Many delegates to Federation’s Women’s Conference on August 15 left committed to encourage more women to attend the conference in the future.
Delegates left feeling empowered, as well as entertained, describing the conference as “wonderful”, “thought-provoking”, “empowering” and “beyond expectations”.
Almost 200 women from schools, TAFE colleges and Corrective Services workplaces from across the state focused on the question of whether we’ve yet achieved gender equality. It is 40 years since International Women’s Year and the establishment of the Federation’s Women’s Program. Federation Senior Vice President Joan Lemaire outlined a history of gender equity strategies in her opening address.
Delegates heard that while it was important to continue to have strategies that focus on these inequalities in employment, to achieve true gender equality, efforts must begin much earlier. Teachers have to begin by changing the messages that society sends to children about gender. The message that girls and boys like particular and separate things and behave in particular ways is sent to children from infancy. This is not just a problem in that it inhibits and restricts children’s identity development, but the traits that are promoted and encouraged in boys and men are the ones that are valued in society’s power structures, while those promoted and encouraged in girls and women are devalued. This process puts women at a disadvantage beginning from childhood.
Keynote speaker Clementine Ford entertained, inspired and frustrated in equal measure. She acknowledged that one of the biggest barriers to achieving equality is that for those who are currently advantaged equality is a loss, so some will always fight back. She shared her own story about becoming a feminist. She acknowledged that for many girls and young women today, the question of whether to identify as a feminist is a loaded one. Fighting for gender equality cannot be done in isolation from a culture that continues to define girls and women in the context of their relationship with boys and men, which continues to perpetuate rigid gender roles, which undermine diversity in identities.
The day included a panel discussion on the conference theme, with Joan Lemaire and Clementine Ford joined by Federation’s first Women’s Coordinator Gail Shelston and Professor Marian Baird from the University of Sydney. While Gail acknowledged that a lot of work remained to be done to achieve gender equality, she was encouraged by some of the wonderful, positive actions being taken by young people today. Marian discussed changes over time to women’s status in employment as a key marker of progress on gender equality. The format was very popular and delegates are keen to have a similar model extended to next year, with more time for questions and discussion to allow people to fully engage with the ideas and issues.
A warm and inspiring Acknowledgement of Country was given by Aunty Joan Tranter and Aunty Ali Golding. Aunty Ali shared her perspective on what achieving equality means for an Aboriginal woman educator.
Assistant General Secretary (Schools) Michelle Rosicky and Assistant General Secretary (Post Schools) Maxine Sharkey’s personal stories of what it means to be a woman and an activist were clear examples of the value of women’s contributions to the union’s campaigning. They also covered Federation’s role in the campaign for gender equality.
Delegates attended workshops on a range of topics, focusing on workplace issues, campaigning skills or gender equality.