Reasons to be a feminist activist
By Sarah Stephen and Sarah Cleary Perth IWD Collective

1. Because we are still told that what we look like is more important than what we think

From a very young age, women are taught to judge their own worth by whether they measure up to the supermodels promoted by the multi-billion-dollar cosmetics and fashion industries. These industries profit from undermining the confidence and self-esteem of women. More and more advertisements are using women's bodies to sell products.

Anorexia nervosa affects 1 to 5% of women. Bulimia affects a similar number, but among tertiary students it's as many as one in six. More than 90% of cases are adolescent girls or young women.

The women's movement since the 1970s has done a lot to expose the corporations that profit from sexism. It has asserted that women can, through collective action and struggle, be strong and confident in themselves, and free from the misery and obsessiveness of the endless pursuit of capitalist society's definition of beauty.

 

2. Because access to abortion is under attack

Safe, access to legal abortion is part of women's fundamental right to have control over our own bodies. Yet abortion remains on the Criminal Code in all states, and everywhere the anti-choice crusaders are on the offensive.

In Western Australia last year, two doctors were charged with performing an abortion, sparking a strong public campaign to defend abortion rights. The laws were modified, but restrictions remain and evidence has begun to accumulate in the six months since the legislation was introduced that fewer women under 16 years of age are accessing abortions.

In May this year, the ACT government will introduce new restrictions on women's access to abortion, spearheaded by right-wing MP Paul Osborne. Women will be forced to view photographs of foetuses at successive stages of development to help them decide whether they still want an abortion. Women who do choose abortion are often subjected to harassment and intimidation by the so-called Right to Life, who picket abortion clinics.

It's time to re-ignite a strong public campaign to defend and extend women's right to access abortion, free from state restrictions and moral coercion.

 

3. Because women continue to face sexist violence every day

Sexual violence and sexual harassment is endemic in today's society. One in three women are likely to be raped at some time during their lives. One in four women will be sexually assaulted before they reach 18 years of age.

As women's economic choices are eroded by high unemployment, low wages and cuts to government funded childcare, they find it more difficult to escape physical and sexual violence in the home.

Meanwhile, funding for rape crisis centres and women's refuges, already minimal, is under threat as governments cut spending on social services.

 

4. Because women still do two-thirds of the world's work, most of it unpaid

While more than 50% of women are now part of the paid workforce in Australia, their income is seen as a secondary income supplement the family breadwinner's wage. This idea is used to justify women's lower wages.

The majority of women in work today are doing the same sorts of jobs that their grandmothers did. More than half of women workers are employed as clerks and sales people.

Female gardeners used to have a different wage rate from male gardeners doing exactly then same job the argument was that the man had a family to support. Such blatant inequality was abolished through the equal pay campaigns of the 1970s.

Yet women still earn a mere 70% of the average male wage. This is because of the massive sex-segregation of the workforce. Men are concentrated in very different jobs from women. Women's jobs (nurses, clerks, domestic cleaners, shop assistants, teachers and childcare workers, etc.) generally have lower wage rates than men's jobs (mechanics, fire-fighters, miners, managers, etc.) without the discrepancies being obvious

 

5. Because together, we can change history.

A hundred years ago, women had no formal right to go to university, no right to take up a whole range of jobs; and they couldn't vote because they weren't considered capable of making such important decisions.

The women's rights movement at the turn of the century organised mass strikes for better pay and working conditions, and for the right to vote. They pioneered the first massive changes in women's position in society and forged a lasting change in social consciousness about the role women should be able to play in society.

The upsurge in feminist campaigning in the '70s took those changes even further. It's only now that that mass movement has substantially declined and that governments representatives of a society which still benefits economically from women's subordinate status have increasing confidence to roll back the gains of feminist struggle, and get away with it.

We should draw confidence from the struggles of the past century, the enormous achievements of millions of women, and the need to escalate the struggle for women's liberation into the next millennium

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