Ten years ago, former Prime Minister Julia Gillard stood up in Australian parliament and spoke the iconic words that have been replayed nearly 4 million times on Youtube: ‘I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man – not now, not ever’.
Gillard’s speech uncloaked the sexism prevalent in Australian parliament – sexism that she herself had been the target of – and in doing so, made it clear that misogyny and discrimination would not be tolerated in women’s public, personal and professional lives.
While these words struck a chord with many, in an article for Overland Magazine in response to Gillard’s speech, critic Stephanie Convery made the point: ‘Standing up for women’s rights is not just about calling sexism for what it is. It’s about agitating for specific change. It’s about making concrete demands of society and of the government.’
It is through this kind of dedicated and targeted agitating that the union movement have brought about real and tangible changes for women at work in the last ten years.
How far have we come?
A decade on, there is still a long way to go – women are disadvantaged by the gender pay gap and a superannuation gap that leave them worse off than men. But slowly and surely, pivotal wins by unions are helping to close these gaps and make workplaces a better and more inclusive place for women.
The campaign for paid family and domestic violence leave was launched the same year Gillard made this speech – and the ten days paid domestic and violence leave bill was introduced into parliament in July this year.
When Scott Morrison turned his back on women, union members rallied to vote him out and re-elect a government that cares about working people.
Last month, the Respect@Work Bill was introduced into parliament to place the responsibility on employers and the government to protect women from sexism and misogyny in the workplace.
In 2022, women make up the majority of union members – and together they continue to fight for better conditions for working women. Workers from the childcare, healthcare and teaching industries are striking to demand that the government recognise the value of women’s work.
What’s still to be done?
Gillard was in a position of power that allowed her to call out sexism and misogyny in her own workplace, but many Australian women are not in this kind of position.
Unions play an important role in being the voice for workers in speaking up to power, and addressing issues that working women still face, including the gender pay gap, access to affordable childcare, and ensuring that workplaces are a safe place for women to thrive.
While Gillard’s speech made an example of how insidious sexism is in our culture, it is the actions of many working together that can create real change for working women in this country.