No: 1

Autumn 2001

Struggle for equality
must continue

by T&D Anthony
The women's struggle in Australia is often looked at in terms of the fight for suffrage, equal wages and liberation from the home. These demands have by and large been achieved in law but, with the exception of suffrage, have still to be won in practice. Despite this, young women today are often complacent about the progress the women's movement has made.

Many conceive equality as a realised objective, and are therefore apathetic to the current challenges facing the women's movement.

"Top girls" women who have reached high corporate levels are certainly not concerned with the oppression of working women, as class differences benefit these women who often oversee the exploitation of other women.

"Top girls" and outworkers

There is a great difference between the wages and life-styles of "top girls", some of whom are the owners and managers of retail clothing shops, who exploit other young women working as outworkers who receive pitifully low wages and work in atrocious conditions.

It is important to recognise class differences among women, and that many of the challenges facing working class women are experienced by other groups of women.

Young workers receive among the lowest wages in Australia young women receive even less.

This is not only because women are worse off than men in the same jobs, but that women are often in occupations which receive lower incomes.

Traditional "women's work" such as nursing, secretarial, teaching, cleaning, hospitality, call centre and outwork in the clothing sector, continue to receive low wages in comparison to male dominated occupations like information technology, engineering, building and medicine.

The bulk of workers in casual jobs are young women and they are still fighting for recognition of their maternity rights.

Even women in full-time jobs run the risk of being made redundant while on leave, and many young women still have difficulty finding employment because of employer concerns about them becoming pregnant.


The spread of enterprise bargaining and casualisation has widened the gap between men's and women's earnings, and created particular problems for women with family responsibilities.

Young single mothers in Australia are in the lowest income brackets for individuals, apart from homeless people, according to the Australian Bureau of Statistics. Funding cuts have made childcare unaffordable for many workers.

Female students are often confronted with inequalities in education, especially when studying in disciplines dominated by males.

They face sexual harassment by male students and teaching staff, which further entrenches the power structures that exist in educational institutions.

Even in subjects where women have made big increases in representation, such as Law, the job prospects still do not exist to the same degree as for men.

This reveals that progress for women in education does not necessarily translate into more opportunities in the workforce.

In addition to material pressures, women also face the psychological pressures of body image standards, which are constructed by corporations to sell products.

Advertising and the popular media invariably define the "modern woman" as young, beautiful and able to handle all pressures related to work, relationships and family.


If a woman does not conform to this stereotype, the problem is easily solved through the purchase of beauty products or accessories all of which essentially add to corporate profit. Young women are made to feel inadequate if they do not buy such products and do not meet the modern standard of femininity.

It is important for young communists both males and females to recognise gender inequalities as a product of class society, and to understand these gender constructs in terms of the objectives of capitalist exploitation.

Women and men need to work together to fight exploitation. The promotion of gender-based divisions in society is one of the means that capitalism uses to pit workers against each other, and prevent the working class uniting in struggle against capitalism.

Left-wing organisations and trade unions need to be aware of the specific problems facing women and incorporate these into their demands.

At present the women's movement is being driven by middle class women. However, it is working class women who have the most to gain from the advancement of women in society and the abolition of such economic and social inequalities.

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