Today is International Women’s Day, a day that has it’s roots in the socialist party and celebrates the social, economic, political and cultural achievements of women around the world. I celebrated it by attending the ECU Memorial Lecture which is a free lecture held by my alma mater which brings together women from all walks of life and this year had four key speakers; Prof. Carmen Lawrence, Dr Anne Aly, Dr. Elizabeth Constable and Vice Chancellor Prof. Steve Chapman who answered formal and informal discussion questions. I have been looking for a way to celebrate IWD for a couple of years now and in the past I’d felt a little intimidated about attending, even as a student at ECU. For me, there was always sense of – ‘What do I have to offer these amazing women who have it all together”, I feel like for at least part of my university career I was operating under the subconscious misconception that the women who attended IWD events were just applauding themselves and their achievements in a way that didn’t need my input or attention. I’m so glad I looked closer because this event was not only inclusive, the speakers repeatedly put the onus on the present and future – What can we do now? What should we do next?
After a brief introduction and discussion of the ECU’s namesake, Edith Cowan who was a pioneering politician and Australia’s first female parliamentarian. The discussion delved into the challenges faced by Cowan as a female politician in the 1920s, such as the gender pay gap and women’s role in society, and drew a correlation between those battles and the battles we still face. Anne Aly drew attention to the fact that Western Australia has the highest gender pay gap in the country, (23.9% compared to 16% nationally), while Liz Constable gave some shocking statistics on the number of women to be elected to WA parliament between 1921 to 1983 – a total of 8. According to Constable the total up until the present day equates to roughly 1 in 1o. Carmen Lawrence, while agreeing that this figure is appalling also suggested that while quantity is important, as a society we should also want quality representation, the possible subtext being a commentary on some of Trump’s recent appointments such as the utterly unqualified Betsy DeVos.
There’s the idea that we need a critical mass. No, what we need is a mass that is critical of the status quo. – Carmen Lawrence
Anne Aly brought an important perspective to the table in her brief discussion of intersectional feminism, including the importance of recognising our own misguided sense of moral superiority when looking at women’s rights overseas. In particular, when we sit in judgement on countries with economies far more vulnerable than ours, who have actually gone further in their quest for women’s rights than we have in terms of the number of women in parliament and electing female government leaders. It was a topic that wasn’t fully explored in the discussion but it’s an important one and leads into the idea that women’s rights in this country have been stagnating for a while. The progress for women here does seem glacial and Aly suggested that IWD is a really good opportunity to hold the mirror up to ourselves and examine the inequalities that still exist within our own country and culture. Better yet, it encourages us to think about our own role in how we begin to bring about change.
The panel did have some recommendations for how to achieve change. Chapman, who is a WGEA Pay Equity Ambassador stated the importance of compulsory courses and training on gender bias and unconscious bias. His reasoning was that our ideas on gender are built up over years of conditioning and that people don’t often realise they have bias until they receive training. It was a point well made and the other panellists seemed in favour. Carmen Lawrence suggested it was about recognising consciously the need for improvement when we come across everyday sexism and calling people out on it. Anne Aly agreed, stating the old adage, ‘the standard we walk past, is the standard we accept’.
I left the lecture feeling not only inspired but reassured. We may be living on the darkest timeline right now but at least there are people out there who are still determinedly trying to do good. I’m looking forward to reading about the experiences of those in the U.S participating in the Day Without Women today. I hope that it is a disruptive and fierce show of strength and solidarity with each other that does some good. We so desperately need some good. After that, my gaze will turn firmly towards this Saturday’s WA state election with the threat of One Nation looming real, thanks to the Libs. I guess we’ll see what happens. The polls are positive but fool me three times…
I’m going to visit some Art Galleries in the next couple of weeks so with any luck you may get a non-political blog post soon!