During the 1970s, the influence of women liberationists in the education department and the teacher’s unions resulted in a focus on the education of females and the type of subjects and textbooks utilized in schools. Women demanded more opportunities to gain a tertiary education, attempting to break down the traditional path of finding a job and then acting as housewife after marriage. This resulted in an increased demand for childcare services which would enable women to pursue careers away from the house. The Women’s Liberation Movement demanded that the Australian government was required to encourage women to break traditional ideology of being a housewife and pursue careers. The women liberationists also demanded for refuges and halfway houses to protect children and women from assault and violence.
The Women’s Liberation Movement was able to change language to be less discriminate as their influence on the Australian society increased. At the time, language implied that women were inferior and weaker in comparison to men. It was significant to women that language used in society would not contain discriminatory bias. Women also demanded that all masculine centred language should be ceased to be used and be replaced with gender neutral language. This included replacing gender titles such as ‘chairman’ with non-gender titles such as ‘chairperson’. Women also challenged and questioned terms in texts, such as ‘mankind’, ‘man-made’ and ‘early man’. Many other terms such as ’spinster’, ‘chick’ and’ housewife’ were deemed as inappropriate and intolerable. The women’s liberationists argued that such language denied the experience and contribution of women to human history. Women’s liberationists went as far as to demand to rewrite history to better reflect the role of women in history.
The Whitlam Labour government which came to office in December 1972 was responsive to growing demand to investigate women’s issues. This was evident through Whitlam’s opening speech in the election campaign in Blacktown, Sydney which was addressed to ‘men and women of Australia’, a clear indication of the Whitlam government’s commitment to include women and women’s issues in the goals of the Labor Party, to ‘liberate talents and lift horizons’ of all Australians.
The Whitlam government’s decision to abolish university fees and to increase government spending on education aided the Women’s Liberation Movement. University education was considered expensive, resulting in parents preferring to give the opportunity of university education to their sons as it was deemed a waste of time for women to complete university courses. The abolition of university fees broke down the cost barrier that restricted many women from pursuing university education which ultimately resulted in women challenging traditional roles, to pursue a university degree. Many laws have been passed since the1970s to protect and benefit the status of women.
The laws include:
• The Maternity Leave Act (1973) granted women the right to both work and have children. This law protected the employment of women in the Commonwealth Public Service sector and provided them twelve months unpaid maternity leave. The Maternity Leave Act assured women that their employment would be protected if they chose to re-enter the workforce. The concept of maternity leave applied to most employment in the Australia by the 1970s.
• The Family Law Act (1975) established the concept of ‘no fault’ divorce, allowing divorce to be settled without declaration of liability or responsibility by either party. This law removed the social stigma of the guilty wife, which society imposed on divorced women. As a consequence of the Family Law Act (1975), women were able to fairly pursue the right o obtain property from the marriage or contest for custody of the children.
• The Anti-Discrimination Act (June 1977), abolished discrimination on the grounds of race, sex and marital status. This law opened positions of employment to women that were otherwise restricted to them. The Act also set up an Anti-Discrimination Board which investigated complaints. The Board played a significant role in preventing employers from discriminating against married or single women.
• The Equality of Status Children’s Act (December 1977), granted legal status to children born outside of marriage.
• The Sex Discrimination Act (1984), aspired further towards ending discrimination against women. The Act made it illegal to discriminate in the workplace against women due to her sex, marital status or pregnancy.
• The Equal Opportunity for Women Act (1986), introduced the concept of affirmative action. The law aspires ‘to identify and remove any barriers which may prelude women from appointment or promotion to a full range of jobs which are in the Australian workplace. The concept of affirmative action caused controversy because it was perceived as a form of positive or reserve discrimination. Many men perceived affirmative action as form of discrimination against them.
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