The Minister for Women is an insult to women. Here’s why.

Minister for Women, Tony Abbott

Minister for Women, Tony Abbott

A good associate recently shared a picture on Facebook explaining that out Australia’s ASX200 companies, only 23 ‘head honchos’ were women. Funnily enough, 26 are men called Peter. Thankfully, I’m not any of them, because I have trouble organising even myself, let alone an ASX200 company.

Australia’s Prime Minister, Tony Abbott has self declared himself as the ‘Minister for Women’. Predictably, feminist groups have scoffed (for want of a better word!) at his self-title and have been able to find multiple examples of how Abbot and the Liberal Party have missed the mark when it comes to women’s issues. A recent example of this is in Queensland, where the LNP Women held their annual International Womens Day conference at the Tattersails Club, which, to the un-initiated, has a strict men-only membership policy.

Nice own goal, conservatives!

In Australia, it is illegal to discriminate against a women in hiring, promotion, healthcare, education, access to bank loans and credit, driving, voting, working, not working, having children, not having children – the list goes on, yet, we have a self proclaimed ‘Minister for Woman’.

I want to stop at this point and address a possible objection. How can I, a married, white, employed, hetrosexual man presume to know what it’s like to be a woman, or understand the problems women face. To all those who might want to drop the ‘privilege’ bomb – I’ll never know what it’s like to be a woman, but I’m still entitled to an opinion. So don’t go yelling down on me (just yet!).

We have Ministers for Defence. Education. Health. Transportation. Science (again!). Social services. The list goes on. Things that the State need to be involved in. Then we have a ‘Minister for Woman’.

To me, the fact that we have a self-described ‘Minister for Woman’ is an insult to women. I’d say this regardless of who this person was – I’d say it if it was Bill Shorten or Christine Milne or any other Australian Federal or State politician saying it. To me it infantises women and takes agency out of the choices they already have. We have a minister for defence to organise our defence forces. We have a minister for social services to organise our welfare services. We have a minister for transport. We have a minister for the environment, who, I’m sure does something really important too. We have ministers to organise, direct, manage, develop policies and deliver outcomes for those they are responsible for.

The title ‘Minister for Women’ suggests to me that women can’t organise themselves. It suggests that they have little agency over their life, a lack of choices and huge barriers to overcome. It tells me that they need someone to direct their lives.

I think we can ALL agree that in most things, women can go pound for pound with men. I think we can agree, fairly pragmatically, that men are better than women at some things – men have a physique more suited to heavier work and roles that require physical dexterity. Similarly, there are jobs that women excel over men and seem to choose over other roles. Can both men and women do the same jobs? For the most part, OF COURSE! Can women make EXCELLENT CEO’s – you betcha! Can men make great nurses? Yup! Can women hold their own in the police? I’ve got no doubts about it.

It is my firm belief that women have agency, choice and the capability to make choices for themselves. Are there some difficulties that women still need to hurdle? Without a doubt. Is it the government’s responsibility to get involved in a private organisation on what they can and can’t do? I don’t think so.

If the government HAD to have a Minister for Women, here’s what I’d probably suggest:

– Targeting new arrivals in Australia that women have the right to a full education, to marry (or not marry) who they choose, to not have their genitals mutilated, to choose a career that they want. At the risk of sounding terrible, there are some cultures that do not hold the same egalitarian values as mainstream Australia. I think education changes lives.

– Women, especially teenagers, who find themselves pregnant (hint teenagers: best way to avoid this is keep it in your pants) are supported to continue their education, gain a qualification and find work without discrimination. A life on parenting payment is no life for yourself, or your children. Whilst we have a Child Support system in place, it’s far from perfect (take it from me). The barriers for women training for employment, entering employment and being able to have a family friendly workplace is an issue for many women.

– Making sure there are no legislative barriers to prevent women working, having pay equality based on skills and not gender, accessing healthcare, credit, or anything else that a man has

– The government staying out of peoples lives and letting them make the decisions they want to make, not the decisions the government wants to make.

I think the Government (and the self declared Minister for Women) needs to remove barriers for women, not create more. I think legislatively (and please, correct me if I’m wrong), women have all the rights men do. Some private organisations, religious groups and cultural organisations are still very ‘man heavy’. There’s still a stack of groups, organisations, even professions that are women heavy (think teaching, nursing and the blessed C.W.A.). Is it the Government’s role to legislate what a group of private individuals do? If the organisation isn’t receiving government funding, I think they have every right to say what happens in their private group. There’s nothing stopping men, or women from starting their own sister (brother!) organisation of like-minded individuals.

Finally, it’s an insult to men if women have their own minister. The immediate argument against this is that the vast majority of ministers in Australian Federal and State governments are men. I’m not buying this argument. Men are over-represented in senior roles within government and business. They are also over-represented in gaols, poor mental health outcomes and very sadly, suicide. Where’s the minister for men in these situations?

I’m a firm believer in making your own choices. You make the best decision you can for yourself and your family (if you’ve got one). We need to remove barriers to inclusion, participation, employment, promotion and study, not put in place targets, quotas and requirements for one group over another.

Women and men are equal. Each gender faces their own issues. Each has their own positives, negatives, biases and predjudices. You can’t legislate against that. It’s time we worked together for the best outcome, not the token outcome.

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