Queensland women: be involved - lead the way

On International Women’s Day (IWD), I often take stock and reflect on my activism and feminist principles and think about the communities we live and teach in. I also think about what it would be like to live in a society where there was genuine gender equity, and what I could be doing to help make it happen.

This year, the IWD theme was “be bold for change”. This is an important message to communicate and celebrate. We need change, we still have far to go - a quick (and rather depressing) snapshot tells us that:

  • there is still a significant gender pay gap in Australia - currently between 15-19 per cent (source Workplace Gender Equality Agency)
  • one woman in Australia dies because of partner violence each week (Australia CEO Challenge)
  • women are more likely to retire in poverty than men, because of a combination of earning less (see point one) and broken service (Senate Inquiry)
  • women make up 76.5 per cent of the DET teacher workforce, but hold only slightly more than 40 per cent of executive principal positions (DET)
  • the planned changes to penalty rates disproportionally impact on women (ACTU).

As teachers, we hold a crucial role in promoting and developing gender equity and teaching young people about pathways and careers, respect and our community. We know too many young women and girls are impacted by sexual predators, violence and harassment. We know new technologies, while improving so much, also provide a tool to harass, demean, control and bully. We know the practice of victim-blaming is alive and well in our courts, schools and communities.

We know that the young women and girls we teach are exposed to a range of role models, not all of them healthy or realistic, and that as “real” breathing women in their schools, we have the power to influence and inspire. And many of us do this, with a smile and enthusiasm, but who do they see running the schools? Who do they see doing the caring work in their families and weighing up the cost of childcare against their income? Who do they see working part-time to look after aging parents or the kids?

DET’s statistics for women in leadership are improving, but we know that there is work to be done in supporting women’s access to those top jobs, and providing a work culture that doesn’t view part-time as “less than” or a hindrance to promotional pathways. We need DET to really value the flexible work options of all its employees, including those in promotional and, importantly, executive positions.

Your Union has an affirmative policy of working towards increasing the number of women in Union roles, and we will be proudly launching our inaugural WILD (Women in Leadership Development program) later in the year.

The face of the average Australian trade union member is a professional woman. We are what unionists look like. In early March, Sally McManus was the first woman to be elected as the Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU), meaning that the movement is now led by two great women, Sally and Ged Kearney (ACTU President).

We are being bold for change.

Penny Spalding                                                                                                             Assistant Secretary - Women's and Social Welfare Issues

Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 122 No 3, 14 April 2017, p14