Sandra Sully: No Matter Their Stature, Australian Women Still Can’t Get A Fair Go

The scandal that rocked Hollywood and helped propel the #MeToo movement entered its next phase with the sentencing of former movie mogul Harvey Weinstein.

Now, we need to shift the focus from high-profile, headline-grabbing moments to the reality that confronts Australian women today.

Every year, as we approach International Women's Day, Australian women ask themselves, do WE get a fair go? And still the answer is agonisingly, no.

"Equality is a human issue and a matter of justice. The inevitable move towards it benefits everyone." - actress and director Cate Blanchett (Image: Danielle Harte)

The gender pay gap is basically stagnant, at its greatest for women in their late-30s and mid-40s, and traditional gender roles stubbornly refuse to shift.  Women continue to be under-represented in leadership positions and domestic violence rates in Australia remain dangerously high.

There has been progress in pockets and the elevation, support and promotion of women's sport is a good case in point.

As the saying goes... if you can't see it, you can't be it.

The universal applause and recognition for our elite women’s athletes -- especially the Southern Stars, Wallaroos, Jillaroos, Hockeyroos and the Matildas -- is a real sign that community, business and politics are valuing women.

World champion paratriathlete Lauren Parker believes that now more than ever women are being recognised and rewarded. “We have come a long way thanks to the heroics of many men and women who have battled for equality, not just around gender but around many issues of equality," she says.

“There are many gutsy, feisty, talented and intelligent women who will continue to inspire future generations to achieve change that will make Australia a better place to live for all people. And that is exciting.”

"There is still a gender gap in engineering and technology fields in Australia, with only 12 percent of the total engineering workforce female." - Marita Cheng, founder of Robogals, which encourages girls to get into science, engineering, tech and math. (Image: Danielle Harte)

However, the issues for women remain.

The recent and violent deaths of Brisbane mother Hannah Clarke and her three children have shocked Australia and scarred our psyche.

On average one woman a week is still murdered by her current or former partner and one in three of our daughters has experienced violence since the age of 15.

Women retire with, on average 47 percent less super than men, and discrimination is still rife. Australia is far from equal or fair for women and older women are now the new face of homelessness in Australia.

"Pay a woman equally for the work she does. Create an environment where everyone feels safe and has the facilities to do their job properly." - actress Miranda Tapsell (Image: Cameron Grayson)

For the second year in a row, we have sought -- through our portrait book AGENDA 2020 -- to find out what Australian women want, what they believe needs to change and how we can make progress.

"It’s important to differentiate between equality and equity," says renowned songstress and performer, Tina Arena. "Treating everyone the same actually ignores our own unique circumstances and individuality... we are not all coming from the same place. As women, navigating motherhood and a career is a major challenge. Our trajectory is interrupted in a way that a man's could never be. Just this one fact alone... without getting in to all the others... makes true equality difficult to attain."

"Moving forward, we need to speak out about injustices to protect the next person. Remaining silent is not an option." - Tina Arena (Image: Danielle Harte)

In the wake of #MeToo, there has been a paradigm shift with the emphasis now on diversity, inclusion and collaboration.

But while the ‘gender’ conversation has irrevocably changed, real progress needs to be measured by permanent, new standards of justice, equality, fairness, accountability and behaviour for all.

"There is still discrimination on the basis of race, gender, ability, sexuality, and many other demographic factors," says reconstructive surgeon Dr Neela Janakiramanan. "Although select members of those disadvantaged groups are allowed to rise to positions of wealth and power, socio-economic inequality is rising. It is natural that when this happens, demographic groups close ranks, trying to protect scarce resources for those that look like them. It is easy to point to the few who have made it to the top and pretend that the field is even for everyone.”

"Every father needs to demonstrate respect for women to their sons, every boss should demand respect for women in the workplace, and men have a responsibility to call out other men who disrespect women in any way." - Lauren Parker (Image: Danielle Harte)

According to Lauren Parker, equality "is about women feeling free from domestic violence, people with a disability not feeling disadvantaged and women being recognised as equal for their skills, abilities and intelligence".

The theme for #IWD2020 is #EachForEqual -- an equal world is an enabled world.

Without a doubt, a woman's biological privilege is being able to bear children but, as a consequence, societal expectations around gender roles still stifle equality at home and at work.

Perversely, Australia's acclaimed maternity leave provisions have only entrenched gender roles to the detriment of women leaving the 'chore' wars to rage on. While women have been encouraged into work, men have not been encouraged into caring and working women are still paying a price.

"[The future for women looks] bright, but not in all countries and I think we need to be brave enough to start to address unequal rights for women without excusing cultural expectations." - 'Vogue' Australia Editor-in-Chief Edwina McCann (Image: Danielle Harte)

Take sexual harassment.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins says, "it still affects Australian workers everywhere, no matter the size, location or industry of the workplace".

"Some workers and industries are at more risk than others and the best workplaces are those which prioritise gender equality and where leaders at all levels support workplace cultures of respect, integrity and trust."

Jenkins says the most recent national survey found that one in three Australian workers reported experiencing sexual harassment in the last five years, up from one in five workers in 2012, and 26 percent of men reported experiencing workplace sexual harassment.

She believes it’s time to refresh for our laws and move the responsibility to prevent sexual harassment from victims to employers.

You can listen to Sandra's interview with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins in full on Short Black.

“I’ve heard from several women that #MeToo galvanised them to come forward but now they wish they hadn’t -- because the cost has been too high: a reputation ruined and job prospects affected. You’re socially punished if you complain. If someone speaks up, the response seems to be deny, defend and accuse, rarely to admit and apologise. Many people still don’t report -- and that’s because they doubt anything will change and they fear it will just make things worse.”

Given the intransigence of corporate Australia to embrace women in board and leadership roles, it would appear employers live in fear of damaging headlines and would rather conceal sexual harassment than prevent it. Changing the culture of an organisation is key, but its focus on its 'risk' profile is more important to its business bottom line.

"You are the world's next leaders; it's never too early to make a difference. See people as people, not as a skin colour, a gender or a religion." - celebrity chefs the Shahrouk sisters (Image: Danielle Harte)

We can look to sport as our beacon.

Our love affair with sport has somehow allowed us to see through the minefield of gender wars and instead celebrate our diversity, athleticism, effort and success.

Good news stories abound: the rise of AFLW, the success of our women cricketers, not to mention pay parity for the Matildas soccer team.

It's not uncommon these days to see broad media coverage -- print, broadcast and online -- devoted to women's sport, showcasing plenty of excellent role models for our daughters to identify with and look up to.

Australia's internationally acclaimed cricketer Ellyse Perry agrees and believes true quality is about us all being on the same page and level.

"The only way to change that is to continually provide alternative examples of a different, more equal way of thinking or doing things. I think about this in relation to women’s sport and the fact that it is now so much more widely accepted by not just the public and fans, but also administrators of sport," says Perry.

“This didn’t happen overnight,” she adds. “It has been a continual work in progress for a long time, but slowly we have managed to change many people's opinions. It’s just about seizing any opportunity you can."

"I think Australian women are increasingly getting a fair go. We have some incredibly influential and successful women who have had a positive impact in society in so many ways. I think it is also at a ground level, day-to-day that women play such an amazing role, which is often overlooked".

"It's not wrong to want to make a difference, to want to strive for betterment, in fact it is a truly special quality." - Ellyse Perry (Image: Danielle Harte)

So, as we celebrate International Women's Day, let's continue to confront bias, support women’s advancement and openly celebrate achievement, as we long for the day when gender is not relevant and people are judged on their abilities.

Let's reinforce our strengths, collaborate for a better future and create a nation where every young girl and boy can choose their own path and chase their dreams.

"It is also important to remember," Dr Janakiramanan adds, "as women, when we get given a seat at the table, to look around and ask, 'who else is not here, but should be?'."

Well said Neela, but "given" still bristles!

Edited by Sandra Sully, Agenda 2020 is a portfolio book that celebrates International Women's Day and provides insights into how we can achieve the change we need from a variety of extraordinary women.

'Agenda 2020', edited by Sandra Sully. (Image: Danielle Harte)

You can buy the book here. One hundred percent of book sales go to Women's Legal Services.

Featured Image: Danielle Harte