Triumphs and trailblazers – an International Women’s Day Tribute

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Women represent around half of the world’s population. However denial of education and opportunity have meant the achievements of women are under-represented in the annals of history.

Bold campaigners gained the right for every female Australian citizen to vote and stand for parliament by 1965 (white women had this right in 1923). Yet hardly a week goes by when we don’t hear about glass ceilings and cliffs, and the gender pay gap.

The average Australian woman has to work an extra 66 days a year to earn the same pay as the average man, according to the Australian Human Rights Commission.

That’s equivalent to 13 weeks a year for a woman working a 9 to 5 week.

Unfortunately, attitudes in some quarters only reinforce the status-quo. “As a man, he has a family to support” and “the trouble with women is that they go off and have babies” – these are just two of the outrageous comments I’ve heard from men trying to justify their decision to appoint the man over an equally credentialed woman.

It’s not good enough. But thankfully, there are signs of progress.

In recent years, Australia has seen many ‘first females’ take up significant offices, including as Prime Minister (Julia Gillard, AC), Governor General (Quentin Bryce AD, CVO) and Supreme Court Judge (Susan Kiefel AC).

Change is also creeping into the Boardroom, albeit slowly. The AHRC reports that the percentage of women on boards of ASX 200 listed companies in 2014 at 18.6%, up from 8.3% in 2010.

While I imagine it has been anything but smooth sailing for these trailblazers and others like them, the more familiar we become are with women in high profile roles, the easier it will be for the women who follow.

On a personal level, I know the privileges I enjoy today could hardly be imagined by previous generations and women in other parts of the world today. Access to education, the right to vote, to buy alcohol, to drive a car, to NOT marry and even the right to start a business and publish this opinion.

Today, at the annual lunch hosted by the South Australian International Women’s Day Committee, I admired leaders who courageously shared their stories about domestic violence situations they’ve experienced or seen. I couldn’t help but reflect on the sobering statistics and think about how important it is for us to tackle everyday sexism at home and at work.

Women and men need to continue to strive for gender equality by calling out unacceptable behaviours and derogatory language. This requires courage and persistence and the reward will be a new generation of champions to further advance the cause.

In the words of notable South Australian, Dame Roma Michell (2013-2000) whose many achievements include being the first woman to serve as a judge on an Australian supreme court, “Better opportunities for women do not mean we should relax. Results of past discrimination are going to take a long time to reverse.”

Let’s not relax. Let’s instead embrace this year’s International Women’s Day theme of #beboldforchange by speaking up for those who are too vulnerable or scared to do so themselves. With patience and persistence, we will prevail against the double standards that no longer have a place in our society.

Originally published on LinkedIn Pulse.

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