Get this patriarchal boot off our necks! Poverty hits sole parents hardest

March 12, 2015
Tenar Dwyer

It is hard to distill what it is like to live in poverty into a few words, because poverty is so huge and complex, particularly for single mothers.

On my own, it’s easy to feel powerless to do anything about it and as a woman the injustice of poverty makes me so angry.
It makes me angry that in one of the most prosperous countries in the world, we have more than 600,000 children living in poverty.

It makes me angry that right now there are women and children living in cars or in unsafe and insecure housing because rents have become impossible to manage.

It makes me angry that in the face of this increasing homelessness, there are properties lying empty because tax breaks make it more lucrative to leave them untenanted.

It makes me angry that women are forced to stay in violent relationships because they can’t afford to leave - and I’m angry it has taken the lives of so many women for our governments to get off their collective arses and do something about it.
I’m angry we can ask a woman why she doesn’t leave an abusive relationship and in the next breath turn around and vilify her for being a single mother when she does.

I’m angry we expect so much of women and so little of men when relationships break down, especially when there are children involved.

I’m angry about how much it costs women in real terms to raise children and how little it costs men in comparison.
I’m angry I live in a culture in which people think it’s OK to blame mothers for being poor, but let men off the hook when they shirk their responsibility to pay for their kids.

I’m angry no one is doing anything about the more than $1 billion in child support owed to women and yet single mums who show up every day for their kids are being treated as if they’re the ones who are a drain on our economy.
I’m angry our governments think it’s OK to harass and penalise the parent who is shouldering all the responsibility and carrying most of the cost.

It’s not good enough to force single mothers onto Newstart and into even deeper poverty when our government is doing nothing to address the lack of secure, flexible jobs for women.

It’s not good enough that single mothers are over-represented in insecure, casual and low-paid jobs when what they need is reliable employment; employment that accommodates and respects their primary role as mothers.
It’s not good enough our government is cutting penalty rates on jobs that are already low paid. There is no justification for lowering the minimum wage, especially when it’s women with children and young people who will bear the brunt. If a business can’t pay minimum wage in Australia, quite frankly, it’s not a viable business.

It’s not good enough that governments aren’t addressing the structural inequalities that continue to undermine and undercut women’s economic and social independence and keep them reliant on abusive and controlling men.

It’s not good enough that we still don’t have equal pay and it’s definitely not good enough that we are still doing more than our fair share of the unpaid work – work that is neither respected, nor valued by politicians and economists despite its immeasurable value to the community.

This government declared war on the poor with its last federal budget and the open misogyny on display, from the prime minister down, has been nothing short of breathtaking.

In this political climate, it’s easy for one person, like you or me, standing alone, to feel powerless. But if we stand together, we are not alone.

I will say this for our “Prime Minister for Women”: he’s been a much-needed shot of adrenalin for the feminist movement. Thanks to him and this horrendous government, women and men are rising up in greater numbers than ever, saying: “We expect better”.

They can’t shut us up now, either. Now we’ve got social and online media, they can’t shut us out of the conversations any more. We need to show them our voices will no longer be silenced and we need to show them we will not be ignored.
It’s time for us to stop being treated like second-class citizens.

It’s time for us to stand up and reclaim our own power and we need to remember the most powerful thing we can do to effect lasting change is to rise up together and demand that change. We need to demand it for ourselves, we need to demand it for our daughters, but most of all we need to demand it for each other.
It’s time to get this boot of patriarchy off our necks once and for all.

[Tenar Dwyer is the Executive Officer of the Council of Single Mothers and their Children, Victoria. She gave this speech at the Melbourne International Women’s Day rally on March 8.]

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