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Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal

August 14, 2022
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 10th Sept 2021: The fight of their lives: war, politics and inequality

Tear gas, whips, sticks and tasers haven’t stopped Afghan women taking to the streets.

Fellow remarkable women,

More harrowing events unfold in Afghanistan this week, following the Taliban announcing its new government … without a single female in the line-up.

We celebrate the strong Afghan women who refuse to let fear and intimidation stop them standing up for their rights and we hope that governments around the world, including Australia, continue to put pressure on the Taliban to protect women’s freedoms in the country.

That said, the Australian government still has a long way to go when it comes to protecting its own female population. The Women’s Safety Summit earlier this week fell short when it came to addressing the real change that’s needed in the areas of funding for social housing and an improvement in social security payments for victims of domestic violence. But what’s new? We keep seeing the things that matter slip through the cracks with the Morrison Government.

Despite all this, Grattan Institute’s view on the benefits of gender-equal parental leave and private enterprise stepping up to support it is one reason to celebrate this week.

The brave women fighting for their rights in Afghanistan

It’s been simultaneously inspiring and terrifying to watch Afghan women protesting for their rights in the face of violence and intimidation.

Burqa-clad women have marched through the Afghan capital and other cities throughout the country this week, despite the dangers involved. Their demands? Only that their freedoms be guaranteed under the new Islamist regime.

The protests have been marred by Taliban soldiers firing shots into the air and using tear gas, whips, sticks and tasers on the crowds.

Human Rights Watch tweeted: "In yet another indication that #Afghanistan's new rulers will not tolerate peaceful dissent, the Taliban again used force to crush a protest by hundreds of #Afghan women calling for their rights."

The Taliban announced a new government on Tuesday, with no women or members of religious minorities selected for acting cabinet positions or named to advisory roles.

It seems the Taliban’s promises of an inclusive government and more moderate form of Islamic rule have been hollow.

"We represent the whole of Afghanistan, and we talk on the level of the whole of Afghanistan and our struggle was based on the whole of Afghanistan," Taliban spokesman Zabihullah Mujahid said at Tuesday's news conference, as he outlined the interim government.

"We are not people of one tribe or ethnicity, neither do we believe in this."

Fawzia Kofi, a former Afghan MP, peace negotiator and women rights activist, has accused the Taliban of breaking its promises.

"When I [first] met Taliban, Shabudin Dilawar elaborated their version of Islamic rights for women saying no barrier for women to become minister/prime minister, they act in contrary. Was that to get political boost?" she tweeted.

A Taliban spokesman has since warned the public against taking to the streets and told journalists not to cover any demonstrations. In such chaos, the last thing we need is the visual evidence of oppression and abuse to be hidden from world media outlets. These voices must be heard.

Two Afghan journalists from media outlet Etilaat Roz defied that decree and were detained and severely beaten by Taliban security forces. They have been receiving medical treatment in hospital for injuries to their backs and faces since being released from jail.

Zaki Daryabi, editor-in-chief of Etilaat-e Roz, said: "This is unacceptable. We want the Taliban to bring their soldiers to justice. We also all the media organisations stand together against this unacceptable torture."

Patricia Gossman, associate Asia director at Human Rights Watch, added: "Taliban authorities claimed that they would allow the media to function so long as they 'respected Islamic values', but they are increasingly preventing journalists from reporting on demonstrations.

"The Taliban need to ensure that all journalists are able to carry out their work without abusive restrictions or fear of retribution."

In a further blow to women’s freedom in Afghanistan, they have been banned from playing sports.

In an interview with SBS News, the deputy head of the Taliban's cultural commission, Ahmadullah Wasiq said Islam allowed women to go out on a needs basis such as for shopping.

He said sport was not considered a need and offered cricket as an example.

"I don't think women will be allowed to play cricket because it is not necessary that women should play cricket,” he noted.

"In cricket, they might face a situation where their face and body will not be covered. Islam does not allow women to be seen like this.”

Cricket Australia said Afghanistan’s historic first Test against Australia risks being cancelled.

“Driving the growth of women’s cricket globally is incredibly important to Cricket Australia,” the organisation said in a statement. “Afghanistan's men's cricket team was expected to travel to Australia for a test match in Hobart later this year. However, the ban puts the tour in doubt, as the International Cricket Council requires all 12 of its full members to have a national women's team and only full members are permitted to play test matches.”

There are also grave concerns for the safety of the 25 women who are currently contracted to play cricket for Afghanistan, with many living in fear after receiving threats of violence. One told the BBC that “every woman playing cricket or other sports is not safe right now.”

We’re urging the Australian Government to stand against the oppression of women’s rights by the Taliban as well as for Cricket Australia to cancel the Afghan tour as a show of support for the women’s cricket team.

We can’t imagine the terror that every woman living in Afghanistan is enduring at this very present moment. To think that this could be any one of us in 2021 was thought to be a  far-fetched idea yet, here we are witnessing the betrayal of an entire gender’s freedom, prosperity, wellbeing and progression. It’s not a scary thought but a torturous reality and in the most simplest terms, it’s not fair.

Why the Women’s Safety Summit fell short

Prime Minister Scott Morrison gave the opening speech at this week’s Women’s Safety Summit, in a move the Sydney Morning Herald journalist Kristine Ziwica described as “an act of chutzpah not seen since the day Tony Abbott appointed himself minister for women”.

Morrison blithely announced that our country must become a place where every woman feels safe and can live free of fear.

He said: “That’s what freedom is. That’s every woman’s right. But it’s far from every woman’s reality, as we know.”

They are ironic words, considering Morrison noted earlier this year that women who attended the March 4 Justice protest should be grateful they were “not met with bullets”.

And we agree with Morrison’s declaration in his speech that too many Australian women do not feel safe. As he said, “that is not okay”. And he’s right, “there is no excuse”. And no, “sorry doesn’t cut it”.

Unfortunately, neither did the Women’s Safety Summit, which was convened to inform a new national plan to reduce violence against women and children. The event featured two days of virtual panel discussions and keynote addresses on topics including preventing family and sexual violence, coercive control, financial abuse, early intervention, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ experiences, and policing and justice responses.

Saxon Mullins, sexual assault survivor and director of advocacy at Rape and Sexual Assault Research and Advocacy, is among those who were disappointed by the summit.

She told SBS that Morrison’s opening speech was "offensive", particularly after the government only brought into law 6 of 12 recommendations from Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report last week.

"It's so hypocritical and reductive to virtually stand in front of survivors and experts and say, 'Oh, we really need to do something about this'," Mullins said. “We know. The call is coming from inside the house.”

There was disquiet about the summit before it even kicked off. More than 230 organisations working at the coalface of domestic violence and homelessness signed a joint statement calling for a commitment to safe and affordable social housing to play a larger role in the discussion.

Housing only received a fleeting reference in the agenda, despite the fact 7,690 women return to perpetrators of violence each year because they have nowhere to live. And an alarming 9,120 women a year become homeless after leaving their homes due to domestic and family violence and being unable to secure long term housing.

Signatories to the statement include large advocacy and peak organisations such as ACOSS, Shelter and the ACTU, through to women’s refuges, homelessness services and community legal centres.

Everybody’s Home spokesperson, Kate Colvin said: “You simply can’t talk about women’s safety without talking about safe and affordable homes. Women and children in danger need a safe haven and it is incumbent on the Commonwealth Government to address this crisis.

“Thousands of women across Australia are currently having to choose between staying in a violent home and homelessness. That is unacceptable. Without further funding for social housing and an improvement in social security payments, the Federal Government cannot begin to address domestic violence in an adequate way. We need those changes to be made urgently.”

Truth be told, we’re all impatient and growing tired of ‘economy before wellbeing’. We’ve seen, experienced and born all too much to let safety become a popularity plea for the next election.

All Australians can make a submission based on the issues discussed at the summit via DSS Engage before September 15. Click here.

Sign the Everybody’s Home petition here.

How gender-equal parental leave improves the economy

A new report by the Grattan Institute has revealed how more gender-equal parental leave would improve the lives of Australian families.

Currently, Australia has one of the least generous parental leave schemes in the developed world, especially for fathers. The federal government funds 18 weeks of leave for primary carers (who are almost exclusively mothers) and two weeks for "dads and partners", with the payments set at the minimum wage.

The Institute says the federal government should add up to six weeks to the current 20-week paid parental leave allowance.

It recommends that to encourage parents to share the leave, the allowance should include a six-week ‘use it or lose it’ provision for each parent, plus 12 weeks to share between them as best suits their family.

To encourage parents – and especially fathers – to actually take the leave, the government needs to consider offering an additional two weeks of bonus leave, which could be used by either parent if both parents take at least six weeks leave.

In recognition of the extra financial and emotional challenges of solo parenting, it says the government should give single parents the full 26-week entitlement.

While the expanded scheme, with leave paid at the current rate of the minimum wage, could cost the government an extra $600 million a year, the Grattan Institute says there’s a huge economic upside.

It predicts it could also boost GDP by $900 million a year thanks to increased workforce participation by mothers, boosting the average mother’s lifetime earnings by $30,000.

While the government lags, many private companies are meeting the challenge of gender-equal parental leave.

Brewer Lion announced last week that it was becoming one of the first Australian FMCG companies to offer paid leave to all new parents, regardless of their parenting role. It is also providing an additional six weeks’ superannuation on unpaid parental leave, taking total coverage to 18 weeks.

Lion CEO Stuart Irvine said: “The Workplace Gender Equality Agency have identified primary and secondary carer labels, which are still commonplace in most businesses, as a major driver of inequality in Australian workplaces,” Irvine said.

“Requiring a couple to nominate a primary carer at the start of parenthood immediately sets up an unequal division of labour within the household, which in many cases produces barriers down the track to integrating mothers back into the workforce.

“Discrimination between primary and secondary carers is not helpful from the point of view of the couple or the business, and we’re proud to be one of the first major Australian companies to move beyond these labels to a model where both parents are eligible for full paid parental leave – which in Lion’s case is twelve weeks.

“It’s not only a win for mothers – it eliminates a major barrier for fathers who want to be more hands on in parenting their young children.”

It shouldn’t be up to private enterprise to set the example on gender-equal parental leave. It’s time the Australian Government stepped up. Jeopardising the paid leave and the wellbeing of our future generations shouldn’t be dictated by money but if it’s money the government wants, then there’s no reason to refuse such findings.

Art raises awareness at US Open

Kudos to the US Open for its recent 2021 Open Canvas Art Exhibit, which aimed to raise awareness about gender equality, inclusivity and LGBTQ+ issues during the tennis tournament.

A group of diverse and underrepresented artists were invited to create original works and the result was a vibrant portrayal of minority communities and their unique experiences.

The exhibit was on display during the two weeks of the event outside the stadium. Following the exhibition, the artworks have gone up for auction, with the proceeds benefiting the USTA Foundation and each artist's charity of choice. The Open Canvas auction runs until September 22.

The USTA Foundation, the national charitable arm of the USTA, uses tennis and education to help students in need by providing free or low-cost tennis and education programming to the 50 largest markets in the US, nurturing future leaders and enabling kids in need to succeed on the court, in the classroom and in life.

The US Open's first artwork activation, Black Lives to the Front, raised over $50,000 for the USTA Foundation and various charities last year.

Original Art by Islenia Mil Displayed at the 2021 US Open Art Exhibit

The Australian state with the lowest gender pay gap

The latest Workplace Gender Equality Agency and ABS data shows South Australia is leading the nation when it comes to having the lowest gender pay gap for women.

The pay gap in SA is down from 8.5% in 2020 to 7% in 2021. Other states, including Victoria and Queensland, recorded a wage gap increase.

Not only is South Australia’s gender pay gap the lowest, it also far exceeds the national average of 14.2%.

Minister for Human Services Michelle Lensink said: “These new statistics reaffirm South Australia is a leading state for women and we’re committed to continuing to drive change for the 900,000 women who live here.

“South Australia was one of the first places in the world to give women the right to vote, we’re currently the third most liveable city in the world and now we’re well and truly number one in the nation when it comes to gender pay parity.”

A true cause for celebration this week...a zoom party perhaps? 

Nonetheless, here’s to the end of another week.
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