Australia may have dodged the bullet that has put the US, Britain and most European economies on life support, but our 2009 collection of essays shows that – despite our enviable economic position – Australia is not the egalitarian paradise that many believe it to be.Equality Speaks features an eclectic mix of writers who highlight a common challenge – to use our (relatively) stable economic times to make the shift to a fairer Australia. It brings together some of our sharpest minds to look at paths to a more equal Australia in areas like transport, homelessness, education, women, tax, refugees, work and employment amongst others. It includes new research on the distribution of wealth in Australia.
"For many years, feminist scholars and other observers of the labour market have pointed to the glass ceiling (women find it difficult to move into the most senior positions in organisations) and glass walls (women work in highly feminised industries and occupations). But the sticky floor has received less attention. Women predominate in low paid jobs with little or no career path." Cooper and Baird
Gender issues are fully explored in the chapter by Rae Cooper and Marian Baird — Australian Women — Getting to Equality? In assessing the score-card on equality for women, Cooper and Baird look first at domestic violence, drawing on leading research that shows violence perpetrated by an intimate partner is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness in women aged between 15 and 44 years.
As well as addressing domestic violence, the equality agenda for women traverses education, employment, pay equity and balancing work and family. Cooper and Baird show that despite changes in the social mix, our key institutions continue to marginalise women.
Women are better educated than ever before and girls are more likely than boys to complete the Higher School Certificate. Fifty years ago one fifth of higher education students were female but by the early 2000s nearly one half were. But these improvements have not translated into equality in leadership positions, or in equal employment and wage outcomes for women.
In employment, women predominate in the ‘bad’ jobs — are more likely to be employed as casuals and low paid workers; and they are often susceptible to capricious treatment from unscrupulous employers. The gap between women and men’s earnings has not changed since 1992 and remains 16 per cent. Women hold a mere 2 per cent of CEO positions in the top 200 Australian Stock Exchange listed companies. Cooper and Baird point out that the boundaries between home, work and community for women are never fixed, but our public policy, wage fixing institutions and the practices of our employers have not kept pace with the reality of work and family. Workplace inflexibility and lack of child-care prevents many women from holding the same position they held before becoming mothers.