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Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal

August 14, 2022
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 21st Jan 2022: Four-day working week for Australia & why there’s nothing elective about fertility

Less time at work for the same pay and heartache and hope as IVF ban is overturned.

Well, hello 2022! 

I’m so excited to be back and I hope you were able to enjoy the festive season, despite COVID-19 continuing to present us with challenges.  

My heart goes out to those of you who were forced to isolate or be away from loved ones over Christmas. It would be wonderful if 2022 were to bring us all more opportunities to reunite safely and for good with our family and friends.

So much has happened in the world since my last Founder’s Weekly newsletter but in particular, there were four news stories that really resonated with me this week. I was so moved by Victorian women telling their heartbreaking fertility stories as they fought to overturn the state’s IVF ban. Congratulations to the 140,000 people who added their names to the petition to right that wrong.

I am also thrilled that Pakistan may soon have its first female Supreme Court judge. If Ayesha A. Malik is appointed it will be a triumph for women’s rights in the country.

Meanwhile in Australia, NSW now has almost 40% female representation at local councils thanks to measures including the introduction of superannuation and childcare. Even more revolutionary is an inquiry in the ACT to decide whether a four-day week is the future for Australia. 

Read on to find out more!

Heartache & hope as IVF ban overturned in Victoria

Victoria’s Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams has opened up about her personal fertility battle following the ban on fertility and IVF treatments being reversed in the state.

“Know only too well the distress caused by delays to IVF services,” Williams wrote on Twitter.

“I’ve been undergoing assisted reproductive treatments for over five years — so far without success. And as the weeks and months march on, it only gets harder.

“The window of opportunity gets smaller. Success rates decline. And you steel yourself for the day you might have to concede that the journey is over, and in doing so reimagine your whole life to fit a new and unwelcome reality. It’s an awful feeling.”

IVF was included in a list of elective surgeries cancelled this week in order to divert resources to COVID-related healthcare.

Confirmation of cancelled treatments was sent to patients on Monday, leaving them in the dark until at least mid-April about whether services would resume. The move caused outrage and distress throughout the state, with an online petition attracting almost 140,000 signatures.

“Thank you to all those who have advocated for the continuation of IVF services and shared your deeply personal stories in order to build understanding,” Williams said.

“My story sits alongside yours. While our journeys have their own unique twists and turns, most of us on this path share the same heartache and, importantly, hope. Good luck, and I hope this announcement makes it all that little bit easier.”

Acting Minister for Health James Merlino said he was deeply sorry for the distress the ban had caused.

“IVF is a challenging journey for anyone to go through, let alone in the midst of a global pandemic, and we’re deeply sorry for the distress caused by affected services in recent week,” he said.

It’s troubling that the ban was instituted without proper consultation with IVF clinics. Most are run through the private sector and are not suitable for secondment to help with COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.

The move also showed a lack of understanding about the emotional and physical journey involved in IVF. It takes a woman’s body three months to prepare for IVF - banning treatment for three months means a six-month wait that no woman should have to face when battling to start a family.

First female Supreme Court judge for Pakistan

Ayesha A. Malik is set to make history as the first female Supreme Court judge in Pakistan, with civil rights groups calling it a defining moment in the Islamic nation’s judicial history.

Justice Malik was appointed to the Lahore High Court in 2012 and captured worldwide attention last year when she outlawed the practice of subjecting female rape survivors to invasive and unscientific virginity test.

She ruled that the controversial "two-finger test" used to determine a woman's level of sexual activity when investigating rape cases had no legal basis and “offends the personal dignity of the female victim”.

“It is a humiliating practice, which is used to cast suspicion on the victim, as opposed to focusing on the accused and the incident of sexual violence,” Justice Malik said.

The 55-year-old judge is a vocal advocate for women's rights in Pakistan. She is also president of a committee for the protection of women judges in district courts and a member of the International Association of Women Judges.

The Human Rights Commission of Pakistan said: “As the first woman judge appointed to the apex court in the country’s judicial history, this is an important step towards improving gender diversity in the judiciary, where women reportedly account for only 17% of judges overall and just under 4.4% in the high courts.”

There has been an outcry among a number of lawyers' bodies, which have threatened to strike and boycott court proceedings over the appointment. They have questioned her seniority and eligibility for the post.

However, her nomination has many powerful supporters, including Pakistan’s chief justice Gulzar Ahmed. The next step is a parliamentary panel where prime minister Imran Khan’s ruling Tehreek-e-Insaf party is expected to confirm her appointment for a 10-year term.

I fervently hope the government ignores opposition to Justice Malik’s appointment and takes a vital step forward for women's rights in Pakistan.

Female majority for 27 NSW local councils

Women now make up 39.5% of all councillors in NSW following last month’s local government elections – an 8.5% jump on the proportion of women elected in 2016/17.

Local Government NSW (LGNSW) President Darriea Turley said councils are the closest level of government to their communities, so it was important that they reflect the communities they represent.

“The proportion of women on council was stuck between 27 and 31% for nearly a decade, so to make such great progress in a single election is really worth celebrating,” she said.

“Some 69 of 124 councils that held elections in NSW now have more women on council than in previous terms. An impressive 27 councils actually have a female majority, nearly three times the number we saw in the last council term.”

Cr Turley, who is a Labor councillor at Broken Hill City Council, said an important contributor to the higher proportion of women standing for council was the introduction of superannuation for mayors and councillors, bringing them into line with the rest of the Australian workforce.

“Lack of superannuation for councillors has been a real disincentive to stand for council, particularly for women, and I’m proud that LGNSW helped put our elected representatives on an equal footing to other workers,” she said.

Advocacy by Local Government NSW also helped secure childcare for women councillors last year.

“These reforms are all about breaking down the barriers to community service, so NSW communities benefit from councils that truly represent them and their needs,” Cr Turley said.

It took until 2021 for such basic rights as superannuation and childcare to be available to women who want to represent their local communities and while almost 40% representation is great, I hope to see local councils reach gender parity in 2025.

UK trials four-day working week – is Australia next?

A six-month trial period of a four-day working week has been launched across the UK, with pilot programs planned for the US, Ireland, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

More than 30 British companies are taking part in the pilot, which will see no loss in pay for employees working one fewer day a week.

The pilot has been launched by 4 Day Week Global in partnership with think tank Autonomy, the 4 Day Week UK Campaign and researchers at Cambridge University, Oxford University and Boston College.

Joe O’Connor, pilot program manager for 4 Day Week Global, said: “The four-day week challenges the current model of work and helps companies move away from simply measuring how long people are “at work”, to a sharper focus on the output being produced. 2022 will be the year that heralds in this bold new future of work.”

Companies around the world have already proven that the concept works. When Microsoft trialled a four-day week with no loss of pay in their Japan office, productivity went up by 40%.

The ACT government is currently holding an inquiry to investigate whether a four-day week is the future of work in Australia, with submissions closing in May 2022.

A discussion paper released by the committee notes that shifts towards a reduction in work time, such as a shorter working week, can lead to the establishment of new norms that can assist with changing attitudes about gender roles; promote greater equality between paid and unpaid work; and reframe the value of jobs that are traditionally regarded as “women’s work”.

“Further, it could provide men with more time outside paid employment to be active parents and carers; it would also change expectations as ‘part time’ becomes the new ‘full-time’, enabling more women to take up secure and well-paid employment,” the paper said.

According to Mercer’s 2021 Australian Benefits Review the four-day week is already gathering momentum in Australia. The number of organisations offering compressed work weeks has risen by 29% over the last four years. Today, more than one in four Australian organisations (27%) are offering this benefit to employees.

Chi Tran, Head of Market Insights and Data at Mercer’s workforce consulting practice said: “The pandemic has accelerated the way in which employers respond to the mental health needs of their people. And we know that flexibility can reduce workplace stress, boost mental well-being and encourage productivity. It’s not surprising that organisations are investing in benefits that prioritise flexible work arrangements. It’s integral to the employee experience.”

“Trials of a four-day work week in Iceland were an overwhelming success and led to many workers moving to shorter hours,” Tran said. “Workers reported feeling less stressed and at risk of burnout, and said their health and work-life balance had improved.”

Working effectively is not about the hours you spend at your desk but the results you achieve. The four-day week would be a welcome initiative for Australians. If we have learnt but one thing from the pandemic it is that whilst work is important, our wellbeing, family and friends, what we do with our spare time is just as important. 

For women trying to juggle the priorities of work and family in particular, a four-day work week would support a balance that is largely unfounded now. 

I look forward to the results of the ACT inquiry and hope to see more state governments in Australia explore the possibilities of redefining the working week.

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