Will your organisation lean in, or lean out on March 4 Justice and women’s rights?
30 March 2021 at 8:22 am
We are reaching a moment in time where there is great opportunity for civil society to lead the way in making lasting change, writes Neil Pharaoh.
It is impossible to ignore the recent anger and frustration of the many thousands of women (and men) around the country in the recent March 4 Justice, and the collective rage at the treatment of women such as the brave Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, and so many thousands more unnamed. We have seen a movement which is causing political shockwaves, triggering cabinet reshuffles, and giving courage to women too reluctant to speak up until now. It has also encouraged many women’s rights groups to vocalise their support – yet it has left me wondering – where is the rest of the social purpose and not-for-profit sector in this watershed moment in Australian history?
Gender equality and women’s rights are not just a “women’s issue”, and we are reaching a moment in time where there is great opportunity for civil society to lead the way in making lasting change. While marches create headlines and movements, to make lasting societal change we need to ensure that civil society steps up around issues such as equality – if they don’t then we are doing a disservice to the March 4 Justice.
Not for profits have a unique opportunity to honour the legacy left by the founding women who paved the way in Australia’s political history. The arc of history will judge our political actions in moments such as these – we, as civil society and the not-for-profit space owe a great debt to women’s political activism, we now need to return the favour.
In 1903 Vida Goldstein became the first woman in the British empire to stand for Parliament, in Australia. Not only did she campaign as a social reformist on equal pay for equal work, but also on the abolition of child labour, and other key education and social reforms – from the very inception of women’s formal entry into political campaigns, they fought not just for themselves but for others.
Grace Benny, who in 1919 became the first female local government councilor in Australia, went on to found the Elite Employment Agency, which she ran during the great depression. To the satisfaction of many she often provided a meal and a bed – employment rights.
Enid Lyons conducted her campaign for her first seat amid a whooping cough pandemic, which she lost by only 60 votes. The illness had attacked five of her children, and sadly soon after she lost her 10-month-old baby to pneumonia. Her contribution outside numerous social issues, was as diverse as Australia – from aluminum industries to air and shipping, agricultural development to atomic energy, finance, population, industry, and immigration.
Dorothy Tangney was one of the first advocates for a national health system, as well as being our first female senator in 1943. She strove to introduce hospital and medical benefits, as well as pensions for tuberculosis.
Lest we forget, it was only 1956 that women were able to teach after marriage, and a full 10 years later before they were allowed to stay working in the public service, and only in 1961 that contraceptive pills were available. It was 1962 that Indigenous women won the right to vote and 1965 when women had the right to drink in public bars. Every single one of the advocates who campaigned for such reforms campaigned not just for their benefit, but for all our benefit, and numerous other social and political causes along the way.
So I encourage the not-for-profit sector to be brave like the many women who have shared their story, whether it is industry, immigration or finance, employment or child rights. So many of our not for profits started because of women’s advocacy, they are now asking for ours – so will you lean in?
About the author: Neil Pharaoh has spent most of his voluntary and professional life in and around social purpose organisations, government, public policy and advocacy. Neil has been behind many leading social policy and advocacy campaigns on gender rights, equality, medical research and education, and ran for Parliament in Victoria in 2014 and 2018. Neil is co-founder and director of Tanck, which focuses on better engagement with government, and regularly runs workshops and advocacy sessions and advises leading social purpose organisations on their government engagement strategy and systems.
Happenings on the hill is a new fortnightly column focusing on all things politics, policy, campaigns and advocacy. Stay tuned for updates around political trends and elections, lobbying and advocacy news, and hints, tips and ideas on government engagement that are specifically written for the social purpose/for purpose sector.
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