by Nina Somera, Isis International
Australia is not to be left behind in the national processes towards the UN ESCAP Meeting, CSW and the Asia Pacific NGO Forum on Beijing + 15 from 22-24 October 2009 in Manila, Philippines. But unlike countries such as Nepal, India, Pakistan, Philippines, China, Japan and others, Australia is turning to its tested mode of organising, exploring new ways of reaching out to more stakeholders, and discovering new pulses within its feminist movements.
Various women's groups and non-government organisations coordinated by JERA International have been holding a series of "caravans" where people gather whether in large or small groups to discuss the issues that matter to women. The caravans have been ongoing for the last 3 months, reaching out to refugees, young people and the elderly among others.
Carole Shaw of Jera International says, "it is hoped that the caravans will reach beyond those normally consulted. So far we have been successful in this by providing a full and free 'caravan kit' with all the information needed to run a caravan and thus giving the community the tools to run their own caravans in their own languages and at their own pace."
Lately, the caravans have also expanded into cyberspace. The e-caravan, that (delete) is facilitated through the website of Jera International, www.jerainternational.org. This has allowed single mothers, working women, and those in other areas who would not have had the time and other resources to join the caravans.
However Shaw admitted that these efforts still have some limits. "[It is] still challenging for many of our aboriginal sisters and those with English not as their first language. For these groups, it takes time to share the information and then for the messages to filter down into their communities,' she explains.
Australia has made some gains in its commitment to the Beijing Platform for Action. More women are now in leadership positions. Advances have also been made in women's health, sexual well-being and education. In 2009, the country also signed the Optional Protocol of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
However some major issues remain. These include discrimination in the workplace; challenges reported by aboriginal women due to the suspension of the Race Discrimination Act in the Northern territories; the impact on women's health in rural areas due to climate change; the impact of the financial crisis on older women; lack of affordable and adequate housing; and violence against women including a rise in violence against young women committed over the internet and via new media technologies.
According to Shaw, women in the workplace are still to be treated equally as there remains a perception that young women especially are likely "to start a family as soon as they get a job." (quote from a participant in the review) . A woman working full time on average gets only 82 per cent of the salary of her male counterparts. "And the gap is increasing, especially due to the global financial crisis" she adds.
Such challenges may have been for years but their contexts have changed and similarly, generations of women have had their own ways of dealing with such challenges. One positive development that Shaw notes is the support of the current Australian government for the active participation of young women in public offices. "This has possibly had an effect on the way in which young women feel they can come forward and do something about their situation," she said. Also their willingness to listen means things are starting to happen.
Shaw likewise notes from the review what appears to be an emerging trend among young women. While the latter undoubtedly share the goals of women before them, there is a growing unease to identify themselves as feminists. She shares, "[There is] resistance to the use of the "F" word [but there are] new waysof describing feminism emerging."
At the moment, Shaw and her colleagues from other organisations are in the process of synthesising the inputs and formulating some analyses from all the data that they gathered from the caravans.