Women need a new society

In Australia today, paid maternity leave is still not adequate, women still do not have equal pay for equal work, and many women, particularly young women, are experiencing sexual harassment and discrimination almost 25 years after the anti-discrimination laws were created.

These facts are among the findings of federal sex discrimination commissioner Elizabeth Broderick, who has released a report called Gender equality: What matters to Australian women and men. The report, launched on July 22, came after a year-long "listening tour" made by Broderick, which focused on themes of economic independence for women, work and family balance, and freedom from discrimination, harassment and violence.

"Progress towards gender equality seems to have stalled", Broderick said on launching the report. She emphasised that systemic discrimination is stopping progress towards gender equality, and even driving it backwards.

"Over the last 25 years we have been successful in getting rid of overt sexual discrimination", she told the July 22 Sydney Morning Herald. "The formal part has been done. But now we're having difficulty getting rid of systemic discrimination."

The report relays shocking examples of sexual harassment being experienced by young women in their first or second jobs, with one worker on a check-out register being told to wear a see-through shirt.

In response to such blatant examples of sexism, Broderick announced that the first initiative would be to undertake a national survey, only the second of its kind in Australia. The survey will identify the trends and extent of sexual harassment in Australia, and develop an education strategy.

However, the report's revelations - as disappointing as they are as indications of how far we have to go in the fight against women's oppression - don't surprise those of us who have been continuing the struggle for real equality. This fight continues, even after "formal" rights for women, such as anti-discrimination legislation, have been achieved.

The pay gap between men and women remains, with women working full time earning 84% of their male counterparts. Data compiled by the Australian Bureau of Statistics shows that women occupy 73.7% of all part-time positions, and that 42.7% of working women are employed in part-time work, as compared to 11.5% of working men.

However, the workplace is not the only ground on which women face sex-based inequality.

Domestic violence is the leading cause of death worldwide and, in Australia, 38% of women have experienced physical or sexual violence since the age of 15. Ninety-five percent of anorexia sufferers are women, and single women and lesbians remain unable to access IVF services.

Women constitute 80% of the world's refugees, own only 1% of the world's land and constitute 70% of the world's poor.

Young women continue to be under-confident, derided and objectified, because sexist advertising commands us to be successful and "beautiful" - a beauty dictated by the multi-billion dollar industry that causes women to starve themselves, wear uncomfortable shoes and undergo traumatic, costly surgery.

Clearly, real equality still does not exist for women. Broderick's findings should alarm many, however, and the media attention given to the report opens up a discussion that draws attention to the continuing disadvantage faced by women in our daily lives, and to the causes of this disadvantage.

In a speech made on International Women's Day, Broderick said, "Make no mistake, we are nowhere near the so-called 'tipping point' on gender equality".

Resistance campaigns for real gender equality, and an end to sexism and women's oppression. We believe that sexism is a central part of the capitalist system that puts the profits of a rich minority before human need and solidarity. Look at all the unpaid work that women do, caring for the sick and the elderly, raising children, feeding and clothing families; if all this was recognised as the key social service that it is - and if women were paid accordingly - whole economies could collapse!

Just think what capitalism gains from having women believe we will feel more "fulfilled" if we have husbands and children to care for, not to mention what the beauty industry stands to lose if we learn to be happy with our bodies as they are, if we all decide that who we are is good enough and we have no reason to dye, diet, pluck or pierce.

Real women's liberation will require a totally different kind of system, one that allows people to be who we are, puts human need before corporate greed, and fosters solidarity and cooperation between people, not competition and judgement. That's why, as well as campaigning for critical social and legal reforms to make immediate improvements in the lives of women - such as campaigning for free, accessible abortion and improved childcare facilities - Resistance is also part of a global struggle to totally transform society, to smash institutionalised, oppressive gender roles and begin to construct the kind of world we want to live in.