On Friday I was honoured to be the recipient of an Edna Ryan award for making a significant contribution to feminist debate across a number of issues, for speaking out for women and children including those in war zones and in poor and developing societies and inspiring others to challenge the status quo. You can read the full transcript of the presentation by Elizabeth Evatt in the image below. Evatt was the first Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia, the first female judge of an Australian federal court, and the first Australian to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee.
Edna Ryan (1904–1997) achieved national prominence in 1974 when she presented the WEL submission to the National Wage Case, arguing that women should receive the same minimum rate of pay as men. In 1975 she published her first book with Anne Conlon, Gentle Invaders: Australian Women in the Workforce 1788-1974, and her second, Two-thirds of a Man: Women & Arbitration in New South Wales 1902-08, in 1984. She organized the first Women and Trade Unions conference in 1976, which became the basis of the ACTU Women’s Charter in 1981, started the first post-war work-based childcare centre in 1977, served on the executive of the Family Planning Association of New South Wales when it was entering a new policy direction, and actively supported women’s theatre and art groups. She passed away in 1997 and an event has been held in her name each year since, to celebrate and acknowledge women ‘making a feminist difference’.
It was a real honour to win an Edna, and very moving to me, particularly knowing how many women are advocating and working in these spaces, and the great work they do, and also knowing the many women I admire who have been recipients in the past.
Here is a transcript of my short speech: (the parts I wrote down, anyway…)
Thank you for the honor of the ‘Grand Stirrer’ award, ‘for inciting others to challenge the status quo.’ It is wonderful to be recognized in this way, particularly in the name of Edna Ryan, by pioneering women fighting the good fight – often without reward or acknowledgement – in a room full of feminists who understand why challenging the status quo is still important, the challenges it involves, and why feminism is as relevant today as it was a fifty years ago.
Worldwide, less than 1 out of every 4 people we hear or read about in the media is female; men outnumber women in parliament by more than 3 to 1; and women are even more underrepresented in leadership roles and peace negotiations. Out of 24 worldwide peace negotiations from 2000 to 2011, more than half featured women’s participation of 5 percent or less. (Is it any wonder our capacity to negotiate peace or challenge the persistence of violence is so dismal?)
If women and girls remain voiceless, or their voices are shouted down, as we too often see, half of humanity’s experiences, perspectives and possible solutions to the world’s problems go unheard. It’s not good enough.
There is progress, yes, but it is hardly a straight road, and we cannot believe that greater equality will magically occur without ongoing advocacy and hard work. As Celeste Liddle wrote of the latest government: ‘Note to media: 5 female Ministers is not a “win for women”. That’s actually less than a third of the cabinet. Your bar is too low.’
The bar is low. Less than a third means there are more than 2 men’s voices and choices being heard for every one woman’s. Of course there are many reasons for this – cultural, social and structural, from pre-selection to division of child care, from low pay to unconscious bias – but the naturalization of the exclusion of women – which was how the current system was initially built – remains a major obstacle. Likewise for the exclusion of non-white, non-straight or non-cis-gender citizens. The exclusion of women is not, and never has been, natural or accidental.
In a time when the pay gap is over 18% and 2 women per week are murdered in Australia, often at the hands of former or current partners, there is no doubt that we need greater women’s political representation, more diversity over all, and greater diversity in influential media, from front page bylines which are currently, on average 78% male, and in our popular entertainment and films, where over 90% of directors of top grossing films are male, and 85% of the writers, and where The Fictional Woman – from the damsel in distress to the whore, the witch and crone, still stubbornly persist.
We need to challenge the status quo to better represent the diverse world we live in, and the many ideas, solutions, stories, and advocates we should be celebrating.
Thank you for celebrating Edna Ryan tonight, and for bringing together this collective of women who make a difference. And thank you so much for including me.
I’d like to dedicate this to my daughter, Sapphira, and the feminists of the future.
Other Edna Ryan recipients in various categories included the amazing Anjana Regmi, Saba Vasefi, Darrell Duncan, Margaret Hickey, Finola Moorehead, Sally McManus and Amanda Shalala. I will include a full list of the winners and their categories once they are officially published.
All photographs by Berndt Sellheim.