Today is International Women’s Day, a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women and a call for their equal treatment in society. So we would like to take this opportunity to share with you a few reflections on what we at Women’s Forum Australia think needs to be celebrated about womanhood and how we are working to create a more equal society.
When people first hear about Women’s Forum Australia they want to know what we’re all about, what our ethos is, what sets us aside from other women’s organisations? We are a research and education organisation whose vision is “an Australian society that respects and promotes the dignity of all women”, but what does that mean?
In determining what is good and what is harmful for women, Women’s Forum emphasises the importance of reason, evidence-based research and personal experience. It recognises that all three point towards the reality that women share characteristics, experiences and struggles distinct to that of men, and that such differences may sometimes warrant different treatment in order to achieve true equality and the best outcomes for women. (And different treatment doesn’t just mean imposing gender quotas in the workplace or only using female television presenters for a day – it needs to be more nuanced and meaningful than that.)
Take for example, the fact that women are more prone to exploitation through sex trafficking, prostitution, pornography and sexualisation in media and entertainment. Women are much more likely to be the victims (and much less likely to be the perpetrators) of physical and sexual violence. Women are also uniquely impacted physically, emotionally and psychologically by pregnancy and practices such as abortion, adoption, surrogacy, IVF and contraception (not to mention PMS, menopause and all the challenges that come with pregnancy and motherhood). And of course women face distinct professional, educational and financial challenges when they take time out of study and the paid workforce to bear and raise children.
Better outcomes for women in all these areas require laws, policies and practices that are designed specifically to protect and support women. And, in attempting to address these inequalities, we must avoid the trap of treating men as our enemies instead of our partners in this fight. Positive change for women will ultimately require respect, open dialogue, practical solutions and the willingness of women and men (and women and women) to work together.
Women are unique. They have a special ability to conceive and sustain life and provide nurture to their families and friends. Women make an invaluable contribution to the community in caring for the young, the elderly, the sick and the vulnerable. The work of women in these areas is too often demeaned and dismissed in a society more focused on money and power. If our society is truly committed to achieving equality for women, it would do more to recognise the distinct and valuable contributions women make as women rather than decrying these in favour of male-centric achievements.
Women’s Forum believes strongly in supporting women who want an education and a career. We desperately need more informed, intelligent and passionate women advocating for pro-woman attitudes, programs, policies and legislation. However, we don’t believe that women should have to sacrifice their womanhood or face exploitation in the process.
No woman should have to deny her childbearing abilities in order to gain access to the same career opportunities as men. No woman should have to abort her child in order to continue her education. No woman should feel that the work she does in supporting members of the community is worthless simply because it is unpaid. No woman should have to face objectification in order to feel wanted and appreciated.
At Women’s Forum Australia, we strive to create pro-woman cultural change by informing and empowering women to make a difference through research, education, mentoring and advocacy. We firmly believe that a pro-woman culture is one that supports women as women, and not as some inferior version of men.
Instead of denying and devaluing the extraordinary contribution women make every day of their lives, we should seek to create a society that truly recognises and values women and supports their work in the home, the community, the paid workforce and public life.
This is our vision of true equality and an Australian society that respects and promotes the dignity of all women. If it’s a vision that you share, see how you can get involved – so that together, we can achieve it.