Why we need a new Working Women’s Charter
2014 marks the 40th anniversary of the Working Women’s Charter – a landmark list of 10 demands aiming to create a more equal world for women. The Charter linked trade unionism to feminism and other kinds of activism. It connected women’s social, economic, and sexual rights in new and powerful ways.
Forty years on, many of these rights have been won but deep inequalities persist around pay, opportunities, pensions, caring responsibilities and much more. What should a Working Women’s Charter for the 21st century include? What should women demand of political parties in the 2015 election?
In 1974, I was four. Things were on the up for my family. My own mother was picking up her career in the health service, having had ten years out with three children. She was able to do this for two reasons. First, her mother – my grandmother – had come to live with us and to look after me and my sisters. Second, my dad was very hands on. All this allowed my mum to combine home with full-time work as well as finding time to study as a mature student.
My mum – and many women like her – were part of a quiet but powerful revolution in British life. Today we’re all very familiar with the working mum. But she is a relatively new ‘returner’ to the labour market – with most only taking up paid work in large numbers from the 1960s onwards.
As soon as they did that, they had to find ways to juggle the demands of work and family. And in that moment, a new political agenda was born. It’s one we still struggle with today.
The first Working Women’s Charter – back in 1974 – was an early response to that struggle. At that point, that women’s movement was still gathering momentum. Its landmark moments were still fresh. In 1968, sewing machinists at Ford’s Dagenham car plant had won a major victory on the road to recognition– a story played out today on the West End stage in Made in Dagenham. They helped pave the way for the 1970 Equal Pay Act – passed in the same year that the first National Women’s Liberation conference was held. But the women at that conference and on the Dagenham assembly line knew then – as women know now – that legislation alone wouldn’t be enough.
The 1974 Charter was drawn up by women in trades unions and trades councils. It set out to change culture, not just change the law. From the start, it tried to bring the very different needs of very different groups of women workers under one banner: the needs of the minority heading into the higher professions and the needs of the majority employed in the mass labour market – women in shops, offices, assembly lines and more.
It was influenced by an earlier Australian feminist initiative. In 1943 Australian Women’s Charter was drawn up at the Australian Women’s Conference for Victory in War and Victory in Peace. It called for a wide-ranging program of reforms – from women’s right to paid work and child care to the particular needs of rural and Aboriginal women.
The 1974 Working Women’s Charter demanded equality in pay, opportunities, education, working conditions and legal rights. It demanded free childcare, free contraception and abortion, increased maternity leave and family allowances, job security for women returning from maternity leave. Finally, it called for more women in public and political life.
It was a classic statement of the women’s movement – insisting that the personal was political, that what happened in the workplace and public life could not be separated from what happened at home and in hearts, minds and bodies.
The Charter was much debated. Its cause wasn’t helped, however, by its rejection by the TUC – the Trades Union Congress – at its 1975 conference. TUC delegates opposed the idea of a women’s minimum wage as a route to equal pay and did not want to address abortion. They also argued that the TUC’s own 12 point charter covered much of the same ground. By contrast, the earlier Australian Women’s Charter seems to have been more influential in shaping postwar reconstruction plans.
Today, interest in the 1974 Charter stems from a concern with how far we have come since then. Forty years on – how many of those 10 demands have been met?
I’d say that a just four out of the 10 demands have been met over the last four decades. Women now have broadly equal access to (1) education and (2) legal rights. Most have much improved access to (3) contraception and abortion. There have been increases in (4) family allowances although recent reforms have undermined that gain.
We are still chasing the other six demands: (1) access to free or affordable childcare, (2) equal pay, (3) equal opportunities, (4) equal working conditions, (5) job security for women returning from maternity leave and (6) more women in public and political life.
In all these areas, there’s a long haul ahead. In 2013, Price Waterhouse Coopers ranked the UK a shocking 18th out of 27 OECD countries in its Women in Work Index based on a measure combining five key indicators:
- the equality of earnings with men;
- the proportion of women in work;
- the gap between female and male labour force participation;
- the female unemployment rate; and
- the proportion of women in full-time employment.
And here are some equally outrageous figures on the under-representation of women in public life, political life and private sector leadership today. In national politics, only 23% of MPs and 21% of peers are women. In local politics, around one third of councilors and one tenth of council leaders are women. In the boardroom, women make up just 17% of FTSE 100 boards and 11% of FTSE 250 boards. In higher education, just 14% of UK universities have a woman Vice Chancellor. This is also, of course, a personal challenge for us as women ourselves.
In the nineteenth century, we were formally barred from the professions and from public office. Now there’s apparently nothing to stop us yet we don’t see change on the ground at the pace we want. I’d agree that more women need to step up, lean in, hang in, and strike all the other poses currently recommended by management gurus. But old cultures die hard. And structural barriers – of the kind identified by Price Waterhouse Coopers – are hard to overcome. I believe that a new Working Women’s Charter would help us to overcome them. With an election coming, this is the perfect time to draw one up.
Elections are often won and lost on women’s swing votes. The next one will be no exception. What better time to start a serious debate on the things that matter to women – and to working women in particular?
Of course, this debate is already taking place across the country in organisations from Mumsnet to the 30 Per Cent Group, and from the Fawcett Society to many employers. Just this week, Asda finds itself forced to into the debate via a legal challenge from thousands of its women employees embarking on a new battle for equal pay and recognition.
And in Newham, the women activists of Focus E15 may have ended their occupation of empty flats but their battle for basic housing continues.A new Working Women’s Charter could transform these debates – not because a new list of new demands will change anything on its own but because it could harness the energy and promise of growing ‘third wave feminism’. It could help to find common cause between many different women across many different workplaces.
And that will be the key to scoring more than 4 out of 10 in the next 40 years.
Pam Cox (c) October 2014
Pamela Cox is Professor of Sociology, Department of Sociology, University of Essex and one of the impressive list of speakers at the 1 day event held in London on Saturday 8 November 2014, King’s College London, to celebrate the 1974 Working Women’s Charter, explore the many challenges that women in Britain still face, and spark ideas about how these might be overcome.
‘Why we need a new Working Women’s Charter – Celebrating the 1974 Working Women’s Charter’, http://www.historyandpolicy.org/news/article/the-working-womens-charter-40-years-on (accessed 7 November 2014)
The contrast between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twilight could not be greater. In character and character development, as well as plot, Buffy eclipses the anodyne Twilight series. Buffy is a character in her own right, a woman who, albeit a student still, knows her own mind, acts independently, and leads her team. Even when she consults with her teacher – the school principal, a man ‘in charge’ of the educational institution where Buffy meets and matches the vampires she slays, she consults with him on a basis of equality. He may advise and mentor, but on Buffy’s terms and on Buffy’s ground. She seeks when she chooses to seek information. She assesses and assimilates where she makes the decision that the information imparted is ‘right’. It is no surprise that followers of Buffy included women who took on powerful roles in the polity – at least one, the former Senator Natasha Stott Despoja - going on to lead her political party (the Australian Democrats – AD).
Sadly, it is difficult to imagine any of Twilight’s adherents being propelled into independent action, much less political leadership. Publicity for the books, now film series, stays true to the idea of woman-as-server, woman-as-marriage-material, woman-as-secondary-to-leader (and leading) man. Film advertisements show Bella as secondary to Edward – his junior in height as well as intellect (although attributing to one or the other this capacity overstates the fictional reality). Edward invariably looms, Bella invariably succumbs, diminished, supplicant, seeking his protection, his strength to her weakness: after all, she is but a ‘girl’.
Buffy played on US and global television screens from 1997 to 2003. Twilight came shortly after, first as a series of novels, then a series of full-length feature films. Publication of the novels upon which the films are based commenced with the first volume, Twilight, in 2005 with the films released in 2008, 2009, 2010, climaxing in the final two full-length features manufactured from the fourth novel – these films being released in 2011 and 2012.
Comparing and contrasting these two popular series – one playing on television (with one feature length film in 2002), the other screening in multiplex cinemas throughout the Western world at least, provides insights into the struggle between popular media creating and promoting strong, independent women characters, and providing viewers (and readers) with submissive, male and marriage dependent ciphers.
Though Buffy as the leading character in the series bearing her name was played by a slim, blonde beauty, this did not detract from her obvious vigour, ‘fight’ capacity and generally powerful demeanour. The ‘main’ female character in Twilight (no leader nor leading character, she)displays none of this: droopy, pale, bedraggled of hair, her expressions (when they appear) confined to soupy looks directed at the principal male character and, at times, at his rival, it is impossible to see her acting independently, much less playing the major role. Buffy exists as a woman who can act on her own, albeit leading a committed team. Isabella (Bella) Swan’s existence is entirely framed on her relationships with the male characters. When Buffy interacts with male characters, it is as an equal – even where one major male character is far older and in an authority position.
How is it that in less than twenty short years, popular media went from Buffy, powerful, strong, committed and a leader, the main character in her own television series, with the task of destroying the vampire, whilst pale, wan, characterless Bella marries him? Even the titles of these popular vehicles indicate the heights from which a woman can fall – Buffy, the Slayer, to Bella, the housewife … ‘Twilight’ is too aptly named, indeed.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) October 2014
The split in the Women’s Movement occurring in the United Kingdom over engagement in war was replicated in other parts of the British Empire. When the 1914-1918 war broke out, Emmeline Pankhurst’s rhetoric and actions in unreservedly ‘voting’ to supporting the war and the war effort met with approval and disapproval not only in Britain. The WSPU’s approach in putting women’s rights to one side was complied with or renounced by women in Canada, Aotearoa/New Zealand and Australia.
In Australia, where women had fought for and long since gained the vote, Vida Goldstein led the Women’s Peace Army, attracting to its ranks Adele Pankhurst and activist women who were joined in political struggle. They spoke out strongly against war, for peace, and for men to exercise their right of conscientious objection. They lobbied against proposals for compulsory enlistment, demonstrating, collecting signatures and presenting petitions. They demonstrated against the export of bread for troops in Europe, arguing that wheat shortages led to rising bread prices, so taking this staple out of the reach of the ordinary people, particularly the working class.
Goldstein and her confreres were assailed by the Prime Minister and government ministers, state and federal, who saw their actions and words as treasonous. State police were admonished to utilise federal laws against demonstrators, with women (Adele Pankhurst, Jennie Baines and Alice Suter) being the first to be charged under these regulations. When state police did not comply with the wish of federal authorities, a federal police force was created. Secret police followed the women and documented their activities in records now held in Australian archives.
The challenge women made to the establishment in rejecting the call to support the war is an area rich in history. It confirms that exploration of the reasons for women to take a stand that put them at odds not only with government but with women who sided with the war effort is esential for undertanding women’s activism during wartime. That women were a particular target of repression indicates the fear held by the establishment of women as renegades.
Jocelynne A. Scutt )c) June 2014
This is an extract fro mthe paper presented by Dr Jocelynne A. Scutt to the 2014 Women’s History Network Annual Conference at Worcester University, 5-7 September 2014
As Australians for whom World War 2 and the seventies were emblematic, we are distraught at the destruction of our once wonderful women’s refuges.
Dr Goebbels, Adolph Hitler’s Minister for Propaganda, instructed the world that ‘words are valuable’; they can ‘convince people that a square is, in fact, a circle.’ The current conservative governments have learnt the Doctor’s lessons well!
Australia for the last forty years benefitted from the women’s refuge movement, a consequence of feminists, Germaine Greer and Dr Anne Summers AO, the later both producing seminal works: The Female Eunuch and Damned Whores and Gods Police.
The first Australian refuge, Elsie, was established in 1973 in a ten
ement in, Glebe, Sydney, NSW by Anne Summers et al.
It was another ten years for such an idea to reach the coastal town of Taree, NSW, where a women’s refuge was established in 1983. In 1992, because of a far-sighted Manager, the first purpose-built women’s refuge funded by both Labor and Conservative governments opened its doors. Unfortunately, it proved to be the last of its kind!
In general, Federal Governments funded the projects overseen by State governments. Volunteer community committees and paid Managers dealt with day-to- day administration, an excellent method!
With 1.5 women murdered each week by a partner or ex-partner, one would think governments would be glad of the refuge movement but the following is the history of its destruction by stealth:
- Give a woman, Gabrielle Upton, the job of Minister responsible.
- Persuade the refuge movement to ‘update’ by adopting an acronym, DVNSW and appoint celebrities as ‘Ambassadors’ – which means nothing to the general population!
- Persuade managers to remove the personal, traditional appellation, Lyn’s Place, renaming it ‘women’s service’!
- Replace the words ‘women’,’ violence’ and ‘children’ with ‘homeless’.
- Berate previous governments for not dealing with ‘the homeless’.
- Compose a slogan: Going home staying home.
- Change method of funding from grants to tender.
Outcome: control by religious organisations e.g., The Samaritans, Mission Australia and St Vincent de Paul.
All successfully tendered.
Now, refuges are in a state of flux, with different individual outcomes – none of which are anything like their predecessors. One or two were not required to tender but managers are ‘gagged’. DVNSW imploded leaving the refuge movement without a base.Taree is now a non-secular, non –specific house run by The Samaritans.
Note: the odd thing about this scenario is that New South Wales has been subject to Royal Commissions and enquiries into church- run organisations. And yet, irrespective of these commissions and disturbing findings these very organisations are handed another group of damaged people. It beggars belief!
The State Labor Opposition held protest meetings, gained the required amount of petitions and in September, will debate this issue in the Conservative controlled State Parliament.
Marion Hosking OAM……… for Socialist Women for Justice, Australia
Women and girls of the Asia Pacific Region and Oceania are vital political activists and agitators. Although the region has one of the lowest parliamentary representations of women – possibly the lowest in regional terms – women and girls are determined to make their voices heard – and listened to. Around the region, conferences, workshops, seminars, meetings and group activities take place on a daily, weekly, monthly and annual basis. Women organise in business, in markets, in mothers groups, as office workers, retail assistants and managers, as villagers, city women, town-dwellers and itinerant workers. Women and girls speak up and speak out against violence against women, against trafficking in women, women’s right to abortion, women’s right to contraception and family planning advice, education in sex and sexuality, criminal assault at home and other forms of domestic violence and the importance of ending it, women’s political rights, business rights, resource rights and right to exist in dignity and freedom – everywhere.
Women’s non-government organisations are well-established with a vital presence at UN Commission on the Status of Women meetings, and UN regional meetings. This is a communique from one such meeting.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) June 2014
Communique – Asia Pacific Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM)
Seventy-five (75) representatives of civil society organizations in the Asia Pacific region gathered on 15-17 May in Bangkok, Thailand for the Asia Pacific Civil Society Forum on Sustainable Development. The meeting preceded the UNESCAP intergovernmental Asia-Pacific Forum for Sustainable Development (APFSD) and focused on consolidating and expanding the collective civil society call for Development Justice as central part of the post-2015 development agenda.
A major milestone of the CSO forum was the creation of a transition mechanism for a new
Regional CSO Engagement Mechanism (RCEM).
The momentum to create such a mechanism derives from a series of discussions and meetings held throughout 2013 and 2014 in the region. These meetings have focused on the creation of a comprehensive and structured process to facilitate and coordinate Asia-Pacific CSO engagement on sustainable development with the entire United Nations system. This is a result of the Rio+20 outcomes, which has articulated the importance of multi-stakeholder participation for sustainable development.
During the CSO forum on May 15-17, representatives of the Transition Committee have been appointed based on constituency and sub-regional representation. During a one-year period (2014-2015) they will collate input from civil society on the optimal structure and functions of the RCEM. They will also facilitate outreach and capacity-building as well as consolidation and articulation of common positions of CSOs in the Asia-Pacific region in regional and global discussions on sustainable development. The Transition Committee is complemented by an Advisory Group consisting of individuals that have extensive knowledge on sustainable development and civil society engagement. This structure is expected to further evolve based on lessons learned and collective experience during this transition period and culminate in the formation of the full RCEM.
5 Sub-regional Focal Points,
14 Constituency Focal Points
Pacific, North East Asia, Central Asia, South Asia, South East Asia
(1) Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities
Thematic Working Groups
The aim of the RCEM is to enable stronger cross constituency
1 coordination and ensure that voices of all sub-regions2 of Asia Pacific are heard in intergovernmental processes. Thus, the RCEM will ensure that the 60% of the world’s people living in the Asia Pacific region are better represented by civil society and social movements in global negotiations and have a stronger, coordinated, and more effective voice in regional processes.
Women, (2) farmers, (3) fisherfolk, (4) youth, children and adolescents (5) migrants, (6) trade union/workers, (7) people living with HIV, (8) LGBTIQ, (9) urban poor, (10) people displaced by disasters and conflict, (11) small and medium enterprises, (12) science and technology, (13)persons with disability, (14) Indigenous peoples, (15) elderly, (16) Local Authorities
2 South East Asia, South Asia, North East Asia, Central Asia, Pacific
As result of a bottom-up and inclusive process, the creation of the RCEM has been initiated, designed and will therefore be owned by CSOs in Asia and Pacific. It will be an open, inclusive and flexible mechanism designed to reach the broadest number of CSOs, harness the voice of grassroots and peoples’ movements to advance a more just, equitable and sustainable model of development. Moreover, it will be a platform to share information and best practices and build capacities of CSOs for better and more effective engagement in the future.
Taking into account diversity of the Asia Pacific region and the limitations of existing institutional structures for civil society engagement, the CSO Forum in Bangkok defined 8 additional constituencies
3, which are currently not included in the existing Major Group structure, as well as 5 (five) sub-regional groupings.
3 Fisherfolk; migrants; people living with HIV; LGBTIQ; people displaced by disasters and conflict; SMEs; persons with disability; elderly
At the UNESCAP APFSD, the RCEM served to coordinate the interventions and engagement of CSOs in the various plenary and roundtable sessions as well as for side events and informal dialogues. This generated positive feedback from many UN bodies and member states who are recognizing the substantive contributions made by civil society at the APFSD. This was a very encouraging preview of the RCEM’s role and contribution to the sustainable development agenda for the region and beyond.
With the RCEM civil society can better advance their collective call for
development justice - an agenda that calls for five transformative shifts of redistributive justice, economic justice, social and gender justice, environmental justice and accountability to peoples.
For further information: Wardarina – Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development
Chair of Transition Committee of RCEM. Email: email@example.com
|Transition CommitteeConstituency Focal Points|
|1||Wardarina, Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD) Email: firstname.lastname@example.org||Women/Chair of TC|
|2||Wali Heider, Roots for Equity, Pakistan E-mail: email@example.com||Farmers|
|3||Paul Quintos, Ibon International E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org)||NGO|
|4||Anusha Kumari, SLITU, Sri Lanka E-mail: email@example.com||Trade Union & Workers|
|5||Frances Quimpo, Center for Environmental Concern/CEC Email: firstname.lastname@example.orgMasanori Kobayashi, Ocean Policy Research Foundation Email: email@example.com||Scientific and Technology|
|6||Bernice See, Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact/AIPP, E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org||Indigenous Peoples|
|7||Emani Kumar, ICLEI Email: email@example.com||Local Authorities|
|8||Kabita Gautam, BYND2015 Nepal Hub email: firstname.lastname@example.org||Youth, Children & Adolescent|
|9||Gomer Padong, Philippine Social Enterprise Network, E-mail: email@example.com||Small Medium Enterprise|
|10||Lani Eugania, PUANTANI, Indonesia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org||Fisherfolks|
|11||Aron Ceradoy, Asia Pacific Mission on Migrant Email: email@example.com||Migrants|
|12||Maria Lourdes Marin, Coalition of Asia-Pacific Regional Networks on HIV/AIDS, Email: firstname.lastname@example.org||People Living with HIV|
|13||Helen Hakena, Leitana Nehan Women Development Agency, Papua New Guinea E-mail: email@example.com||People in Conflict and Disaster Area|
|14||Rudolf Bastian Tampubolon,GCAP SENCAP Email: firstname.lastname@example.org||LGBTIQ|
|Sub-Region Focal Point|
|1||Ranja Sengupta, Third World Network E-mail: email@example.com||South Asia|
|2||Ahmad Syamsul Hadi, WALHI, Indonesia E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org||Southeast Asia|
|3||Cai Yi Ping, DAWN, China E-mail: email@example.com||East Asia|
|4||Nurgul Djanaeva, Forum of Women’s NGO of Kyrygysztan Email: firstname.lastname@example.org||Central Asia|
|5||Alaipuke Esau, Pacific Youth Council Email: email@example.com||Pacific|
‘History will proclaim you false if you are silent now. “Come out and be separate” from all that makes for war.’
Vida Goldstein, 1914
Around 35 million people died in the First World War. Such overwhelming suffering was the result of the competition for empire and the ignorance, at the highest levels, of the effects of the then modern weapons. Some Australian women enthusiastically endorsed the male blood letting, the male proving by combat and the opportunities offered for women to take care of matters behind the scenes. Some Australian women passionately opposed the violence, which they identified as being of no permanent value to women, and advocated other ways of resolving disputes over human needs and ambitions.
Yet a century on, both enthusiasts and war opposers are pretty much forgotten, the usual fate of women. Even well recorded women, articulate about the weighty matters of war and peace, the sufferings of soldiers and war families, and the security of the nation, need to be rediscovered. Prejudice & Reason rediscovers them and recalls early 20th century women’s voice, interest and industry around armed conflict to our 21st century notice – to our awareness that women in Australia did share in the task of informing and shaping a national and international commentary.
On Anzac Day when war and men are remembered, we do not equally remember women. But then, a century on, the men who were sent out to kill or be killed – some rationalising that they ‘fought in the war for children to have freedom to laugh, climb trees and run headlong into the world’, all of them knowing they could be shot by their own side if they refused to fight, and many believing themselves murderers from the killing they were forced to – are not well remembered either. For Anzac Day now commemorates forgetting. Forgetting, despite the ritual ‘Lest We Forget’ each year. Forgetting, the peaceful ballot which created an Australian nation and remembering instead a lie-myth that Australia was born a nation, in blood, in Turkey.
On Anzac Day, we forget to tally the lives saved by women by their courage and their votes in opposition to war demands – to forcing boys and shaming men to be soldiers. And we forget that armed force has, since the 1914-18 war, been made the priority of Australia’s defence and security, and that that maintains a strong prejudice against the rationality of prioritising human rather than military security.
On Anzac Day, we need to remember that 20th century women have been the prime drivers in establishing institutions and mechanisms to enable humanity to base defence on human rather than military security. Numerous international forums, an expanding body of international human rights laws and the international criminal courts have begun a shift to human security; to considering the demands of women for equality, justice, freedom and democracy. Through the century women continued to offer different ways of thinking about appropriate response to conflict, about the needed peace outcomes from defence, and currently, in the 21st century, these different ways are unfolding from the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 which women brought about in October, 2000. National action plans for women, peace and security are now seeded in nations across the world and being nourished to grow by the women of those nations, including Australia.
Overwhelming suffering and tremendous devastation has been the effect of wars in the last century and those continuing to the present. The next hundred years, if humanity survives our war induced climate changes, may yet see the triumph of reason over prejudice. Perhaps this book, Prejudice and Reason, and books that follow in this style of verbatim recall, will stimulate further development of peace and anti-war movements, further studies of the 20th-21st century defining Great War by writers influenced by its peace movements – and further understanding of why some victims of oppression, women for example, used the minor liberties of wartime to become advocates of the killing and destruction, while other women became advocates of alternatives to war and ending war.
Let’s resolve to hand on faithfully all our 20th and 21st century women’s works to 22nd century daughters.’
Hellen Cooke (c) April 2013
Until her death in July 2013, Hellen Cook was a longtime member of WILPF – the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, and convenor of WILPF, Victoria. She wrote this piece as a ‘blurb’ for Prejudice and Reason, by Geraldine Robertson and Women’s Web, however, for reasons of length it could not be incorporated, so is published here in recognition of Hellen Cook’s contribution and the contribution to the cause of peace made by women the world over, and particularly Australian women who took a strong stand against war and for peace during the horrors of the First World War.
Women and politics was high on the agenda at UN CSW 57, with attention being paid to politics in its broad and narrower sense. ‘Gender Sensitive Parliaments’ , discussing and debating the way to chage the culture of parliaments to ensure their responsiveness ‘to the needs and interests of both men and women in their structures, operations, methods and work’ was one topic holding enthralled all attending that side event. Another CSW 57 side event, also run by the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), covered the way in which parliaments around the world have taken steps to ensure representation, or greater representation, of women as members, as cabinet members, as speaker, as whips, and in other posts of parliamentary authority.
Aotearoa/New Zealand was the first country in the world to grant women the vote, acceding in 1893 to women’s demands for the introduction of real democracy, where ‘democracy’ had, in the past, referred to government by men alone. South Australia was the first state-entity in the world to grant women not only the vote, but the right to stand for Parliament. In 1894 the South Australian Parliament had before it a Bill to extend the vote to women and one member, seeking to disrupt the process and impede passage of the Bill, introduced an amendment whereby the vote would be complemented by the right to stand. Unfortunately for him, and fortunately for the democratic cause, the Bill passed – with both rights included.
In 1902 Australia became the first country in the world to extend the vote to women, along with the right to stand for Parliament. In 1903, three women stood in the Australian election. Although none succeeded, Vida Goldstein – the first woman to register to stand for the Senate, gained a goodly swathe of votes. She stood three more times over the years, up to 1920, despite not gaining a seat.
Just as men do not accept that the right to vote is sufficient – Parliamentary representation must be possible for all men, or at least all men are entitled to seek parliamentary places – neither do women accept that the vote is enough. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to vote for women or men as members of Parliament. Democracy means that women and men must have the right to stand for Parliament.
In the 1970s, the Australian Women’s Movement raised the slogan: ‘A Woman’s Place is in the House – and in the Senate’. This encapsulated the demand for democratic representation: women should be able to take their place in the lower house, the House of Representatives, and in the upper house, the Senate. The demand extended, too, to the state and territory legislatures when they came into being in the Northern Territory and the ACT (Australian Capital Territory – Canberra).
Although women were elected to state Parliaments, beginning with Edith Cowan in Western Australia in 1921, the numbers were few. Women were elected to the federal Parliament for the first time in 1942 – Dorothy Tangney going into the Senate, and Enid Lyons into the House of Representatives. In the 1970s for the first time three women sat in the House of Representatives – Joan Child from Victoria, Ros Kelly from the ACT, and Jeanette McHugh from New South Wales, being elected in 1983. Although Joan Child had been elected earlier and other women had sat in the federal Parliament from other states at other times, Jeanette McHugh was the first NSW woman ever to be elected to that Parliament.
Why so few, and why has it taken so long for women to be elected? Australia has for the first time a woman Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, yet this came about not by chance but through the Australian Labor Party’s adoption on affirmative action in the parliamentary sphere. In the late 1980s, the ACT led the way, adopting a 50% standard in local legisature elections. There, the voting system enabled this to be introduced relatively simply: with two seats, Canberra and Fraser, and a ‘list’ system, the proposal was that lists should be constructed on a ‘woman, man, woman, man’ basis down the list. Women gained first place on the ballot because that is the way the party voted, so that there was no need to promote women artificially over men on the lists. Yet the principle was established.
It was more difficult in the states and NT, and federally, for Tasmania (with the Hare Clark system) alone operates under a system similar to that in the ACT. All other jurisdictions operate on the basis of ‘one seat, one member’. In the 1980s, however, ALP women organised to ensure passage through the ALP National Conference of a resolution committing to a quota of 30% women preselected for all state and federal elections. Joan Kirner, first woman Premier of Victoria, was a leading figure in this struggle. She and others established Emily’s List (Early Money is Like Yeast – it helps women rise) to provide funds for women candidates who adhere to feminist principles, in particular the right to abortion.
The UN CSW 57 side event looking at getting women into parliament covered a number of ways in which parliaments and legislatures have sought to effect this change. The British Labour Party runs ‘women’s lists’ – where women only are entitled to stand for selection – and not only in unwinnable seats. Women’s lists must be run in winnable and safe seats, too. Burkina Faso adopted a policy of granting public fund bonuses to political parties succeeding in having women elected under their banner. Other countries have set aside a certain number of parliamentary seats for women, some have introduced quotas – which must be met by having women stand and win seats representing general constituencies, some have simply called ‘quotas’ ‘targets’ – on the basis that ‘targets’ are more palatable than ‘quotas’ which is taken to imply the use of coercion or at least a firm hand. ‘Targets’ as seen as ‘softer’, something to be aimed for rather than (necessarily) achieved.
It may be significant that it is generally ‘newer’ democracies that have taken the most significant steps to ensure women’s parliamentary membership. Whether they have set down rules in constitutions or statutes, or simply articulated policies, many African countries, in particular, are leading the way to ensure that parliaments are not populated by men alone. In this, they are following rapidly in the steps of Scandinavian countries, with Rwanda having topped the list in having more women than men in the parliament and cabinet. Beginning with a quota requiring no fewer than 30% of women in parliamentary seats, at the first election under that regime, women held 44 of the 80 seats.
In the 1980s, Senator Susan Ryan of the Australian Parliament commissioned research into voters’ views of women and men parliamentarians. The outcome was salutary. A majority said they preferred female to male politicians, as they believed the former to be ‘more trustworthy’ and ‘honest’. Voters were more prepared to put their and their country’s future into the hands of women. Clearly, political parties which do not recognise the importance of promoting women into parliament and thence into positions of authority and power at all parliamentary levels, are missing a sigificant feature of politics today.
Promoting women into safe and winnable seats will bring to the parties so doing, the opportunity of taking power and governing the country. On the basis of Senator Ryan’s research, they will also be ensuring that the country’s governance will be all the more positive, productive and progressive.
Jocelynne A. Scutt (c) March 2013
Jocelynne Scutt’s book, Taking a Stand – Women in Politics and Society, was published in 1996 as one of the ten volumes, so far, in the ‘Women’s Voices, Women’s Lives’ series. In the volume, women speak of their involvement in politics, whether standing for parliament, campaigning for women’s rights, engaged in the struggle to end violence against women, or as members and officials active in the trade union movement.
ARAB WOMEN CSW 57 CAUCUS CONCERN ABOUT GOVERNMENT POSITIONS ON WOMEN’S RIGHTS
03/13/2013 – We, the undersigned organizations and individuals, as represented in the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), are deeply concerned with the role of the leadership of our countries in the negotiations on the crucial issue of violence against women and girls. At this session, our governments are increasingly using arguments based on religion, culture, tradition, or nationality to justify violence and discrimination, to allow the violations against human rights to continue with impunity. This violence is particularly targeted against women, girls, ethnic and religious minorities,people who dissent from or challenge normative gender identities and sexualities.
The current positions taken by some Arab governments at this meeting is clearly not representative of civil society views, aspirations or best practices regarding the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls within our countries. We are in fact concerned that many of our governments are taking positions, which undermine the very basis of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights, which is the universality and indivisibility of human rights.
We, as non-governmental organizations, struggle on a daily basis to provide sexual and reproductive health services, reform laws that discriminate or violate human rights, including sexual and reproductive rights, provide comprehensive sexuality education, combat violence against women and girls, including marital rape and sexual abuse, reach out to and protect groups who have been marginalized and minoritised on the basis of their ethnicity, religious sect/and or sexual orientation and gender identity, and break the cultural and societal taboos associated with sexuality.
We underline that the taboos and politicization of issues around sexuality are major hindrances to gender justice and the elimination and prevention of violence against women and girls in our countries. The denial of the existence of youth and premarital sexuality, extra-marital sexuality, sex work and same sex practices constitutes a dangerous threat to the well-being and public health in our societies. As well, as we work towards a more inclusive, just and equitable societies, the intersection of violence, poverty, race, national origin, and sexuality must be at the center of our social justice framework, language and negotiations on the status of women.
We are alarmed that the language proposed by some governments severely compromises the very intention of this meeting and in fact takes us a step back rather than forward. As members and leaders of civil society, we think that the goal of this UN meeting should be to further strengthen the commitments, language, discourse and action of many institutions and government entities in our societies.
We would like our governments to take into account that where there is any perceived conflict between States’ obligations to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights and social, cultural or religious norms, human rights instruments clearly state that the obligation to respect, protect, fulfill and promote human rights takes precedence.
This requires that our governments move away from an emphasis on religious and cultural specificity and relativism, and instead put their efforts to ensure restorative justice, inclusivity, and holistic policies that recognize intersectional spaces and identities women and girls of different backgrounds exist in.
Taking into account the above commitments and challenges, the Arab Caucus at the 57th Commission on the Status of Women calls upon governments to:
- Stop using justifications based on religion, culture, tradition or nationality to block the progress of laws at all levels, including in the sphere of international law and at this 57th session of the CSW. These justifications must be challenged. The violence they cause is unacceptable and cannot ever be condoned or tolerated.
- End the harmful use of religion, tradition, and culture to safeguard practices that perpetuate violence against women and girls.
- Reaffirm past agreements and resolutions and recognize the rights of women and girls already existing in our countries, and work on enhancing those rights, not undermining them.
- Adopt a definition of violence against women that encompasses violence against all women across their life spans, including girls.
- Clearly denounce all practices which perpetuate violence against women and girls, including those which are sought to be justified on the basis of tradition, culture and religion, and work on eliminating them, including female genital mutilation, early and forced marriages, marital rape and marital captivity, femicide, and intimate partner violence.
- Recognize the serious and particular situation of women and girls in countries of transition (like Egypt Tunisia and Libya) and to take all necessary actions in cooperation with local actors to ensure that women’s rights in transition are respected, protected and fulfilled.
- Ensure that the international community and governments investigate all violations against women and girls, in particular the escalation of violence during transitional periods and in situations of armed conflict (such as in Syria and Iraq) to put an end to impunity for the perpetrators, both state and individual actors.
- Recognize the sensitive situation of Palestinian women living under apartheid in the occupied state of Palestine and in Israel.
- Ensure that the international community and governments will take responsibility to conduct investigation on all violations against women living under apartheid and stop all kinds of impunity for the perpetrators.
- Include recognition of, and recommendations to address, violence against women human rights defenders who are at particular risk from both State and non-state actors (such as families, community members, paramilitary groups and extremist groups) because of their gender as well as the work they do.
SignatoriesThe Coalition for Sexual and Bodily Rights in Muslim Societies (CSBR), International
alQaws, for Sexual and Gender Diversity in Palestinian Society, Palestine
Muntada: The Arab Forum for Sexuality Education and Health, Palestine
Association Tunisienne des Femmes Démocrates (ATFD), Tunisia
Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR), Egypt
The Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement, Egypt
Association des Femmes Tunisiennes pour la Recherche sur le Développment (AFTURD), Tunisia
Women and Development Association in Alexandria, Egypt
Arab Women Organisation, Jordan
Sisters in Islam, Malaysia
Aliansi Remaja Independen (Independent Young People Alliance), Indonesia
Pilipina Legal Center, The Philippines
Women Living Under Muslim Laws (WLUML),
InternationalRealizing Sexual and Reproductive Justice (RESURJ), International
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR), International
Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID), International
Women Worldwide Advancing Freedom & Equality
UN CSW 57 has concluded in New York with ‘agreed conclusions’ from member states. As in 2012 CSW 56 ended without agreed conclusions, concerns were great that this negative outcome might result in 2013. Hence, the women’s caucuses – based on regions – met solidly over the period of CSW, discussing ways of effectively lobbying nation states to ensure that they would stick solidly to the notion that the ‘zero draft’ prepared by UN Women would indeed remain the zero draft, and that it would be built upward, without any detractions. Caucuses also published statements emphasising women and NGO’s solidarity and support for proper and effective measures against violence against women and girls would be included in agreed conclusions.
This is the African Women’s Caucus Statement, published on 13 March 2013
AFRICAN WOMEN’S CAUCUS STATEMENT
African Women’s Caucus Position Statement 57th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women Elimination and Prevention of All Forms of Violence against Women and Girls
The African Women’s Caucus representing African civil society organizations from all the five sub-regions of Africa and the diaspora committed to advancing women’s human rights, call on Member States to declare zero tolerance of all forms of discrimination and violence against women and girls and to prioritize preventive measures in the fight to eliminate violence from the lives of women and girls.
Women’s Human Rights are non-negotiable and in this regard, we reaffirm the commitments made by UN Member states in the Beijing Platform for Action; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; the United Nations General Assembly Resolution to Ban Female Genital Mutilation; United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and its supporting resolutions; and those reflected in African regional instruments such as the Maputo Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa. We therefore call on all Member States to match these commitments with national action plans where they do not exist, gender-responsive budgets, evidence-based research, time-bound targets and indicators as a matter of urgency. Violence against women and girls constitutes a gross human rights violation and should be duly elevated to crisis status so that it is addressed with urgency.
We are deeply concerned that in 2003 during the CSW47 member states failed to arrive at Agreed Conclusions on this specific issue of Violence Against Women and Girls (VAW/G). There was a repeat of this situation in 2012 when the CSW56 Session ended without Agreed Conclusions on the theme of Rural Women that was of great relevance to African women. Furthermore, we are greatly concerned that some member states make attempts to go back on commitments already made on the rights of women and girls by recalling rather than reaffirming their commitments to full implementation. We however, commend member states that have recognized that women’s human rights are non-negotiable and have moved progressively.
Discrimination and inequality, which are the root causes of violence against women and girls, must be addressed in order to end this global challenge through the engagement of men and boys, as well as traditional and religious leaders amongst other strategies. Only by addressing the root causes will women and girls reach their full political, social and economic potential.
Manifestations of VAW/G including harmful traditional, customary and contemporary practices such as child, early and forced marriages; female genital mutilation; torture; intimate partner and domestic violence; rape; trafficking; and violence in the media must end now.
Factors that perpetuate VAW/G such as increasing militarization including the proliferation and trafficking of small arms and light weapons must be curbed.
We call on Member States to embed issues of gender equality and violence prevention in school curriculums from early childhood level.
we call on our leaders to ensure that:
- Women participate fully in all sectors and decision-making spaces.
- Survivors have a right to regain their bodily integrity and autonomy.
We urge Member States to strengthen multi-sectoral services and responses to violence against women and girls, including provision of services to secure their sexual and reproductive health and rights, psychosocial counseling and support, as well as long-term assistance and reparations.
We remain deeply concerned and stand in solidarity with all of our sisters in conflict zones globally with particular regard to those in DRC, Mali, Central African Republic, Somalia, Sudan and South Sudan. Women’s full and effective participation in peace building processes is critical for prevention, mitigation and a durable end to conflicts. We are further concerned that women continue to be excluded from formal peace negotiation processes. Therefore, we strongly urge member states to maintain specific reference to UNSC Resolution 1325 and supporting resolutions and commit to their full implementation.
We call on Members States to ensure that peace agreements tackle the issue of sexual and gender-based violence in conflict and post-conflict situations, and to ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice and impunity is dealt with decisively.
We further call for the recognition and protection of those who defend the rights of women and women human rights defenders.
We strongly recommend that the elimination of violence against women and girls be reflected as a priority area in the post-2015 development framework.
We strongly support the Addis Ababa Declaration of the Africa Ministerial Preparatory Meeting for CSW57 and urge African Member States to use it as a basis for their negotiations to reach Agreed Conclusions on this critical priority theme of the 57th Session of
CSW towards the well-being and prosperity for women, girls and society as a whole.
Background – In 2012, United Nations CSW 56 – The Commission on the Status of Women, held annually at the United Nations – failed to come to agreed conclusions. This was the second time in the history and herstory of CSW that no agreed conclusions had been reached. Women are now meeting in New York at CSW 57, which commenced on 4 March 2013 , urging nation states to ensure agreed conclusions are arrived at in the context of the 2013 theme – ‘Ending Violence Against Women’. Below is a statement published by women’s organisations in New York to all nation states at CSW 57, women being determined to ensure that agreed conclusions are the outcome of CSW 57. The statement was issued on 8 March 2013, International Women’s Day or The International Day of the Woman.
STATEMENT OF FEMINIST AND WOMEN’S ORGANISATIONS
ON THE VERY ALARMING TRENDS IN THE NEGOTIATIONS OF
OUTCOME DOCUMENT OF THE 57TH SESSION OF THE UN COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
We, the undersigned organisations and individuals across the globe, are again alarmed and disappointed that the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) is wavering in its commitment to advance women’s human rights as demonstrated in the constant negotiation of the language in the outcome document continues. On the occasion of celebrating the International Women’s Day we call on the states to reaffirm its commitment to agreed upon standards in promoting women’s human rights as articulated in the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, the Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action, the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women, the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the International Conference on Population and Development Programme of Action as well as other international humanitarian and human rights law. We say NO to any re-opening of negotiations on the already established international agreements on women’s human rights and call on all governments to demonstrate their commitments to promote, protect and fulfill human rights and fundamental freedoms of women.
It is alarming that states are continuing to negotiate established standards that they themselves have agreed to as we are witnessing in the last few days of negotiation. Considering the lack of an outcome document last year we hope that this is not the pattern when it comes to advancing women’s human rights agenda. Women’s human rights are not to be negotiated away. Similar to last year, we strongly hold the position that given the progressive development in the international era on standard setting there should no longer be any contention on any issues related to the definition and intersectionality of women and girls experiencing violence against women, including in relations to sexual and reproductive health and rights, sexual orientation and gender identity, harmful practices perpetuated in the context of negative culture and traditions, among others.
We remind states that the CSW is the principal global policy-making body dedicated exclusively to gender equality and advancement of women with the sole aim of promoting women’s rights in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. Its mandate is to ensure the full implementation of existing international agreements on women’s human rights and gender equality.
We strongly demand all governments and the international community to reject any attempt to invoke traditional values or morals to infringe upon human rights guaranteed by international law, nor to limit their scope. Customs, tradition or religious considerations must not be tolerated to justify discrimination and violence against women and girls whether committed by State authorities or by non-state actors.
Given the current global activism around violence against women it is imperative that member states take the lead is agreeing on a progressive outcome document that reaffirms its commitments to universal human rights standards. This is an important moment as we are planning the post 2015 process. The outcome document has to advance women’s human rights and not lower the bar for women’s human rights.
Future international negotiations must move forward implementation of policies and programmes that secure the human rights of girls and women.
We call upon the member states of the UN and the various UN human rights and development entities to recognise and support the important role of women’s groups and organisations working at the forefront of challenging traditional values and practices that are intolerant to fundamental human rights norms, standards and principles.
Center for Women’s Global Leadership (CWGL)
International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW Asia Pacific)
ANIS – Institute of Bioethics, Human Rights and Gender – Brazil
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development (APWLD)
Asia Safe Abortion Partnership
Fiji Women’s Rights Movement
Namibia Women’s Health Network
Rutgers WPF, Netherland
Women’s Environment and Development Organization (WEDO)
Women’s Global Network for Reproductive Rights (WGNRR)