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There is Nothing We Cannot Do And Yet There Is Still So Much That Stand In Our Way.

Tues 8 Nov


Written by Anne Summers

Anne Summers is a journalist and author. Her classic 1975 book Damned Whores and God’s Police was re-released on International Women’s Day 2016.
 Anne will be MC at Breakthrough 2016 on Friday 25 November. As someone who has been in the women’s rights movement for over four decades, she has seen first hand the power of positive social change for women and the ongoing struggle to maintain progress. She believes it’s time for Australia to breakthrough.


When we consider that it is a hundred years since white women in Australia won the right to vote, and a mere fifty years since Indigenous women were awarded the same privilege, and women no longer had to resign from their jobs when they got married, it might seem that we are making good progress when it comes to gender-equality.

After all, women are getting educated, getting jobs and going places that once were beyond our reach. We have legal equality and we have broken barriers that once seemed impenetrable. Women have now occupied the roles of Governor-general and state governor, Prime Minister and state premier, High Court judge and State Chief Justice, police commissioner, university vice-chancellor, president of the trade union movement and members of parliament at federal, state and local level. Australian women have won Oscars, Pulitzers, the Nobel Prize, the Melbourne Cup and Olympic Gold. There is nothing we cannot do and yet there is still so much that stands in our way.

We lack equal pay and fair treatment, we can’t always control our fertility, we still do virtually all the housework and childcare even when we hold down full-time jobs, we have less money to live and retire on, we suffer intolerable amounts of violence, sexual assault on the rise and we live in a world where sexism and misogyny are part of the atmosphere.

So we are still so far off from achieving gender equality in Australia. The question is: how are we going to make it happen and how long will it take us? Surely we do not have to wait another fifty years – until 2066 – to achieve the breakthrough to full equality? That would be an unbearable injustice since we know what needs to happen and there is no earthy reason why it should not happen now.

We will be articulating all this at Breakthrough later this month. Hundreds of us will come together to explain and to exhort, to reason and to rage. We will make the case (as we have done so many times before) and we will vow that this time it is going to happen.

I think we need to do more than that.

As someone who has been fighting for women’s equality for more than forty years now I have witnessed some tremendous victories but I have also seen progress stall and even be reversed. During the years of the Howard government, much that we had achieved during the Hawke and Keating governments of the previous decade were cruelly abolished or watered down and we are still suffering from those setbacks. We have seen women’s political clout diminish – although I think we are slowly getting it back now and we should be sure to use our numbers and our arguments to prevent any further setbacks. For instance, we face threats to what we thought was an entrenched paid parental leave scheme, and our child care system is still a mess, despite the billions spent on it each year.

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Our agenda is large and complex – and growing. We discover new issues even as we understand that the “old” ones have not been totally addressed. For instance, we now know we need to address female genital mutilation (FGM) as an issue affecting many immigrant and refugee women. The “old” issue of abortion is not solved. It is still a criminal offence in New South Wales and Queensland. Even though legal rulings enable abortions to be performed, there is always the fear that the Crimes Act might be enforced. In Queensland, the sheer size of the state means that service provision is sparse and large populations of women in reality do have the same rights to safe, legal abortion that women in other states have.

I have argued elsewhere (The Misogyny Factor, 2013) that we need to approach the solving of the issues of women’s equality in much the same way as the country has approached major nation-building projects such as the Snowy River. We need to manage this project as we would any other. We need a scope of work, a budget and, most important of all, a deadline.

I would favour a Women’s Manifesto that outlines in precise detail what remains to be done to fulfil the women’s equality project. We should list every issue, every policy, every element of inequality and then plan for how we intend to address these. This is a huge task, I know, but we need to know what we want in order to be able to fight for it.

We will then need to mobilise women and the men who support us and make it happen. On time and on budget. That will be our breakthrough and that is what we need to make happen.

And we can. And we will.


Hear Dr Anne Summers take on gender equality in Australia today at Breakthrough 2016, alongside bright thinkers like Tanya Plibersek, Kate Jenkins and Rosie Batty. Tickets on sale now.

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