An interview with Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick

By · 06 March, 2014 · Features

Elizabeth Broderick has been the Sex Discrimination Commissioner since 2007.  Over the coming weekend  she will appear as both a panellist and speaker at the International Women’s Day breakfasts which are happening across Australia.

Why did you say yes to being a panellist and speaker at this year’s International Women’s Day?

I said yes for a number of reasons; but primarily in my role as Sex Discrimination Commissioner the more people that I can engage with, and take the message of gender equality to, means there is greater awareness across Australia in regards to gender equality. Hence, the more likely we are to make progress.

What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

International Women’s Day is about a celebration of what we have achieved so far.  For me, I love getting together with groups and actually celebrating because a lot of the time my work (around gender inequality) can be quite dark, quite disheartening – especially when you’re looking at the issues of violence against women, women living in poverty or even the lack of women in leadership roles.  It can be very disheartening but I think the UN Women’s Breakfasts are a great way of remembering and celebrating what we have achieved.

In what ways do you stop the work becoming too overbearing for you?

In my job you could start to believe that all men are evil because you’re hearing the worst of the worst. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s a small group of men who are part of the problem but a larger group of men who are also part of the solution. In terms of how I keep sane in a role that is very emotionally draining for me – its about connecting with my family and friends. I also have lots of self-care where I do quite a bit of mediation and just remind myself that the work is very important and that if I become overwhelmed by it, I won’t be effective in the role.   I need to make sure I have time to stop and to think, to reflect and to make sure I keep energised.

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Is gender inequality something only women experience?

No, not at all. I think that gender stereotypes, which lead to gender inequality, impact on men as well. I’ll give you an example of that. The stereotype around men’s role in the workplace is – the ‘ideal worker model’, available 24/7 and with no visible caring responsibilities. I think this stereotype negatively impacts on men, especially those who want to be involved in both paid and caring work. I think gender inequality affects both men and women, albeit differently, but in either instances it can actually be damaging to families and communities.

How have the issues of gender inequality changed since you were appointed in 2007 to today?  Are there more modern challenges facing gender equality nowadays?

Definitely – in particular around social media and the Internet. In some ways the Internet has become a great medium for connecting people around gender equality issues but, in other ways, it has a downside in that it is also a vehicle for sexual harassment and vilification on a level we’ve never seen before. It’s a double-edged sword. I think what’s changed is – people say to me ‘Oh, we don’t see women marching anymore on International Women’s Day…’ and they’re probably right. However, the women’s movement has just adapted to remain relevant and I think that a lot of the activism we see is actually happening on the internet. I don’t think it’s made it any less effective; I believe there are more feminists today than there have ever been in the world before. But, their mode of operation is different.  It’s really important that all social movements, like feminism, evolve to remain relevant and subsequently at their most effective.

If you had unlimited powers to implement three immediate changes in regard to gender inequality, what would they be?

The first thing I’d implement is a better sharing of paid and unpaid work between men and women. If you could improve that balance so men became more involved in unpaid work, and women in paid work, then you would solve a lot of gender inequality issues.  The second thing I would do, would be to remove the blight of violence against women across Australian society, and across the world, because it’s currently at epidemic proportions. The UN and WHO are now reporting that there are more women living in abusive, intimate relationships than there is malnourished people in the world – that’s what I’m talking about when I say epidemic proportions! And lastly, I would be calling on men to step up beside women and really understand that this issue is not secret women’s business; these issues are central to having a prosperous and healthy nation. So it is men’s business as well.

Where would you like to see gender equality by 2020?

Well, I’d like to see equal pay, I’d like to see reduced levels of violence against women and I’d love to see equal numbers of women at leadership levels in every sector across this country.  I’d also like to see men and women having many more choices about how they share their lives together in terms of who works and who cares and that there is true choice that is unconstrained by any gender stereotypes.

 Realistically, do you think we are heading in that direction?

Look, we’re heading there but it’s still very slow. And I think what will increase the pace is men, not just being interested in gender equality but men taking action, that’s what’s going to create faster change.

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