Dr Anne Aly (Cowan) Private Business Gender Senate Speech: I start by commending the member for Newcastle for bringing to the House’s attention International Women’s Day on 8 March and the theme for this year: each for equal. I would like to take this opportunity to broaden the lens a bit on International Women’s Day and draw attention to the fact that a singular focus on gender, as well-meaning as it is, inadvertently excludes some women. The fact is that women’s rights have not always worked for all women. When women first got the vote, not all women were allowed to vote. We had to fight for that. When women first entered the workforce, not all women entered the workforce. We had to fight for that. The gender pay gap in the US—a Hispanic woman or an African-American woman is likely to earn less than other women. While we don’t have the statistics here for Australia, I’m sure that the gender gap for women of colour is much bigger than the gender gap for other women. We have the incarceration rates for Indigenous First Nations women here in Australia as well.
There is also the fact that women of colour and women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds are underrepresented here in parliament as well as in other forms of leadership. If women are gravely underrepresented in the corridors of power and the corridors of leadership, as the two previous speakers pointed out, then they are even more absent if they are women of colour, or women with a disability, or women with a disability and women of colour. If the odds are stacked against women then they are piled high to the ceiling for minority women. What we need is an equality framework that works for all women, that takes into account the intersection of gender, race, ethnicity, religion and disability, that recognises the double sometimes triple disadvantage of being not just female but black and female, ethnic and female, disabled and female—a minority within a minority and sometimes within a minority again.
Equal rights for women will only work if they work for all women and if no woman is left behind. I reiterate that sometimes when we focus singularly on gender, we inadvertently forget minority women. They’re added on as a postscript or as an afterthought to policies that we have about women. I’ve been and will continue to be very vocal about the fact that women’s rights don’t work unless they work for minority women and unless they’re inclusive of all women. The fact is that we won’t achieve true gender equality until the most marginalised among us can share in the success. We cannot celebrate women’s success if not every woman can celebrate with us. The measure of our moral code is to be found in how we treat our most vulnerable. While we must keep an eye to where we’ve come from and the fact that we have made huge strides as women, collectively, we must also keep an eye to the future and continue to agitate for more change. But we can’t continue to do so at the expense of women who are yet to experience the wins, the rights and the equality that a lot of other women enjoy.
On a final note, I would like to make a particular reference to violence against women, which is mentioned in this motion. I’ve spoken about this in parliament before. I’ve shared my personal story before. I want to make sure that we continue this conversation. I want to make sure that every time we speak about women and about policies for women and about equal rights for women we talk about violence against women, we talk about family and domestic violence and we get this message out to every home, to every living room, to every street in every suburb and to every community across Australia, because the fact is that we’re failing on this. The fact is that we’re failing to prevent domestic and family violence in the home and, as leaders, we need to take a stand on this. I’ll be speaking about it as much as I can.