Young Women Give The “F” Card. Fail.

Young women have given the Abbott government an “F” for equality.  

In the largest survey of its kind, conducted nationally by the YWCA and the University of Queensland, this past year women aged between 15 and 30 say gender-based stereotypes, “damage their working lives, their sense of self, their safety in relationships, and their leadership capacity”.

The She Speaks report is scathing: 73 per cent of young women do not think that men and women are valued equally in Australia. Put simply, Australia is a “sexist society”.

This, 120 years after the suffragettes won us the right to vote; more than 50 years since the fight for reproductive rights; and 20 years on from the riot grrrl movement. No wonder fourth wave feminists are frustrated.

Here’s the sorry state of affairs:

  •  79 per cent say stereotyping affects their day-to-day lives.
  •  34 per cent have received indecent/sexually explicit messages.
  •  30 per cent feel unable to seek help after experiencing violence.

The last statistic is especially saddening, on the eve of the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Almost every week a woman is killed by her current or former partner, yet the number of shelters is being slashed across New South Wales.

And we all know the farce playing out federally: one woman in cabinet; a man as Minister for Women; the PPL scheme stillborn.

Last month our most powerful woman, Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop, spoke strongly about discrimination at the National Press Club. But while words matter, actions matter more.  In fact, the She Speaks survey should be renamed She Screams: young women are crying out for real leadership. Only 23 per cent of participants in this survey say they see, “effective leadership in public life”.

 This is what Julie Bishop should be offering, instead of advising women to “stop whingeing” and “just get on with it”. 

It’s the same in business: the resignation of Gail Kelly ( left) leaves only half a dozen female CEOs in the ASX200. A lack of female role models in leadership positions is seen as a, “central issue for women in contemporary Australia,” according to the report.

We can’t sit back and wait for this to happen. Why aren’t we at the barricades, demanding this for our daughters?  ‘Cause they sure as hell want it for themselves: 71 per cent want to be leaders in the future. That’s why they’re calling on the federal government to fund, “young women’s leadership programs”.

Somehow, I can’t see that happening. After all, this is a government which believes in blue tie-based merit, family favours and the neoliberal cult of the individual.

Big business is barely better, despite proven benefits to the bottom line.  A McKinsey study of 89 listed companies found, “those with gender diversity in leadership experienced higher return on equity, operating profit and stock price”.Yet despite several companies instituting a target, no one is going near a quota: like feminism, it’s still seen as a dirty word.

This is because those with power have a vested interest in preserving it; history is used as a weapon against women bound by masculine workplaces. The deliberate failure of government and business to break these boundaries bludgeons the hopes of young women.

We must do everything we can to mentor, sponsor, and support them.

Otherwise, they’ll be condemned to a future of institutionalised neglect.


The YWCA runs a program for young women called SHE LEADS. Take a look.