Today, many of us who are proud of what women have fought to achieve in promoting women'e rights and equality of opportunity choose to dress in the women's colours.
These are green, white and violet and were the choice of the suffragette movement fighting to achieve women's right to vote in national and state elections around turn of the nineteenth and twentieth century in New Zealand, Australia, Britain, the USA and other countries.
They stand for:
Green; growth and Give
White; purity and Women
Violet (purple) , dignity and Votes!
Our struggle down the path to achieve equal opportunity with men has come a long way, but we still have a long way to go.
Twenty years ago I remember the women's caucus of the Australian Council of Trade Unions Congress, to which I was a delegate, chanting out of frustration for real equal pay, not just legislation:
"Two Four Six Eight, twenty years too late.
Three Five Seven Nine, Equal Pay... About time.
Real men support equal pay....."
Now it's forty years since equal pay was legislated for women in Australia, but the reality is, two thirds of women only ever earn one third of the salary their male peers for doing the same work.
Barriers to women truly receiving equal pay for equal work and climbing the ladder of promotions include: unconscious bias, or deeply held beliefs that women will be of less value in a workplace because of their reproductive role and family responsibilities, thus preventing women from equal access to promotion positions, or being selected out at interview. Of course they, no doubt, may be equally "emotional" and may even get "hysterical" under duress? Ha. Being as well, or better qualified as male colleages, also remains problematic, but receiving a lower pay rate due to individual employment agreements, rather than collective bargaining by unions within workplaces or orgaisations when determining pay and conditions is a segway to genuine pay and promotion pay equity. Lack of unionisation of women in many industries truly thwarts major gains for women through collective and industry wide bargaining processes. Most women are not good at asking their employer for a raise all on their own and no doubt, many who have have been dismissed, or discriminated aagainst even further. For instance, in Victoria, where few women that work as casual teachers are unionised, we earn a whole $100 per day less than our better unionised colleagues doing the same work in Tasmania. Unions exist for their members, and if individuals do not sign up as union members, unions cannot mount a case to improve rates of pay and conditions, for all workers, not just the females amongst them. Inadequate or unaffordable childcare and aged care options, resulting in women taking time out from their paid careers in order to have children, care for them and often work in caring for aged parents, falls on women later in life. Limited educational opportunities and poor career counselling to open pathways for women in to traditional male areas of work, that traditionally attract higher levels of pay, even where this work is semi or unskilled. All these things, continue to be barriers to women achieving our equal income earnings rights!
Way too few women are making their way onto boards within Australia. However once they do get there, they are able to transform so many notions of women's supposed lack of capacity to perform as effectively as men and workplace/employer attidudes and protocols. We need more of them as well as the corporate world being held to account for all male boardrooms!
Eliminating gender bias is an ongoing process. Thankfully way more men are now making use of family leave provisions. The more men that become primary, or even genuinely sharing care of children and domestic duties, the more likely it is that we will make progress. We must continue addressing issues of unconscious bias, in the same way the wave of feminists I proudly include myself in, highly active in working to transform conceptions about gender based stereotypes in the 1980s and 90s, took on illuminating differences between girls and boys social conditioning and nurtuing, as well as exploring the division of male and female labour and roles within the home and challenging why this was the case.
Role models are vital to the process of change, as well as positive outcomes and ongoing research into gender inequities and bias.
We sure have come a long way since my mother's day when, during World War 2, women were taking up many hitherto male roles in production, retail and management, but when "the boys came home" women were encouraged back into the kitchen and their role as home-makers and child bearers, with the "man of the house", if there was one, being seen as "the breadwinner". Too bad if there was not a "man of the house", because women could only ever receive two thirds of the male wage by law. Many were forced out of the workplace upon marriage, again, supported by clauses within the law and it took many gutsy challenges to these laws and much organisation to get that equal pay for women legislation through, finally under Prime Minister Gough Whitlam in 1973.
My mother was in many ways one of the lucky ones. She relished her work within fashion and shoe retail and she was able to be as equally rewarded as my dad, given that they had their own business. However, she was one of the ones that was pushed out of the senior management level with the firm she and my dad had both worked for, to make way for a man, when the war concluded. My parents were lucky to strike a fairly good work life balance for many years, with my dad enjoying considerable time engaged in child-rearing, though still way less than my mum. Their decision to outsource many domestic duties and some child raising work to house keepers and nannies also helped with such work life balance.
My mother also enjoyed participating in a range of community organisations, as did my father. Both were excellent parents, but both wanted life for themselves beyond just income earning and family. Both were involved in community organisations and politics at the grassroots and level. I am very proud that I continued the struggle to make our world a more socially just and equitable place. But the fight still goes on and the list of areas that are ripe for improvement is, sadly, much the same as it was when I first dedicated myself to the cause: real equal pay and opportunities for promotion, affordable, accessible childcare, campaigning to decrease and eliminate domestic violence, getting women into positions of power and influence on boards and in government, equal educational opportunities and access and to add to it thesedays, issues of forced and under age marriage and the right to choose one's own partner, or remain single without discrimination, regardless of sexual orientation, childbearing, or marital status.
Yes we still have "a long long way to go", but we have made huge leaps forward.
I will end on a positive note, quite literally, with Helen Reddy, a fellow Australian woman's song, she wrote that became the theme song for The United Nations International Women's Year, in 1975 and the anthem for the wave of feminists, amongst which I count myself!
Happy International Women's Day