The progression of the rights and freedoms of women has changed drastically over the past 100 years. Women have felt the need to stand up for their rights and change the traditional stereotype of women from, weak and unambitious to strong and determined beings. There were two main time periods where their rights were recognized throughout Australia. The first took place in the early 20th century, where women rallied for the rights to vote and stand for elections. The second took place in the 1960s and 1970s, when traditional roles of women were challenged.
The third aspect that will also be looked at in this essay, are influential women in the two time periods that made the rights and freedoms of women change for the better. In the early 20th century, women believed that they had the right to vote and stand for elections in their respective states because they were working in jobs similar to men. They also believed that the stereotype of them not having the intellect ability to understand politics was false. In 1914, the Victorian Local Government Act Amendment allowed women eligible for election on the same basis.
The same happened in 1915 in Queensland, 1918 in New South Wales, 1920 in Western Australia and 1921 in Tasmania. Women who had law degrees wanted to be part of a judiciary to become juries. This was introduced for the first time in Queensland, in the year 1923. Other aspects of women’s rights were overlooked by the Australian Government and in 1928, 1000 women gathered in Sydney to protest for their rights. Many Australian women were getting pregnant before the age of eighteen and had no financial aid to support their child.
The Racial Hygiene Association set up the first birth control clinic in Australia in Sydney in 1933. To support young mothers and mothers in general, the Child Endowment Act, formed in 1941 allowed payment directly to the mother of an allowance for each child under the age of sixteen. The allowance was 5 shillings per week. Women who had occupations during the wartime were given set wage rates by the Women’s Employment Board, which was set up by the Federal Government in 1942. Women in the 1960s were more outgoing in challenging the traditional roles of women in the form of protest.
Intellectual females debated of changes to civil rights, ‘the pill’, marijuana, conscription and the involvement in the Vietnam War. The collection of intellectuals and their belief to change the freedom and rights of women created the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) in 1960. The WLM set a few guidelines that they wanted to address and improve in Australia. The first was sexuality. Judiciaries always overlooked cases that were linked to rape and sexual harassment. The WLM wanted these cases to be looked into to give sexually abused victims peace. The second was education.
The female intellectuals wanted to spread literature among other women. Many women in the 60s and 70s were illiterate, whereas men were taught how to read and write from a young age. The last guideline was health. Women wanted to be able to have easy access to contraception, abortion and protection from abusive men. They also wanted to do more research for health conditions, such as, breast cancer and cervical cancer. Many laws have resulted due to the formation of the WLM. The Maternity Leave Act, created in 1973 allowed working mothers to have a 12 month unpaid leave that wouldn’t affect their jobs.
In June 1977, The Anti – Discrimination Act aimed to stop discrimination against race, gender or marital status. The Equality of Status of Children’s Act was created in December 1977 allowed children born out of marriages to have legal status. Women wanted to pursue jobs that were mostly pursued by men. In 1986, The Equal Opportunity for Women Act restricted barriers, which prohibited women from pursuing jobs that should be available to them. There were many females in Australia who were activists and believed that Australian women needed to be more confident and believe that they were capable of performing male superior jobs.
Edith Cowan was the first woman elected to an Australian Parliament in Western Perth, Western Australia in the year 1921. Women from different states were inspired by Cowan and in Queensland, Irene Longman was the first woman to be elected in the Queensland parliament in 1929. In 1937, Ivy Webber represented the League of Women Electors on a platform of ‘Mother, Child, Family, Home and Health. ’ This is because Webber believed that women needed help with motherhood, children, family, marital problems, home and health. In 1972, Helen Reddy produced a song called ‘I am Woman’. The song became the unofficial anthem of the WLM as well.
The United Nations declared that it was ‘International Woman’s Year’ in 1975. Many women went to extremes to protest for their rights. Zelda D’Aprano chained herself to the Commonwealth building in 1969 in Melbourne as a sign of protest for the equal pay of working women. In 2004, D’Aprano was made the officer of the order of Australia as acknowledgement for her work in campaigning on women’s workplace issues. Women have evolved over the past 100 years and have been more determined to strive for freedoms and rights. There is a pressing need for women to acquire jobs. This is partly due to the lack of pressure to get married.
The few who do attain high positions still have to deal with traditional attitudes towards women: the belief that they are less capable than men, sexual harassment and public focus on their appearance and their family responsibilities. Even till this day, women are still looked down upon and they themselves feel the need to prove themselves to the society surrounding them. Julia Gillard, Australia’s current Prime Minister says that she ‘would never be where she is today if she wasn’t raised by a single mother and if she allowed gender criticism to jeopardise her intent to become Prime Minister. ’
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