Former human rights commissioner Gillian Triggs entered Melbourne law school in 1964 as one of the new generation of baby boomers. In her uniform of kilt, twin set and pearls everything seemed possible.
But when she delivered the Fanny Reading Human Rights lecture titled ‘Equality for Women and Girls? A Decade of Regression in Australia’ on Sunday, Ms Triggs said she fears society is regressing, and to achieve equality with our male counterparts, women need to do one thing in particular.
Be more vulgar.
“I was just two or three years behind Germaine Greer. She was vulgar. She was rude. She wrote things in a hurry. I don’t know what her research was like. But she was a brilliant communicator.”
If women don’t change something, and fast, Ms Triggs believes the magnificent work of female trailblazers will be undone.
“We have gathered the evidence. We have done all the right things. But it’s not working. I am wondering if we need to be a bit more out there, more strident?” she said.
“My generation of women rode a crest of a wave, [with]free university education [and] assured employment. My generation could flourish in this new world of optimism and opportunity. It is a matter of great disappointment to me that the position of women in Australia appears to be regressing.”
Ms Triggs quoted the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Report saying Australian women are ranked number one in the world for educational attainment with women making up 55 per cent of Australian university populations.
However, she noted that across all indices in the report Australian women now rank 46th in the world.
“We are 61st for political empowerment for women, for ministerial positions we are 77th and we rank 54th in labour force participation,” she said.
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Gillian blames this discrepancy on women’s unpaid responsibilities, limited and expensive child care, inflexible work place arrangements, and the casualisation of work.
Women are the most likely to take casual, contract and part time work, working more hours for less pay.
Ms Triggs drew attention to the overwhelming majority of women who are at the bottom level of the employment sector. She says the real harm is being felt at a very ordinary daily level.
According to Ms Triggs, one way to end the systematic problems women encounter is to ensure their economic integration on fair and non-discriminatory terms.
“Once a woman has financial autonomy she is a force to be reckoned with.”
Thankfully, Ms Triggs doesn't see gender inequality holding this status forever. She says there will be a return to the values that underpinned that optimistic society of the ’60s through to the ’90s.
“One of the indications of my optimism is the narrative on the marriage equality vote. It is a big change in societal attitudes.”
Fanny Reading MBE was a passionate advocate for social justice who founded the National Council of Jewish Women of Australia in 1927. The Fanny Reading Human Rights lecture is held annually in celebration of her life’s work.
Carol Saffer is a member of NCJWA (Vic) and sits on the Advocacy and Development Committees.
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