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Call to protect women’s rights

Briefs

Cite as: (2008) 82(12) LIJ, p.16

Victorian Women Lawyers (VWL) members have been urged to protest the growing number of vulnerable and disadvantaged women in the community and domestic environment.

Biennial Lesbia Harford Oration guest speaker, Australian Council of Social Services president Lin Hatfield Dodds said those present should be outraged that her topic, “Protecting women’s rights”, was still relevant in contemporary Australia.

“We keep hearing that feminism is over, that we women have achieved equality, and it’s true, some giant strides have been taken, but there are still troglodyte attitudes out there that need challenging,” she said.

“And in spite of the leaps we’ve made, the reality is that life is still pretty bloody tough for many women.”

Ms Hatfield Dodds said more and more women were being drawn into the poverty cycle and that the gap between the haves and have nots, which had already been widening before the current financial crisis, would only become greater as the crisis worsened.

She said that despite recent economic boom times, more than one in 10 Australians, including many women, could not afford basic foodstuffs, medical care, transport and accommodation.

“I don’t want to live in an Australia where more than 100,000 people are homeless, where more than 600,000 people are on public dental waiting lists, where over two million welfare recipients cannot access the supports and services needed to get or keep a job,” she said.

“I know the word solidarity is deeply unfashionable, but I don’t care. I want to live in a country where every person has the opportunity to participate in and contribute to their community.”

She said one in three women had experienced physical violence, one in five sexual violence and, while full-time adult earnings for both sexes had increased by more than half in 10 years to 2007, she was unable to find one sector where women, on average, earned more than men.

During the call to arms, Ms Hatfield Dodds also said that while professional women did not have the same financial pressures or experience exclusion and barriers to participation, their lives were “still not all a bed of roses”.

Professional women would spend three hours a day on domestic work, double of their male partners and more should be done to increase paid maternity leave and access to quality childcare and support for primary caregivers, she said.

Ms Hatfield Dodds was the 2008 ACT Australian of the Year.

VWL Convenor Christine Melis said the oration acknowledged contemporary women’s contributions to “our social fabric through their research, activism, questioning and hard work in putting issues of equality on the agenda”.

The Melbourne-born Lesbia Harford (1891-1927) was a champion of workers’ rights and a pioneer of women in the legal profession.

For more information on the VWL, see http://www.liv.asn.au/members/interest/women.

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