In this piece, I will outline the disadvantage encountered by women in Australia. I will explain the legal and non-legal means adopted to address the disadvantage and limitations those measures have in addressing the disadvantage.
Women in Australia have been treated differently to men since white settlement. This difference in treatment has led to many disadvantages faced by women in all areas of their lives. The word disadvantage as quoted in Websters dictionary as meaning ‘Something that places one in an unfavourable condition or circumstance’. Women have been treated differently in their homes, at work, in remuneration, in educational opportunities, in their ability to vote and influence change. There have been changes to address this disadvantage faced by women both legally and non-legally but there is still a long way to go.
Australian society has been around for 200 years and significant changes to the role and status of women with them having very few legal rights. Women were considered to be lacking the intelligence that men had and were seen as less creative. They were often thought to be too soft and subjective and irrational. This made it hard for women to have a life and career outside the home. Lack of legal rights made it impossible for women to own property or make economic decisions on their own. During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, women stayed at home and did child rearing, housekeeping and support and obey their husbands. When entering a marriage, the wife gave her all property to the husband for control.
Legal power of women was limited. Many women joined a campaign called the suffrage movement which aimed to give women the right to vote. In New South Wales women were not allowed to sit on juries until 1947, and still they had to be nominated. In 1968 they were included in jury roles.
Once, the economic rights of women relied on their marital status. If married, a woman’s position was subservient to the husband and she could not enter a contract without her husband’s authority. An unmarried woman would need a man, most likely a father to come with her if she wanted to enter contract or do banking. The right to enter contracts was granted by the Married Womens Property Act 1893 and their right to be sued was granted under the Married Persons Property Act 1901.
A woman working was inadequately paid. The 1907 Harvester Award drew up a male basic wage. This judgement only examined the wages of men and failed to address the fact that some women were responsible for the financial maintenance of the family. The great World Wars also played a part in freeing women to work outside the home and earn a wage and become independent. With most men going to fight, women were required to fill positions left open, to work and manage family businesses and to help in other ways (munitions manufacture, supply packaging and services to military). As women were able to prove their equal ability, they began to demand equal rights. When it comes to welfare payments, the benefits are widely available to women due to reforms in government policy. Centrelink provides an annual guide to the Commonwealth Family Payments and Services as well as Job Search Allowance.