Opinion article by Sandy Killick, WEL Executive Committee member
I was pleased to see an IWD opinion piece, penned by former NSW Minister for Women, Pru Goward, prompting us ‘to reflect on the achievements of women and what remains to be done to achieve equality of opportunity between the sexes.’
The way Pru recounted her stories of being a person first, and a woman second, resonated with me. It took me back to being in year 10, asking my father’s advice on which HSC subjects to study, only to be told I shouldn't worry about that - I would finish school, get married and have children, as you do in a working-class family.
Three tertiary qualifications and many interesting jobs later, I often think back to that year 10 moment with my hard working and caring father. It fuels the conversations I have with my own children, encouraging them to take every opportunity to learn and to tread their own path in the world, not the narrow path proscribed by class or social expectations.
My heard sank however, when this IWD article turned to ‘the inevitability of the standard deviations of men’s and women’s choices.’ I know of women that don’t have any ‘choices’.
In the lead up to the 2016 and 2019 federal elections, I met many women who came to free voter education sessions offered by the Women's Electoral Lobby. Each workshop focused on making women’s votes count and ensuring they know they are entitled to a relationship with their MP, their taxes pay MP’s wages and one of the jobs of an MP is to listen to, and where possible act, on their constituent’s concerns.
The women who attend have done everything the major parties ask them to do - they move to the edges of Sydney, areas they can afford to rent or buy. They work full time but on casual wages and without sick leave entitlements. They shared their worry about the quality of public education their children receive and what sort of work they will find on leaving school. They feel precarious - any way you measure it. And they wonder why this is the case give Australia’s record of almost 30 years of economic growth.
They lost their ability to choose when conservative MPs voted for an industrial relations system predicated on casual work and individual agreements. They lost their ability to choose when both major parties played the ‘hip pocket tax cuts’ game because it sucks public money out of the schools, hospitals and domestic violence services families living in precarious situations rely on. Every time a politician votes against the public interest, the idea of choice becomes more and more remote for many, many women.
Each IWD, I am taken back to the community centre where I sat at the table listening to the women, sometimes through interpreters, in awe of their appetite to understand the political system that weights them down every day.
Dear Pru, I wonder why you say ‘on average, men and women will make different choices’? We are all social creatures with a need for purpose, deeply caring relationships and opportunities they can touch and feel. The goal of gender equality is to bring women and men together, in genuine community.
I, like other WEL members, look forward to the day we wake up in gender equal world, where as you say ‘the rules, both written and unwritten, enable, protect and support’ both women and because that is the day when our MPs will have consistently acted and voted in the public interest.
WEL NSW Executive Committee member