When the PM announced his cabinet, it included 7 women ministers – a good sign – but only 23% of the Coalition’s MPs are women compared to 47% for the ALP – not impressive. However, as researchers Sue Williamson and Prof Linda Colley explain in The Conversation, it’s not just the number of women MPs that matters, it’s how they legislate for change.
According to neoliberal feminists, the struggle for gender equality is no longer dependent on collective action by society, rather it’s up to individual women to make the most of their opportunities and find success. But a policy focus on individual women’s advancement can risk overlooking the underlying causes of gender inequality, a key aspect of BPW Australia’s advocacy.
In November 2018, the Coalition government released its Women’s Economic Security Statement which contained three main “pillars” to achieving gender equality – workforce participation, earning potential and economic independence. The researchers assessed how effective they’ll be in improving women’s lives. They concluded that Australia needs a systemic approach that includes major reforms to the welfare system, increased funding and resources for domestic violence, improved housing affordability, and reforms to the tax system that take account of impacts on women. Yes, neoliberal feminism may benefit some women, but is unlikely to herald long-lasting changes that improve the lives of all women, particularly those at the lower end of the pay scale.