Thank you for inviting me back to my old school.
You’ll understand this one day, but it’s a very strange experience to walk back to the school you spent so much time at – the hallways look more or less the same, the playground looks more or less the same, plus demountables. Even some of the teachers are the same.
But thankfully the uniform is different – when I first started there was this horrible belted tunic type thing - you all get a much better deal – and you all were it with pride which is great to see.
What’s wonderful about coming back is that even though you change a lot over the course of your life, much of who you are stays exactly the same, and so many of the values and convictions I hold now I learned here.
One of those values is a firm commitment to feminism and to making sure we do the best we can to support and encourage women.
It’s an honour to be back here to mark International Women’s Day.
A friend suggested I use this speech to talk about the female politicians I have been lucky enough to know, but I’ll start by saying that some people still ask why we still need a day specifically for women – why we need IWD…
It’s an interesting question, but one with an unfortunately simple answer:
- In NSW, women are paid on average 19.3% or $320 less than men a week;
- Women still spend 12 and a half hours more per week on unpaid house-work;
- Young women in NSW are 2.8 times more likely to be hospitalised for self-harm;
- Women are 4.5 times more likely to be a victim of sexual assault;
- They are twice as likely to be the victims of domestic violence;
Women continue to face discrimination in our places of work and our places of learning.
In Australia, we’re the lucky ones.
Because around the world, women and girls still face exploitation, are married off as children, denied access to education or the right to vote.
Deaths through child-birth or pregnancy remain high.
Many women are still denied the opportunity to make choices about their bodies and relationships.
This all sounds very doom and gloom, but it’s why a day like today is important – we must remember that women’s rights are human rights, celebrate our achievements, and reflect on how together, we can make a better world for women.
We’re lucky because we have incredible role-models to look up to and learn from, women who have blazed trails for us.
In America, we see a strong, smart woman leading the pack to become the first female President of the United States (I hope).
We have strong feminist leaders like Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in Liberia, Dilma Rousseff in Brazil and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar.
We have fantastic Parliamentarians here in Australia that I look up to and think about every day – people like Tanya Plibersek MP and Senator Penny Wong - and in NSW politics, people like Linda Burney and your very own member for Willoughby, Gladys Berejiklian, the Treasurer of NSW.
Julia Gillard, our first female Prime Minister, saw off sexism and misogyny. I think history will show her to be one of our greatest Prime Ministers.
I worked for Julia Gillard and saw first-hand the sexism that was levelled at her.
I’m sure you all know from the news that Julia was subject to some of the worst kinds of sexism imaginable, but I can tell you she never let it ruffle her and she powered on because she wanted to made a real difference in the lives of women in Australia.
Julia understood how important it was to fund education, particularly public education, because we need to do everything we can to nurture, support and train young women like yourselves.
She understood that a National Disability Insurance Scheme would help women because the vast majority of carers in Australia are women.
As the first female Prime Minister, she also made a huge difference just by sitting in the office – I still have many girls and women talk to me about how much it meant to them to have a female Prime Minister of Australia.
It meant a lot to me, too.
I learned a lot from Julia. She was one of the best bosses I ever had and she always went out of her way to support and mentor younger women.
One thing Julia did many years before she got into Parliament was to help create Emily’s List, an organisation that supports young women like myself to get involved in politics and run for Parliament.
I’m proud to be a member of the State Parliament and also of the state Parliamentary Labor Party.
After the 2015 State election, we have 15 women out of 34 lower house members of Parliament, just short of 50%.
That’s a huge achievement, but we have a long way to go. Overall, there are only 28 of 93 seats in the NSW Legislative Assembly held by women – less than thirty percent.
We need to get more women in Parliament, but also need to see more people of colour, more migrants, more LGBTIQ Australians and more people with disabilities given the opportunities to speak up and represent the community.
In the Labor Party, we have targets and quotas to make sure women are represented and I think that’s the best way to make sure women are in our Parliament.
Those quotas provide a structure that acknowledges the different approaches and circumstances by which women run for office.
Despite more and more women being elected to Parliament, it’s still the case that most of the panels and committees I sit on are run by old white blokes.
There is no child-care in the NSW Parliament and it is very rare to see children around the offices.
I have a young son – he’s 17 months old. I was pregnant when I was campaigning to become the member for Summer Hill. He was born in October and then the election was in March – so he was only a few months old. Many people asked how can you do it? Only a handful of people questioned why I was doing it or if I should be doing it. But I am proud that I and many other women can and are ‘doing it’.
We have to do a lot more to make sure our institutions – including Parliament, our courts, our military, our schools and our board-rooms reflect the diversity of our community and a huge part of that is making sure the support is there to help women (and men) balance work and family so that those questions are irrelevant and eventually non-existent.
But Parliamentarians have it easy compared to most working women.
The truth is we won’t be able to get more women working and fix the pay gap until we can help women balance work and family.
That means putting measures in place to teach and support women in schools, at universities and as they start their careers, including mentoring programs.
That means expanding flexible and family-friendly work arrangements.
That means making sure that women have access to paid parental leave, but that men are too so that women can more freely make a choice as to whether to go back to work and when.
That means adequately paying professions that are dominated by women, including our nurses, our social workers and our teachers.
International Women’s Day is also a great day to talk about feminism.
Feminism sometimes gets a bad rap in the media (and from some politicians) and I want to talk for a moment about why I think feminism is important.
Feminism acknowledges that all human beings, irrespective of their sex, has a right to be treated equally. Feminism grew from the suffragette movement, which gave women the right to vote, through the sexual revolution of the 60s and 70s, to today, where women still fight for equality and a fair go. Each feminist has fought to get us to where we are today and they pass on a baton to each of us to continue to progress women’s rights and to make things better for our daughters.
It’s important that young women understand the history of feminism because we can’t move forward if we don’t understand the struggles of the past.
When I was a student here, I didn’t think too much about history. I didn’t think it was important to learn about the things that happened in the past and was far too focused on the future, on politics and how I could help to change things for the better.
Now that I’m a little bit older – maybe just a little bit wiser – I can say that learning and understanding history is one of the most important - and the most enjoyable - things you can do.
I’m very proud to be a feminist.
I’m also extremely proud to be a past-student of this great public school, Willoughby Girls HS.
When I think about the women that have made the biggest impacts on my life – I think not just of the political figures and feminists from history – but also of my teachers, my friends, my sister and mum, and my grandmothers.
The last think I’ll say is that the best place to start learning about the history of women is to look around you; to take a minute and to ask the strong, beautiful women each of you has in your lives, for their stories and their support.
I’d like to wish you all a very happy international women’s day and thank you again for the invitation to come back to share it with you all.