International Women’s Day is an opportunity to celebrate the progress we have made towards gender equality, and to recommit to tackling the challenges still before us.
Australia has a particularly rich history of feminist activism and women’s rights campaigning.
Whether it’s women winning the vote, sex discrimination laws, or our first female Prime Minister, there have been significant successes.
As members of the Labor Party, we’re proud of our legacy advancing women’s rights.
Under Gough Whitlam, we opened Australia’s first women’s refuges, rape crisis centres and women’s health centres.
Labor tackled pay inequity by extending the adult minimum wage to women for the first time. Because Whitlam reopened the Equal Pay Case, half a million women became eligible for full pay, leading to an overall rise in women’s wages of 30 per cent.
We delivered Australia’s first government-funded paid parental leave.
And as a Minister, I extended women’s reproductive rights and choice by putting RU486 on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and set up the National Action Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.
Labor seeks to tackle inequality in all the work we do.
Sometimes though, we take a step forward only to be pushed two steps back.
There remain many fights ahead.
Recent developments around the world show that we can’t take progress for granted – the laws women have fought for in the past can be unwritten and rewritten.
The Trump Administration’s reimposition of the so-called “global gag rule”, drastically reducing the availability of reproductive health services in the developing world, is a damaging and dangerous decision for women.
But we’re seeing backwards steps for gender equality at home in Australia too.
Women haven’t benefitted from Australia’s prosperity in the same way as men.
The gender pay gap has been stubborn for two decades. Currently, it’s 16 per cent.
That means if you’re a woman working full time, you’ll be paid on average $700,000 less over the course of your work life compared to a man doing a similar job.
If women have a family too, they’ll do the equivalent of an extra $400,000 of unpaid work at home. That’s more than $1 million in underpaid or unpaid work.
Women only have half the superannuation men have.
Women are more likely to live below the poverty line.
And women still don’t make up half of the federal Parliament.
The Liberals support cutting penalty rates for around 700,000 workers in hospitality, hotels, retail, fast food and pharmacies, mostly women – leaving them up to $77 a week worse off.
They have cut millions of dollars from housing and homelessness services that give women escaping domestic violence a safe place to go.
They have cut millions of dollars from community legal services that give essential advice and support to women and children escaping family violence, and are about to cut even more.
They want to cut paid parental leave for around 70,000 women – calling mothers ‘rorters’ and ‘fraudsters’.
They want women to pay more for medicines, and have cuts on the table that could see women pay more for vital scans and tests such as pap smears.
And they have cut reproductive health funding to some of the poorest countries in our region.
We won’t break down the barriers to gender equality by chance.
At a conference in Melbourne last year, outstanding feminist activists, such as Anne Summers and Mary Crooks spoke of the need for a new manifesto – a concrete plan for real action on gender equality.
Breaking through the barriers will take cooperation between governments, business, the community sector – all of us.
That’s why Labor has launched a national conversation on gender equality: Setting the Agenda, to talk about what needs to change to achieve gender equality.
To be part of the conversation, you can share your views at www.settingtheagenda.com.au or take part in the consultations Labor’s Status of Women Committee will be running around the country through 2017.
It’s time for a concrete plan – for real action. That’s what Labor will deliver.