Madonna King: No more IWD lunches and cupcakes – it’s time to get real on gender equality

It’s time we stopped celebrating little strides in equality with lunches and looked at how we could genuinely drive real gender equality.

It’s time we stopped celebrating little strides in equality with lunches and looked at how we could genuinely drive real gender equality. Photo: Getty

In a week where International Women’s Day is recognised at breakfasts, lunches and evening toasts, one story told us so much.

Zoe McKenzie, the MP for the federal seat of Flinders, was caught congratulating another woman – from a rival party – on her election to an adjacent seat.

And behind the scenes, all hell broke out.

Imagine that. “Congratulations Jodie Belyea,’’ McKenzie said, after the target of her Instagram post won Saturday’s Dunkley byelection.

“You have been a good friend to women across the Mornington Peninsula. Look forward to working with you in looking after paradise!”

What? Working together? How naive and unforgivable; almost akin to treachery to some within McKenzie’s own party.

“To say the anger among the ranks is palpable would be an understatement,’’ one senior Liberal told The Australian newspaper.

Here’s a headline for the blokes who can’t get their head around how women lead – in politics or the boardroom. Mostly, they eschew confrontation and like working together. Mostly, they relish their part in a team. Mostly, they are collegiate and friendly. And mostly, they don’t need to bicker. In politics, most want to work collaboratively across party lines, on behalf of the voters who elected them.

jodie Belyea

Liberal MP Zoe McKenzie (right) came under fire from her own party for posting this photo of herself with new Labor MP Jodie Belyea.

Of course, that’s a generalisation because it is “most” not “all”, just as some men are more collegiate than their female peers. But it’s hard to imagine Peter Dutton or Anthony Albanese with their arms around an MP who has just defeated one of their own.

And it’s worth contemplating what we miss out on when our female representation in Parliament still lags behind many countries. We are currently ranked 32nd in the world for female parliamentary representation, below New Zealand, Rwanda and Iceland.

It’s on the rise. For example, in federal Parliament the number of female politicians has jumped 15 per cent since 2002, to sit at 40 per cent in 2023.

For those young women who feel excluded from politics and uninterested in the “he said-he said” that is yelled across the political chamber, McKenzie’s message was a warm embrace that showed politics can be done in another way.

But it’s time we stopped celebrating little strides forward in equality with purple cupcakes and long celebratory lunches and looked at how we could genuinely drive real gender equality in our communities.

How can we raise our glasses this International Women’s Day when the fastest growing homeless group is women over the age of 55?

Or when some girls’ schools in Australia still do not allow shorts as part of the uniform.

Or when the media refer to a felon or an accused person as “a mother of three” and the narrative is dominated by her role as a woman. Rarely do we know the marital status of a male in similar circumstances.

But it’s probably the heartbreak of domestic violence that drives home the absolute inequality faced by many women in Australia (and indeed, around the world).

According to Mission Australia, one woman every nine days is killed by a current or former partner (compared to one every month for men) and one in five women have experienced sexual violence (compared to one in 20 men).

Advertising campaigns, targeted school talks and laws to address coercive control have all failed to reduce the nation’s shameful domestic violence figures, with police DV callouts increasing 20 per cent each year. In the large proportion of those, the victim is female.

It doesn’t fit in our measurement of gender equality, but when so many women are treated in such an appalling and criminal way, we know a hell of a lot of work still needs to be done.

And it needs to be done across political and boardroom representation, in the jobs we do and the pay we get. It needs to be done in primary school, so young girls don’t put a ceiling on their own potential and in high schools, where misogynist Andrew Tate is winning young men over to his cause.

But it also needs to be done behind closed doors, where a domestic violence epidemic is growing and stunting the lives of women and children, especially.

Imagine if domestic violence figures became the barometer of equality, and we – men and women – worked together to curtail the heartache that largely remains hidden.

Then we’d really have a reason to raise our glasses on International Women’s Day, with a whole lot of other women whose day today is just like any other.

Stay informed, daily
A FREE subscription to The New Daily arrives every morning and evening.
The New Daily is a trusted source of national news and information and is provided free for all Australians. Read our editorial charter
Copyright © 2024 The New Daily.
All rights reserved.