As I reflect on the progress of womens’ rights over the past century, it is apparent that we have come a long way. Women won the right to vote in Australia, in 1902. We were the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. This achievement was fought for bravely by the Suffragette movement. Another milestone, since 1983, a married woman’s application for an Australian passport does not need to be authorised by her husband. In the world of Law, in 1899 Ada Evans became the first woman in Australia to enrol in law school, although the Dean of the school at the time, would by all accounts never have permitted a woman to enrol, he was absent overseas and Evans was able to enter the school. On his return, he declared to Evans that “she did not have the physique for law and would find medicine more suitable”. After she graduated from Law, Evan’s application to the Supreme Court of New South Wales to practice as a solicitor was rejected on the basis that in the common law it was held that that unless legislation specifically conferred rights or privileges on women, it did not apply to them, for women were not included in the definition of persons. Evan’s application to the New South Wales Bar to practice as a barrister was also rejected on the basis of her sex. Evans and her supporters commenced a campaign for the laws to be changed to allow women to practice. I thank the brave women in the Suffragette movement for fighting the good fight.
And the fight is not over. Yes perhaps we women of today are not facing blatant sexism in the form of laws, or lack of them, however there is still much work to be done until women and men are considered equal. We know its there, its going on secretively, behind closed doors. A mens’ club so to speak, whereby women struggle to become accepted in less traditional roles, such as leadership and management. Female barristers for example in Queensland comprise less than 8% of all ‘silks’ practising at the independent Bar. Their charge-out rate is also considerably lower than their male counterparts.
What can we do about this gender gap? Throw ourselves under carriages in protest, like the Suffragette’s of yesteryear? Perhaps we should. However, perhaps we should as consumers, value our women more for the skills that they bring to the table. Recognise that women can think, women can lead, they may have a different more subtle approach, but perhaps that subtlety, and femininity is a positive attribute to problem solving in this modern world.