart Early Learning and The Parenthood was possible.
I stood alongside Michele O’Neil and Sam Mostyn and Natalie Walker and Jennifer Westacott and Wendy McCarthy, as representatives of parents, workers, business and the community, united around an important goal: for Australia to be a nation in which all women and their children can live and work freely and safely and reach their full potential.
A country that is unsafe for women is unsafe for all. A country in which women are equal is a country in which we can all prosper. We believe that building that nation is not beyond us, and that this is the moment for Australian leaders, in politics, business and the community, to work together to make that happen.
Matters relating to women’s safety and economic security are central to all Australians and matter across party and organisational lines. The fact we stood together, representing the organisations and members that we do, is a reflection of a powerful commitment to advance gender equity – and the joint statement we presented reflects consensus on several solutions.
Women’s safety goes hand-in-hand with their economic security. This is the case for all women in Australia, but there is significantly more complexity and urgent need for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour, migrant and refugee women, women living with a disability and women who identify as LGBTIQ+.
The structural barriers women face in Australia are well understood, as are many of the policies and solutions that will dismantle them. The joint policy statement we released reflects a set of changes with the capacity to make a significant difference: to improve the safety and economic security of all women and their children.
Reinstating gender responsive budgeting.
Investing in making high quality early learning and care more affordable and accessible. Expanding paid parental leave and encouraging it to be shared between parents.
Providing new and adequate funding for domestic, family and sexual violence services, as well as funding for improved prevention of gendered violence, an accountability mechanism and law reform.
Adequately funding aged care and addressing workforce issues including the undervaluation of the predominantly female workforce skills and pay, improved training and staff to resident ratios.
Supporting paid domestic and family violence leave for all workers.
These policies will make a significant difference. That there is consensus on all of the above, among leaders representing parents and families, workers, business and the community is compelling.
“Acting to remove the barriers that make it harder for women to get back into jobs or stop them from working to their full potential is good for workers, for families, for businesses, for the economy and for the country. We have come together – unions, business groups and parents – to call for these vital reforms which are not just the right thing to do for women, but will benefit all Australians and lead to significant economic growth.”Jennifer Westacott AO, CEO, Business Council of Australia
“The Morrison Government have an opportunity in this year’s budget to introduce changes that tackle gender inequality and improve the economic security and safety of women. Measures that ensure all women can participate fully in society and the workforce, have their work properly valued and be safe at work and at home are urgently needed. This statement makes it very clear what real action for women would look like.”Michele O’Neil, President, Australian Council of Trade Unions.
“Our own research shows us that many women are making decisions about child care, their jobs and in some instances their safety based on what they can afford. We see families struggling. From our vantage point as Australia’s largest early learning provider, at Goodstart Early Learning we see the human face of the increasing unaffordability of child care.”Natalie Walker, Deputy Chair, Goodstart Early Learning.
“At a time when we must prevent and reduce violence against women and ensure safe workplaces for all, it has never been more important than now to act. Investments in childcare, paid parental leave and a focus on reducing precarious underemployment for women in the economy are the most effective ways for building a strong economy.”Sam Mostyn, President, Chief Executive Women.
The reasons are varied but the goal is shared. It is time to make Australia a nation that is safe and equal for all women. The roadmap to gender equity isn’t final and the joint policy statement isn’t definitive, but we cannot deny solutions exist. It is time for solutions to be adopted and implemented. Until that happens women in this country will not be silent.