This week we celebrated the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. And it made me wonder, in a world where Britney Spears and Madonna can kiss on stage at the MTV awards, Lady Gaga can wear a dress made of meat to an awards ceremony, gay couples are allowed to be married in certain places around the world and underwear is the latest fashion trend... how the hell can equal wages still be an issue?
But let’s not be complete negative Nellies. In one hundred years we have achieved a few good things. In terms of politics, Australia has its first ever female Prime Minister - and may I add that she is a red-head; another group of people who are discriminated against - a female Governor General, who rocks beautiful feminine outfits, and three of the seven High Court Justices are chicas. 100 years ago women were fighting for the right to vote and the right to an education.
In 1965 women weren’t even allowed to drink in public bars in Queensland. Today we can drink in any bar we want. (Actually, that is a lie. I still can’t get into high-powered men’s clubs like the Melbourne Club or the Australian Club, but I’m working on it.) We are able to make an educated decision on the number of shots of Jägermeister we would like to consume, and then buy them with our own hard-earned cash.
But as it stands, blokes will always be able to buy more. According to Kate Ellis, Federal Minister for the Status of Women, a 25-year-old woman today will earn one million dollars less than a 25-year-old man over the course of her life. Equal pay was one of the issues that the ladies were fighting for 100 years ago.
We women do two-thirds of the world’s work, we produce half of the world’s food, yet earn just 10% of the world’s income and own 1% of the world’s property. But in the workforce we are paid less, and working mums deal with the guilt of balancing work and having kiddies. We are also still fighting to get a seat on the corporate boardrooms across Australia.
Kate Ellis said “I hope that [one day] we will be at a stage where women will be adequately represented in corporate boardrooms across Australia ... at the moment we have a shockingly long way to go.'' Two years ago, only 8.3 per cent of board members in the top 200 companies listed on the Australian Securities Exchange were women. Today the number has increased by a mere 0.1 per cent. The Government is hoping that women make up 40 per cent of public board positions by 2015. They are encouraging businesses across Oz to set targets so that the 2015 goal could be reached, and they mean business.
They want firms with more than 100 workers to face spot checks and mandatory reporting on the numbers of women they employ and their position. According to The Australian, an extra $11.2 million will be given to the newly-named Workplace Gender Equality Agency to collect more information on working conditions for women and provide assistance for firms lagging behind in their employment of women. Government contracts would only be directed towards those organisations that complied with the new rules. And for the first time, businesses will be required to report on the actual figures of men and women in their organizations and on their boards, and also on their employment conditions and whether they have flexible work practices for women and men. I have visions of CEOs of companies shoving all of their male employees into a cupboard to hide them whilst their business is inspected by the “how many women do you have working here” police.
Would this plan lead to tokenism and the promotion of women simply because they were women, making it an unfair playing field for blokes? And would employees be respected by their colleagues if it was known that they got the job because of a gender quota? I’m not sure. But I do believe that the person who is most qualified for the job should get it, no matter what their sex.
It will be interesting to see how this new strategy will go, and how many companies take it on board. Kate Ellis hopes to see the day when there won’t be a need for her job as a Minister for the Status of Women, and I hope that one day the idea of equal wages will also be a thing of the past.
The opinions expressed in The 7PM Side Project blog do not necessarily reflect those of The 7PM Project or the Ten Network.