International Women’s Day 2011, or, a speech I’ll remember

March 13, 2011 § 1 Comment

It had been some time since I had spoken at a rally or to a big crowd. Yesterday, Jane Bullen and I spoke at International Women’s Day in Sydney, on behalf of the organising collective, and as F collective members.

Here are my words:

So we’re all here today to demand equal pay, big changes not small change.

When I joined the F collective toward the end of last year, after being inspired by their recent conference, I discovered that a lot of the members were involved in organising for the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day. I was keen to join them, and I felt strongly, as we all did, that the theme of IWD this year should be equal pay and in particular the current community workers’ case.

I am proud to be here in Martin Place this year, fighting for change with all of you. As Jane has said so well, IWD is about the myriad of injustices and issues that affect women internationally, and the history of the day lends it us a sense of solidarity with women around the world. Here at home, despite the fact that equal pay was supposedly ‘won’ in Australia 13 years before I was born, for me it is issues of economic justice and the way we value work that are often at the heart of gender inequality and are worth highlighting on the Centenary.

I think equal pay is sometimes regarded as a second wave issue, won in the seventies and a tired debate. ‘Why won’t the feminists move on?!’ our opponents, and some of our friends cry, every time we femmos bring it up. At 26, I’m sometimes asked why I bother with this issue, and the answer is that it affects us all, women and men, my friends and family who work in the community sector, others who want to access services. And that means footing the bill. While I don’t doubt that we are all damned tired of having the debate about pay in feminised industries, this debate is not outmoded because we haven’t yet won. As much as I would love to stand here and talk about something else, to ‘move on’ to other debates, it would be remiss of us, as community activists, not to stand with the Union movement and highlight this hugely important fight, because care industries are still undervalued and underpaid.

I grew up as the daughter of a disability care worker who raised me on her own. I am so proud of my mum (and will boast about her to anyone who would care to listen, just grab me later). Yet despite the fact that she is, actually, wonder woman cleverly disguised in jeans and a t-shirt, I can only imagine how tough it was to take care of both of us on a care worker’s wage.

It’s a crying shame that the main culprits in the scenario of community worker’s dismal pay are the governments we have elected, who fund services so badly that it is often impossible to bargain for an increase. We are here demanding that the government of NSW post March 26 FUND EQUAL PAY!

When we think about what we as a community value, it comes down to people and community. Part of that is about people being able to live with dignity and the care that they need. When I think about the future I certainly imagine a society in which care is not a gendered term and where it is a value that carries both weight and monetary and social status.

We want more than just equality but justice and fullness of potential. Equal pay is one goal in this agenda. A community that values care and is organised enough to build power and achieve change is part of that too.

It is so great to see you here today, and to my mind what this wealth of support and supporters of IWD means is that change is possible. But it is only possible if we are all engaged for more than one day of the year. There are so many fantastic women’s organisations and organisers here today, from F, the amazing Sydney Feminist collective, many of whom organised this event, to the new Collectivo Mujer, to Asian Women at Work, to the Women’s Electoral Lobby, who have been lobbying for our rights at a parliamentary level for nearly 40 years. There are many, many more.

Please visit the stalls and sign up to one of these organisations today, so that the work that they do can continue and grow with our community.

The reason that I am involved in feminist activism is that gender and class inequality have affected my life and the lives of those around me. What the community workers’ case shows is that gender is still a marker of power imbalance and we need an active feminist movement that believes something better is possible and fights to achieve it. F is going to be working on the equal pay issue, improvements to anti-discrimination laws on the basis of religion to protect women to choose to veil or wear the burqa, as well as sexual assault law reform this year, and we want you all to get involved, with us or with another active organisation.

It’s 100 years on. Being here with you today inspires me to continue to imagine and fight for a world where IWD carries through the year in spirit, in activism and in feminist community. I want the fight for equal pay to truly be an outmoded debate for community workers, because we won it together in the Centenary year of IWD.



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