Triggs Says Australia’s Approach to Women’s Economic Empowerment a ‘Disgrace’
17 October 2017 at 8:45 am
The former president of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs, has labelled the federal government’s approach to the economic empowerment of women “a disgrace”.
Speaking at the Melbourne Women’s Fund forum last Friday, the current chair of Justice Connect said recent strategies to deal with women’s issues were “trivial”.
She also expressed concerns that sections of the media were treating women’s issues as “identity politics”.
“There appears to be no national action plan for the economic empowerment of women, despite the fact it is a sustainable development goal. This is a disgrace,” Triggs said.
“The government’s got any number of strategies, all elegantly expressed, repeating what we all know at this high abstract level. Flexible child care, workplace diversity, supporting women as entrepreneurs, strengthening their economic security and enhancing financial incentives to work.
“But when I went through what was actually happening, it got to the point of being trivial. The Office for Women I totally support… but [there is an] appropriation towards women’s leadership and development.
“They proudly announce a budget of $3.3 million, but this will make a very little difference. These budgets are tiny for what is a major problem for women, which make up a majority of the Australian population. Yet the right wing-conservative press describe women’s issues as identity politics.
“We shouldn’t be standing for this in 2017. We know how language informs the way we think, and so if you read the newspapers, you’ll believe they are engaging in identity politics… when they are simply insisting on their basic rights.”
Triggs said she was worried about misinformation spreading, particularly around the blocking of paid maternity leave.
“We found there was an overt attack constructing women as double dippers for accessing both employer and government contributions to get paid leave. The result I’m reliably advised, is that 50 per cent of all mothers have now lost some or all of their 18 week paid maternity leave,” she said.
“Why are we not in the streets about this? It was a lie… it demeans women and they’ve got away with it. And we have almost no public discussion about this absolutely vital public question.”
Triggs also said there needed to be a structural change in how Australia dealt with domestic violence. She said there was a clear link between “socially and politically disadvantaged women and their vulnerability to violence”.
“Progressive forms of practise have always advocated research informed and critically reflected approaches to practices which champion women and children’s rights, while simultaneously holding perpetrators accountable,” Triggs said.
“But the focus should never just be on the victim or survivor or perpetrator. We should be looking at transforming the social structures implicated in causing domestic and family violence.”
She said political leadership was vital in achieving this change, and she applauded some of the action taken by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. However she noted that his stance had not led to tangible improvements in addressing domestic violence.
“It’s encouraging that our prime minister has acknowledged domestic violence as a gendered social issue. That I think is an advance and he’s announced a $100 million funding package to address violence against women,” Triggs said.
“I certainly have come to understand the value of political leadership. When you have political leadership that demeans women and says they’re double dipping on child care that does a lot of harm.
“And when you have a prime minister who says domestic violence is a gendered issue, this has a real impact on society. The tragedy however, is that despite that view by the prime minister, governments have still been closing refuges and defunding community legal centres which have provided much of the support to women and provided the groundwork to address domestic violence.”
To combat this lack of action, Triggs said a change in approach was needed. She encouraged women to be “vulgar”, and speak up more clearly about the issues affecting them.
“There is great work being done, but we need to take it down to the level where it’s actually going to have an impact,” Triggs said.
“Going back to my days with Germaine Greer at Melbourne University, I think we need to be more aggressive, [but] not confrontational. We need to be evidence based, but we need to be more upfront about arguing these matters.
“We need to push back against the post-truth, and thinking about Germaine Greer, I think we need to be a bit more vulgar.
“Don’t you think we have played the game for too long? We’ve tried to speak calmly, we’ve tried to talk to the politicians in Canberra. [But] this is a disgraceful, disrespectful environment that we operate in. I think it’s time we speak up more clearly and use our power and networks to push back against these alternative truths.”