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Organising For Equality in a Pandemic

We'll win in the same way we've won everything from paid parental leave to anti-discrimination laws: by getting organised and fighting together with other women.” 

Those words were part of VTHC Assistant Secretary Wil Stracke’s call to action last Thursday at the launch of Organise for Equality: a grassroots, Victoria-wide women’s campaign to be safe, respected and equal at work. 

“We’re bringing together women to make change on issues that matter to us - everything from fully-funded early childhood care and education to pay equity, superannuation equality and so much more,” says Wil. 

Right now, there’s more than ever to fight for. For one, like just about everything else last year, the gender pay gap got worse. 

Last year, Equal Pay Day fell on August 28th. This year it will be on August 31st. Meaning if Australian men had all stopped work on June 30, women would still be at work until this week, in order to reach the same pay. But of course men did not stop work on June 30, so the gap keeps accumulating, day by day, year on year.

And of course, there’s the pandemic. The infectious elephant in the room. 

COVID-19 has highlighted the reality that women continue to shoulder the burden of unpaid care work in our society, particularly of young children, even with two parents at home. 

Women are dropping out of the labour market, and the rates of under-employment and under-utilisation for women is highly concerning. In a time when casual workers were left to fall through the cracks built into wage subsidies and support payments, women suffered the most due to their higher rates of casual and insecure work. 

Female-dominated areas of work have also been on the frontline during the pandemic, but were rewarded with little more than tokenistic, empty gestures. COVID-19 has exposed the vulnerabilities of these frontline workers. Many women report needing to engage in multiple forms of work to piece together a ‘living wage’ while many more find it impossible to find and hold onto secure employment. Frontline workers were regularly exposed to hazardous working conditions, including gender-based violence. The concentration of refugee and migrant women employed in low-paid front-line roles came into clear focus as the virus tore through those communities.  

The widening of the gender pay gap is the cherry on top of a year in which gender inequality got worse by almost every metric you can think of. 

Last Thursday, at a Zoom meeting attended by two hundred activists, union women launched Organise for Equality: a grassroots women’s campaign to fight for the right to be safe, respected and equal in our homes, communities and workplaces. 

Safe, Respected, Equal

“The sisterhood is like a second family for me,” says Kim Travers, a lifelong activist and CPSU member. 

“I started to get involved in the women’s movement in the last 20 years and it all started with my own emancipation. I came from a solid marriage of 20 years and had four children, and I then moved onto a second partnership in which I experienced domestic violence. Having to go through domestic violence and moving away from it and trying to heal as a person, it brings lots of challenges.”

At 63, Kim has seen her share of hardships, but that doesn’t mean she’s about to be discouraged. There’s work to be done. 

“The casualisation of women’s work is a shocker,” says Kim. 

“We’re the caregivers predominantly. We’re the ones who facilitate the world revolving on so many levels, and we have been disproportionately affected by COVID. 

“Casual jobs got lost, income got lost, homelessness amongst women my age has been driven up.” 

That these things have been allowed to continue unchecked without action from government or employers is a clear sign of disrespect that women all across our society have felt keenly. 

Caring During a Pandemic

Anna works in Health and Safety, and has recently returned to work after the birth of her daughter. She feels the weight of inequality acutely. 

“I’m trying to navigate working from home with a ten-month-old baby and it’s all kinds of fun,” she says, sardonically. 

“It’s been really interesting because my daughter got Hand, Foot & Mouth about a week after I went back.

“I’ve been back at work for three weeks and I’ve worked a week and a half of that.

“I’ve bounced off other mothers in my workplace to find out what is a realistic expectation because I just don’t know. I think what I’m asking for is reasonable. I’ve broken my work day into three-hour blocks to make it more manageable, but any missed hours I have to take as carer’s leave. It's a bit frustrating because we’re in a global pandemic, daycares are closed, and it doesn’t feel like there’s a lot of flexibility.”

The lack of flexibility isn’t just stressful, it’s disrespectful. 

“If I only do six hours I have to put in for two hours of leave. It feels like clockwatching, having to account for every minute of my day. I know that other people in my team don’t have to do that. I feel like I’m being treated differently to how my other team members are.

I’m Fired Up, How Are We Going to Win?

The task of winning equality is massive, and it can't just be legislated. Equality must be won in every community and workplace. That's the logic that drives Organise for Equality

The activists who signed up for the campaign on Thursday will take on the work of organising local campaign chapters, meeting with folks in their own community to plan local campaign actions and actualise the central strategy.

Join us now at organiseforequality.com! You can also join one of our Join the Call sessions, which are welcoming, inclusive organising meetings aimed at getting active in the community and our workplaces. 

By signing up, you'll be able to connect with like-minded women in local activist groups, create and participate in exciting stunts and actions, gain skills in organising, digital media, political lobbying, amplify your voice and build power to make real and lasting change.

“We'll win in the same way we've won everything from paid parental leave to anti-discrimination laws: by getting organised and fighting together with other women.” 

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