Forum looks at the dire consequences of poverty on women

Many older women are at risk of falling into poverty the forum was told.

A well-attended forum on women and poverty was organised by Micah Projects, a not-for-profit organisation at Queensland Parliament House on October 16.

Micah runs a homeless support centre in Brisbane and has long been an advocate for the poor and marginalised. The 200 attendees were mainly professionals.

The forum was chaired by Channel Seven presenter Kay McGrath. Songwoman of the Turrbal people Maroochy Barambah gave a heartfelt musical Welcome to Country in her language.

Minister for training and skills development Shannon Fentiman spoke about her department’s efforts to improve training and skills opportunities for women including the popular Skilling Queenslanders for Work Program.

Three young women, Dee, Amelia and Britney, who had experienced living in the poverty trap, gave harrowing, but ultimately hopeful, accounts of their experiences.

They described their difficult and traumatic lives, which included being beaten, abused, addicted and ridiculed, not only by their partners but by the Centrelink system which, they said, treats people in a punitive way. They said that they felt lucky to have finally broken away.

Natasha Doherty from Deloittes, a corporate accounting firm, gave a statistical analysis of the poverty many older women find themselves in. At the end of their working lives women, on average, have $70,000 less in their superannuation account, compared to men. Women also generally come off worse in property settlements.

Nikki Chenowith, a descendent from the Guugu Yimithirr, Nymal Nymal and Kalkadoon Aboriginal language groups, from Breakthru, Poverty behind Closed Doors, gave a detailed account of growing up in a big Indigenous family in the suburbs. She described how most of her aunties left school in Year 8 or 9 and very soon afterwards became pregnant. Chenowith said this meant moving straight from childhood into insecure adulthood.

Micah Projects director Karyn Walsh talked about how domestic violence makes women homeless and financially stressed.

Child safety, youth and women minister Di Farmer spoke about the resourcing challenges her department faces given the scale of the problems.

The sheer scale of the problems associated with poverty-induced dysfunctional families opened up a lively discussion. There is still no equality for women, who continue to be subjugated. In many ways, this is the result of the neoliberal economic system not meeting community expectations.

The forum made clear the necessity of working even harder to empower communities to take control of education, as a key way to minimising poverty and violence.

As Micah tweeted during the forum: “All Australian women should be able to live with dignity in their community of choice”.