Is Labor so on the nose right now, that no-one – the conservative press or radical feminist activists alike — can acknowledge what a remarkable job the ALP has done supporting women?

That Australia has a female Prime Minister and a Governor General is an achievement worthy of a public holiday. There are 195 nations in the world and less than 12% have a female leader or head of state. We have both here. This is thanks to the Labor Party.

Joe Hockey, uber-feminist, banging on about quotas for women on boards, was insincere political subterfuge, akin to Abbott’s pre-emptive backflip on Paid Maternity Leave shortly after his rise to power. It served merely to distract attention from the fact that it is Labor who cares about elevating women and delivers on gender issues. It is, after all, only Labor who has delivered a CEO (PM) and three Group Executives (State Premiers) who are women.

But it is a sign of difficult times for Labor that it cannot rely on other progressives to champion its cause. Despite its historic achievements for women, yesterday Eva Cox used her annual International Women’s Day article to make public her opinion that there have been “relatively few serious gains in the past 20 or so years.”

Eva, get some perspective.

17 years ago women’s political participation in this country was so abysmal, you could be excused for questioning whether a feminist revolution had taken place at all. To its credit, the ALP recognised the need to bridge the gender gap and adopted an affirmative action quota to achieve that change. Since then record numbers of women have entered parliament. Any slide in women’s numbers will be due to the Coalition letting the side down as the pendulum swings in their favour. Eva and Leslie Cannold for that matter who called on small L liberal feminists to vote for Ted Bailieu would do well to remember that.

Feminists within the ALP are the faceless women of Australian politics, influencing and shaping the politics of Labor and the policy of the nation. The feminist revolution continues within Labor’s ranks, through EMILY’s List Australia and the Labor Women’s Network, but with little recognition by the press or the anti-Labor vanguard.

The feminist revolution was institutionalised by the ALP through the party’s affirmative action quota and faceless women are still working to deliver for women to ensure that target 50/50 is reached within the next decade. Though little notice is likely to be taken of it, hundreds of women from around the country will meet in a few months at the National Labor Women’s Conference to set a new agenda on gender issues for Labor.

And why do Labor women do it when being a woman in politics means compromising family life, a barrage of abuse from other women and double standards? The answer is easy: tangible outcomes for women.

And there have been so many. Here are some examples of the life altering legislation, built through years of feminist campaigning in the community sector and ultimately shepherded through parliament by Labor women parliamentarians:

  • The Sex Discrimination Act, Family/Domestic Violence prevention legislation, Original Ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1983 and the signing of the optional protocol in 2008, Abortion Law Reform in Victoria, WA, ACT, Reproductive rights to IVF and other assisted birth, increased funding for women’s cancers and other health concerns and most recently, Paid Maternity Leave.

The latter is the start of a new wave of reform – recognition of the care economy, the thousands of women nationally and internationally who perform unpaid or low paid work caring for the young, elderly, ill, infirm and disadvantaged — that sustains the rest of the economy. The ASU’s Pay Equity test case is another example of faceless feminists in the Labour movement advocating for redistribution of market spoils to carers.

The Labor Party and Labour movement is not perfect.  Only 10% of Trade Union National Secretaries are women, all ALP National Secretaries are blokes and even the federal ALP Review Team was dominated by men, albeit of the SNAG variety. In EMILY’s List Australia’s submission to the Bracks/Faulkner/Carr Review we made our views very clear about all these points and more.

In the face of a global capital crisis the likes of which we have never seen before and a fossil fuel industry making mega profits without calculating the economic cost of pollution to the planet, I have no doubt that Australian Labor feminists will be part of the international campaign necessary to reform the false economy of a neo-conservative free market.  In fact we have a Labor woman feminist and EMILY’s List Australia member doing this right now. Former ACTU President Sharan Burrow didn’t retire to the north coast, she is now the General Secretary of the International Trade Union Confederation no less.

Eva’s op ed was three words short of saying Feminism has Failed. For a young faceless feminist this is tragic.

If Eva, Anne Summers and Germaine Greer – three remarkable women whose capacity for influence is waning — remain the only feminists permitted an opinion piece in national daily newspapers, we will miss out on talking about the hard work of a new generation of feminists, many of whom are in the ALP, working on the very change that the old guard suffragettes complain has not been achieved.

And the male dominated media (Think Alan Jones or Rupert Murdoch), the male dominated fossil fuel industry (Think Twiggy or Clive) and the male dominated Labour movement (Think Howes and De Bruyn) grin with glee.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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