Battles on two fronts

'Fight to progress the rights of women in the workplace but also fight to maintain the rights already achieved'

Narelle Hill
Women's Committee Member

Delegates to the Australian Education Union’s Federal Women’s Conference contemplated not only do they have to fight to progress the rights of women in the workplace but also fight to maintain the rights already achieved.

In the past year there have been enormous challenges to maintain rights, through budgetary cuts to services such as front line family services including refuges for women and children, attempts to cut access to family tax benefits and wind back paid parental leave. There is also the ongoing dispute relating to penalty rates, which affects far more females in the workforce than males.

The conference was held in Melbourne, October 10–11, with the theme “Stand Together, Speak Up, Make Change”.

A contingent of Federation’s elected representatives attended the conference with Women’s Coordinator Anna Uren.

Delegates heard from a number of inspirational speakers including:

  • Elleni Bereded-Samuels, who has devoted her life’s work to strengthening education, training and employment for the culturally and linguistically diverse
  • Sally McManus, who is coordinating the Build A Better Future campaign across Australia in the lead-up to the next federal election
  • Fiona McCormack, from Domestic Violence Victoria, who raised many thoughts and concerns among delegates in relation to domestic violence and domestic violence leave, many of which still need answers.

Delegates were treated to news about some very inspiring projects occurring in Victoria in regard to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer students. They heard how a small group of students and a supportive school leadership have been able to make a difference in the lives of young people and how FemCo came to support and enhance the lives of students at Fitzroy High School.

Transgender women Margot Fink and Ivy McGowan spoke about the positive impact the Safe Schools Coalition had on their lives as young gender questioning high schools students. Both work for Minus18, an advocacy group for LGBTI young people.

The conference enabled delegates to meet with teacher unionists from other states and discuss issues facing women in today’s educational and political environment. Talks reinforced the notion that no matter where in Australia you are the fights we face are the same, although in many cases NSW has already progressed ahead of the other states.