‘I will fight until I die for women’s suffrage and if I die before the vote is won, I will write it in my heart’– Mary Lee, South Australian suffragette.
The evolution of the rights of women in Australia owes much to successive waves of feminism, or the women’s movement. The first of these took place in the late 19th century and was concerned largely with gaining the right to vote and to stand for election into parliament. The second wave of feminism took place in the 1960s and 1970s and focused on gaining equality with men in other areas, such as work, the law and general social standing. The second wave targeted many different aspects of life and presented a broader challenge to traditional ideas of women’s rights. It therefore led to more fundamental changes in the daily lives of mainstream Australian women.
Successes of the women’s movement
The women’s movement made huge changes to Australian society. Throughout the 1970s, 1980s and to a lesser extent the 1990s many initiatives were put in place in the areas of health, work, law, education and welfare that attempted to redress the imbalance between men’s and women’s power and opportunity. Women slowly began to infiltrate areas of power that had hitherto been closed to them and some attempted to use this power for the benefit of women in general.
Women’s health clinics were set up around the country. Shelters and halfway houses were established for women escaping domestic violence. Women won official rights to equal pay and paid childcare. Some women were appointed to powerful positions in government, business and organizations. Laws encouraging equal opportunity were enacted around the country. Girls were encouraged to study subjects like science and sport that had always been male-dominated.
Women in Australia today
There are different views about how much impact the women’s liberation movement has had on Australia. There is more recognition about violence against women but the violence has not necessarily decreased. Women have more choice over reproduction than they did until the 1960s. Women have been able to reach high positions in politics, the professions and business. It is, however, far more difficult for women to attain these positions than it is for men. Laws attempting to create equal pay and equal opportunity for women do not automatically ensure these things for women. The roles of women and men in the home have changed little despite the women’s movement. Education has improved in terms of female/male equality. Overall there are greater possibilities for women now but there are still proportionately fewer women in key positions in the Australian workforce.
Are we again at a cross-roads of liberation for women, is it time to redefine what we as women believe is equal and of value to our communities.
What are your views on the full liberation of women and how do you feel we can make it better for future generations?
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