Independent and FREE - 2021 Best Online Publication

Why International Women’s Day is no longer a mystery

Independent and FREE – 2021 Best Online Publication (Qld Country Press)

Why International Women’s Day is no longer a mystery

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Jane Stephens: why International Women's Day is no longer a mystery to me

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It is confession time: International Women’s Day used to be a mystery to me.

I couldn’t really see the point because my life has not been marked by discrimination and inequity because I was female.

As a child, my parents raised my brother and me to each know our capabilities and believe in our possibilities and I went to schools where learning choices and encouragement were not tempered by gender.

As an adult, I have had choices in life and career and felt grateful for them. I have been able to celebrate being female as a person, parent and spouse and I have worked in professions and workplaces where parity of pay and conditions exist.

But now I have been made aware not all are so privileged even in Australia, and that is why marking the day is important.


Women in Australia might make up just over half the population, but full-time workers with ordinary earnings take home more than $250 less each week than men do.

Part of this is because the so-called female dominated industries such as aged and child care, health and community services are historically undervalued and are certainly not very well paid.

Women also have far less in their superannuation banks, making them more likely to spend their older years in poverty and be more dependent on the age pension.

We also should remember that we have only had a federal Sex Discrimination Act since 1984, which has played an important role in changing community attitudes about equality.

I was also wrong in presuming the day itself was some creation of noisy newbies, learning that International Women’s Day has been marked every year since 1911.

Its purposes are the same as when it was started – to celebrate the achievements of women as well as to continue to push for parity. That ticks a lot of boxes for me.

There is so much to celebrate. There is now no ASX200 company without a woman on its board and last year they comprised 41 per cent of appointments.


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Nine in 10 women and men believe men should be as involved in parenting as women and just need more employers to get on board and give dads greater flexibility at work.

It is an international day, and precisely because we are in the Lucky Country, we must think of others who live elsewhere.

Consider the women in Qatar who recently won the right to get a driver’s licence without a man’s permission, but still may not travel or book a hotel alone if they are under 30.

Or the women of Nigeria, where men are legally allowed to beat their wives ‘for the purpose of correcting’.

Or those in Kyrgyzstan, where kidnapping a woman to make her your bride is said to be socially acceptable.

And it is a day for the girls in more than a hundred countries where child marriage is still legal.


The penny dropped when I realised International Women’s Day is not about individuals, it’s about women everywhere.

We all still have so much to learn and so much to change.

Jane Stephens is a USC journalism lecturer, media commentator and writer. The views expressed are her own.