Sunday, 8 March 2015

International Women's Day 2015 in Australia: now this is irony at its best

The Liberal National Party of Queensland (LNP) hosted its official International Women’s Day event at the Tattersalls Club, a private membership club for men since 1865.

Women have access to this club but only as partners of members. They are welcome to obtain a Partners Card, providing them with access to Club facilities and services. Partners are also welcome to bring guests to the Club, or enjoy the amenities at their own leisure.

The advertised keynote speaker at this event on 6 March 2015 was acting Parliamentary Speaker Fiona Simpson who cannot apply for membership of this club on the basis of her gender.

Other listed speakers were Federal President of the Nationals Christine Ferguson and wife of the Deputy Prime Minster Lyn Truss.

Most of the women attending this function were able to do so because the club has commercial function rooms available to non-members for corporate events, private functions or weddings and the LNP availed itself of these facilities.

This was the Australian Minister for Women, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, mockingly misleading both parliament and voters on the subject according to Hansard on 4 March 2015:

Mr ABBOTT (Warringah—Prime Minister) (14:54): Madam Speaker, this is just how wonderful this broad church is that I lead. Obviously, they have now broken down the last barrier, and they have made the men-only club admit women.
Government members: Hear, hear!
Mr ABBOTT: Isn't that fantastic! At last this bastion of chauvinism has admitted women. They have admitted women, and they have done it on International Women's Day because of the Liberal National Party. Good on the Liberal-National Party for smashing the glass ceiling yet again. Yet again, we are smashing the glass ceiling. I say congratulations, and thank God! Thank God that bastion of old fashioned chauvinism has finally collapsed like the walls of Jericho at the trumpet cry of the Liberal-National Party!

LNP Women vice-president Peta Simpson when questioned about the choice of venue invited ridicule by attempting to compare using these public function rooms with African-American Rosa Parks’ defiance of white supremacy in Alabama in 1955 and also saying in further defence of this choice; “But how can we celebrate international women’s day knowing that there’s not an international men’s day – and then when the men do want to have something that’s for themselves, we can’t respect it?”.

The irony of this position is noted in a nation which while expressing aspirations towards gender equality still exhibits structural disadvantage/institutional and cultural bias against women.

In Australia an estimated 1 in 6 women have experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner [Australia's National Research Organisation for Women's Safety] and, in the fifty-two weeks of last year 81 women died by violence. In 2015 the count had reached 17 women by 2 March – that’s two women killed each week [Destroy the Joint 2015].

Historically and currently working women earn less per week on average than their male counterparts with official statistics showing that by November 2014 male average weekly earnings was $1,371.50 which represented a growth in males earning of est. $46 a year since November 2004, but for females average weekly earnings was the much lower $887.90 which represented a growth in female earning of less than est. $30 a year since November 2004 [].

The national unemployment rate for persons 20-74 years in 2012-13 was the same for both males and females, however the underemployment rate for this same age cohort was 9.0% for females and 5.1% for males [Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gender Indicators, Australia, Feb 2015].  

In addition, The Australia Institute in December 2014 stated; women account for almost half of the workforce (46 per cent), they have enjoyed only a 32 per cent share of income tax cuts dealt out since 2005. Of a cumulative total $169 billion delivered back to workers, $115 billion has gone to men, and $54 billion has gone to women…. Women earn less and stand to lose more, with 55 per cent of the government’s budget cuts set to come from the pockets of Australian women between now and 2017.

Although more females than males between 15 and 65 years of age had completed high school or its equivalent and, more females in that age group had a Bachelor degree or higher tertiary qualification in 2014 [Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014], only 19.8% of all companies listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX) have women as directors and on 31 January 2015 the percentage of women on ASX 200 boards was 19.4% [Australian Institute of Company Directors, 2015]. This month it was reported that were only 23 female chairs or chief executive officers of ASX 200 companies, with the remaining 377 chair and CEO positions held by males [Perth Now, 6 March 2015].

Women are not equally represented in the public service sector either, but do fare better as the Latest data from the Australian Public Service Commission shows that women occupied 40% of Senior Executive Service positions, and 47% of Executive Level positions in the Australian Public Service in 2014. These figures are unchanged from 2013 [Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gender Indicators, Australia, Feb 2015].

Starting salaries for new university graduates show a 4.4 per cent wage gap between average annual salaries offered to men and those offered to women across 22 occupation groups, with men receiving up to $4,700 more than women [Graduate Careers Australia, June 2014].

Across Australia women continue to be significantly under-represented in parliament and executive government, comprising less than one-third of all parliamentarians and one-fifth of all ministers [Parliament of Australia, Politics and Public Administration Section, July 2014].

According to the Right Now organisation; In a 2013 survey, women account for only 20% of partners in Australian law firms. In other recent data, women account for only 20% of the bar where women barristers have shorter appearance times than their male counterparts. Women constitute 16% of the bench in the Federal Court. A 2013 Monash University gender study indicated that a female barrister making oral argument before the High Court of Australia, with a male barrister opposing, is less likely to receive the vote of a justice in the majority.

In Australia women born in 2010-2012 have a life expectation 3.4 years longer than men. However, indigenous women in the same cohort have a life expectation which is 11.3 years less than non-indigenous women and 6 years less than non-indigenous males. In 2012, almost 1,500 of the deaths of Indigenous people living in NSW, Qld, WA, SA and the NT were avoidable. After age-adjustment, the rate of avoidable deaths was 3.7 times higher for Indigenous people than for their non-Indigenous counterparts. [Australian Indigenous HealthInfoNet, Mortality, 2013].

It is noted that institutional racism may be a factor in female mortality rates as the Chair of The Social Determinants of Health Alliance stated in February 2014; "When an Indigenous person is admitted to hospital, they face twice the risk of death through a coronary event than a non-Indigenous person and concerningly, Indigenous people when having a coronary event in hospital are 40 percent less likely to receive a stent* or a coronary angiplasty. ...institutional racism is resulting in Indigenous people not always receiving the care that they need from Australia's hospital system" and a spokesperson for the Australian Indigenous Doctors Association added "Whereas Aboriginal people may present to hospitals often later and sicker, the sort of treatment they might get once in hospital, is not necessarily reflect[ing] that higher level of ill health. We've got to ask some questions there and why is it that the sickest people are not necessary getting the equitable access to healthcare."

Despite there being no evidence to suggest that an increase in actual crime accounted for the prison increase, female imprisonment rates have doubled since 2004 and indigenous women appear to account for much of this increase [Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2014].

The scant data that exists on human slavery or slavery-like practices in Australia to date suggests that the majority of persons kept in slavery, servile marriage, sexual servitude and/or forced labour within this country are female. In 2009 of those identified victims suspected of being trafficked 188 were female and 21 were male.

When it comes to dissemination of information on female participation in the arts, this is the September 2013 example I offer; Stella Count shows the literary pages of Australia's newspapers have once more featured fewer books by women than by men.
I sincerely doubt that many of the Liberal and Nationals supporters who attended that luncheon at the Tattersall's Club would even be aware of the extent of female vulnerability and disadvantage in this country, because the current crop have so obviously drunk the political Kool-Aid supplied by their leader, Tony Abbott.

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