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Australia: Socialists release 'A Charter for Women's Rights' on IWD

March 8, 2012 -- Links International Journal of Socialist Renewal -- On International Women's Day 2012 the Socialist Alliance in Australia released its latest A Charter for Women's Rights, updated in line with the decisions of the 8th national conference of the Socialist Alliance. Download a PDF version of the charter HERE.

Imagine...

  • Imagine a world without sexism where women and men, and girls and boys, are free from gender roles and rules to relate respectfully, in all our diversity.
  • Imagine a world where any woman and girl can walk down any street, day or night, speak, blog, tweet, sing, dance, play, work, organise, socialise and go about her daily life without fear of harassment, abuse, ridicule, insult or assault.
  • Imagine a world where your skin colour didn't mark you out as “different”, and your ethnic background was a point of interest rather than concern.
  • Imagine a world where caring and domestic work is valued and shared, and the welfare of the young, old, sick and disabled is everybody's concern.
  • Imagine a world where domestic violence is so abhorrent that every home is safe.
  • Imagine a world where women employed in a traditionally “male” job are not seen as an exception, or a trailblazer, or a “tall poppy”, and girls can say with complete confidence, “That is what I want to be when I grow up”.
  • Imagine a world where parents on their way to work or classes, or just to have some time to themselves, drop their children off at an affordable child-care centre in their neighbourhood or workplace, happy in the knowledge that their children love going there, learn new things and are well fed and cared for.
  • Imagine a world where elderly and disabled women live independently and at home for as long as they wish because they have a guaranteed liveable income and there are plenty of community support workers to help with housework, health-care and transportation.
  • Imagine a world where there really is equal pay, so that no woman is forced by poverty into staying in a bad relationship, being sexually exploited, not having the child she wants, or seeing her children go without food or new clothes.
  • Imagine a world where no woman is forced onto the streets, whether she has children or not, because plenty of public housing and temporary accommodation is available.
  • Imagine a world where every woman has a real choice about whether or not to have children, unconstrained by economic or social factors, and where safe, reliable contraception and abortion are freely available.
  • Imagine a world where women, in all their glorious diversity, love the bodies they were born with, and where women express their sexuality proudly, joyfully and without fear.
  • Imagine a world where people, not private profit, matter - where all people's basic needs are met and their hopes and dreams for a fulfilling life are valued.

The reality in Australia today …

In 21st century Australia, men and women are supposedly equal … so equal in fact that for many young people “feminism” is history. Australian women and girls now have the right to study, work and vote. So now we are “post-feminism”. Aren't we?

Still overworked and underpaid

Whether they are among the 70% of women working part-time, or on short-term contracts, or single mothers on the 250,000-long public housing waiting list, or Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander women in remote communities, or older women with little or no superannuation, or migrant or refuguee women struggling with racist policies, life for most women is getting harder every day.

  • Women still work in jobs that underpay and undervalue their work and make up the vast majority of workers with few conditions and little job security. In 2009, two-thirds of Australia's 2.6 million unpaid informal carers were women.
  • In 2008-09, the value of unpaid care was estimated as $68.4 billion. Women still do most of the household work and care for children, and sick, disabled and elderly relatives.
  • Full-time working women's ordinary time, average weekly earnings are still only 82.8% of men's. This is less than they were relative to men's in 2004.
  • Women are increasingly in the workforce, but they are still less likely to work full-time than men (56.8% compared to 86.5%).
  • Women hold 70% of all part-time jobs, but 445,900 women who are working part-time would like more hours.
  • The rate of underemployment for young women increased from 12.8% in May 2008 to 16.9% in June 2010. The problem is compounded for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women because even the official rate of ATSI unemployment (which does not include people who are not actively seeking work) is three times that of the whole population.
  • The hidden unemployment rate for women is estimated at 63% but peaks between 77%- 80% between the ages 25-44 years mainly due to the lack of access to, or the cost of, childcare.
  • At the other end of the scale, the proportion of women working very long hours (50 or more per week) has doubled since 1985 and additional time is often unpaid.

Persons 20-74 years (2010-2011) ABS 2012

Still trapped between financial dependence and poverty

  • The welfare payments of a woman with dependent children will be cut if she partners with a man - whether or not she wants to be economically dependent on him and whether or not he can, or does, support her or her children.
  • In 2009-10, 48% of women with children seeking crisis accommodation did so because of domestic and family violence. On an average day in 2010-11, 59.4% of people seeking crisis accommodation were turned away.
  • The rate of Aboriginal and TSI women's imprisonment across Australian rose 10% between 2006 and 2009. In 2007-08, ATSI women comprised 29% of women in prison in Australia and their rates of imprisonment are continuing to rise.
  • Most women in prison are there because of “crimes” caused by poverty: the system fails to meet women's needs and then punishes them.

Still subject to domestic and sexual violence

  • According to the Australian Human Rights Commission in December 2011, an estimated 1.2 million women in Australia over the age of 15 had experienced domestic or family violence, usually at the hands of their male partner. ATSI women suffer much higher rates.
  • Recent research by VicHealth shows that domestic and family violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women aged 15 to 44 years.
  • One woman is killed by her partner almost every week in Australia.
  • Approximately one-third of women in Australia will be sexually assaulted in their lifetimes - 18% before age 16. According to the Australian Institute of Criminology, a woman is 3.5 times more likely to be sexually assaulted over her lifetime than a man.

Still denied the right to choose

  • Abortion is still illegal in most Australian jurisdictions (although the ACT, Victoria and WA have decriminalised this medical procedure in limited circumstances). Terminations remain costly and difficult to access for poor, rural and young women.
  • IVF technologies are too costly for many women to use successfully and lesbians are still denied to right to access the service in at least one state. Lesbian couples still face restrictions in adopting children and legal obstacles to exercising full rights as parents.

Still stereotyped, objectified, belittled and harassed

  • Despite the formal rights that women have won through struggle, women and girls are increasingly stereotyped and female bodies are more brazenly sexualised in popular culture.
  • Capitalist culture manufactures acceptance of the sexist idea that women's bodies exist for the pleasure of men. This is reinforced by the corporate media and especially advertising targeted at young people.
  • Research has linked sexist and sexualised depictions of women and girls in advertising, pornography and the corporate media to sexist attitudes, expectations and unsafe behaviour among young people.
  • Sexual objectification of women's bodies places enormous pressure on women of all ages to conform to restrictive standards of “beauty” and sexual behaviour.
  • At any time, 68% of 15-year-old women are dieting and approximately one in 100 adolescent girls develop anorexia nervosa.

So is our imagined world of justice and equality for women merely an impossible dream? We don't think so.

Consider how different Australia would be if the $88 million per day allocated for military expenditure in 2012 was redirected to social services. Or if the billions of dollars in private profits that are made each year by Australia's biggest corporations was spent on public and community education. Or if workers and communities had the power to decide how the industries and services they run operated. Or if politicians were truly accountable and could be recalled if they broke their promises.

That would be a very different world for all ordinary people, and especially for women.

Making progress towards an Australia in which there is full economic, social and political equality for women requires, in the first instance, collective opposition to each and every attack on women's rights - as workers, mothers, students, patients and welfare recipients.

Collective struggle, not enlightened government, has been the driving force behind some formal, although limited, rights for women. The formal rights women have today have been won through long struggles - in workplaces, communities, schools and homes - by women and supportive men.

As the Australian Services Union campaign for equal pay in the community sector reveals, women are still far from having equal rights today. Not only that, the rights women do have are nowhere near adequate, nor permanent. Even hard-won gains are constantly under attack. Collective struggle is therefore still needed to ensure that women's ability to exercise these rights, regardless of their race, ethnicity, citizenship, religion or disability, are defended and extended.

As essential steps towards complete gender equality, the Socialist Alliance campaigns for:

    Equality and justice in the workplace

  1. Real equal pay for work of equal or comparable value.
  2. Automatic wage indexation that corresponds to real cost-of-living increases.
  3. Increase the minimum wage to enough to support a family.
  4. Abolish the youth wage because it damages the wellbeing of young women, and especially that of young mothers and their children.
  5. All wage increases and improvements in working conditions to be automatically generalised across each industry. Enterprise bargaining and individual contracts disadvantage women workers, many of whom work in less organised sectors.
  6. Legislate and enforce programs in both the private and public sectors to encourage and assist more women to be trained and employed in non-traditional jobs.
  7. Twenty-four months parental leave fully paid by employer contributions to a publicly- managed scheme, the right to return to the same job and generous paid leave to allow parents to take time off work to care for sick children and attend school activities.
  8. Better enforce anti-discrimination and affirmative action legislation to assist Indigenous, non-English speaking background and disabled women to be economically independent.
  9. Independence and equality in family life

  10. Immediately increase all welfare pensions and benefits to at least match the national minimum wage and automatically index welfare payments to cover real cost of living increases.
  11. Increase the Family Tax Benefit to provide financial security to all children regardless of a biological parent's income or willingness to help with the cost of raising a child.
  12. Abolish the current Parenting Payment (Single) and reinstate a generous pension, to be payable until children have finished school. Reinstate cost-of-living indexation and allowances and reduce the rate of payment reductions when the recipient earns a wage.
  13. End social security payment assessments based on relationship status, so that everyone has access to an independent income whether they are partnered or living alone.
  14. Review all social security income tests to reduce the punitive marginal tax rates for casual or part-time workers receiving welfare payments and parents receiving child support payments.
  15. Abolish the “welfare to work” provisions, which unfairly penalise supporting parents, disabled people and the long-term unemployed.
  16. Abolish all Centrelink “mutual obligation” requirements and the “breach” system, which particularly adversely affect all women on benefits and precarious casual workers, many of whom are women.
  17. Remove the requirement for people with disabilities and illnesses to undergo repeated reviews of their eligibility for benefits.
  18. Lower the age of the independence test for Youth Allowance from 25 to 16 years, end youth wage rates and scrap the “earn or learn” policy under which all people under 21 years' old are denied Youth Allowance and unemployment benefits unless they are in school or full-time vocational training. Enable young people to leave home/live independently if they choose.
  19. A massive emergency boost to funding to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community-based health and children's services, including for training more Aboriginal and TSI paediatric and other health professionals.
  20. No forced removal of ATSI children from their families or communities.
  21. End the Northern Territory Intervention and strengthen community-controlled initiatives to address violence and abuse, establish safe houses and properly resource ATSI women's centres and legal services.
  22. Repeal the racist Native Title Act and renegotiate ATSI land rights as part of a constitutionally entrenched treaty, binding on federal and state governments.
  23. Ensure all Australian government legislation is in line with the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination and the rulings of the UN Commission on Human Rights.
  24. Massively expand government funding for community/employee-controlled, good quality, free early childhood education and care services in communities and schools, and oblige big employers to fund such services in large workplaces. These services to include after-hours, vacation and occasional care.
  25. Abolish all taxation measures, such as the Family Tax Benefit Part B, that penalise families in which both partners have to work to survive.
  26. Reverse the privatisation of all utilities (such as electricity, water, etc.) and other essential services. Utilities should be provided free to households, or at a price that's affordable for all.
  27. Expand affordable, good quality, secure public and cooperative housing so that child-raising can take place in a stable environment. Ensure that all women, including elderly and other women who wish to live alone or independently, have accommodation security.
  28. Implement rent control laws in the private rental market.
  29. Full social, legal and industrial recognition of same-sex and gender variant relationships, including equal marriage and civil union rights.
  30. Equal rights for same-sex couples to adopt or foster children and access free, safe reproductive technologies.
  31. Enforce anti-discrimination legislation to protect lesbians, gay men, bisexuals, people living with HIV, and trans and intersex people. Remove the exemptions from anti-discrimination legislation for religious organisations, private schools, the insurance industry, the taxation system and superannuation.
  32. Women's control over their own bodies

  33. Remove abortion from the criminal and civil statutes in all Australian jurisdictions, and make abortion available safely, free of charge and on demand through the public health-care system in rural as well as urban areas.
  34. Fully fund family planning services to make reproductive health support, advice and resources available to all women.
  35. Make safe, reliable contraceptives freely available to both women and men; authorise all doctors to prescribe Mifepristone (RU486) and make the “morning after” pill available free of charge.
  36. Enforce the law against sterilisation without a woman's consent.
  37. Remove discrimination based on age, sexual preference or marital status for access to reproductive technologies. All women, including women in prison and other institutions, to be able to access reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion.
  38. Restore Medicare bulk-billing, and massively increase funding to public hospitals and community health services, particularly in remote communities.
  39. Provide free menstrual/sanitary products as a public health service and free medication/treatments to deal with painful menstruation.
  40. Improve availability of woman-centred pregnancy care, including state funding and insurance for community-based midwifery and birth centres.
  41. Give all women access to free, safe reproductive technologies, including IVF, and the right to adopt or foster children, regardless of relationship status or sexual preference.
  42. An end to sexual violence and exploitation

  43. Establish comprehensive education programs for high-school students about safe, consensual sex. This includes education on healthy sexual relationships, as well as sex and gender diversity.
  44. Strengthen and strictly enforce laws against sexual harassment.
  45. Restore and increase funding for women's services to ensure ready access to health centres, rape crisis centres, women's refuges and counselling services for all women and their dependents.
  46. A community education campaign in the corporate media, schools and all other public institutions to promote positive, non-stereotyped, anti-sexist images of women in all areas of social activity.
  47. Repeal all laws against prostitution to end the criminalisation and victimisation of sex workers, and publicly fund comprehensive health-care, legal and personal support services, and alternative employment opportunities, for sex workers.
  48. Prosecute Australians who profit from international sex trafficking and prostitution, and give full protection and rights to victims of the sex trade in Australia.
  49. End the big-business media monopoly that peddles sexism and racism. Increase funding for public and community-controlled media.

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