Women in Australia
Australian women having tea on a verandah in 1910
|Gender Inequality Index|
|Rank||19th out of 152|
|Maternal mortality (per 100,000)||7 (2010)|
|Women in parliament||29.2% (2013)|
|Females over 25 with secondary education||94.3% (2012)|
|Women in labour force||58.8% (2012)|
|Global Gender Gap Index|
|Rank||24th out of 144|
|Women in society|
Women in Australia have been described as to be "more independent and self-reliant than those in some other countries". They have rights, status and opportunities that are conferred to Australian men. Historically, a masculine bias has dominated Australian culture.
Early colonial administrations were anxious to address the gender imbalance in the population brought about by the importation of large numbers of convict men. Between 1788 and 1792, around 3546 male to 766 female convicts were landed at Sydney. Women came to play an important role in education and welfare during colonial times. Governor Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth Macquarie took an interest in convict women's welfare. Her contemporary Elizabeth Macarthur was noted for her 'feminine strength' in assisting the establishment of the Australian merino wool industry during her husband John Macarthur's enforced absence from the colony following the Rum Rebellion.
The Catholic Sisters of Charity arriving in 1838 and set about pastoral care in a women's prison, visiting hospitals and schools and establishing employment for convict women. They established hospitals in four of the eastern states, beginning with St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney in 1857 as a free hospital for all people, but especially for the poor. Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877) established a migrant women's shelter and worked for women's welfare in the colonies in the 1840s. Her humanitarian efforts later won her fame in England and great influence in achieving support for families in the colony. Sydney's first Catholic Bishop, John Bede Polding founded an Australian order of nuns—the Sisters of the Good Samaritan—in 1857 to work in education and social work. The Sisters of St Joseph, were founded in South Australia by Saint Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods in 1867. MacKillop travelled throughout Australasia and established schools, convents and charitable institutions. She was canonised by Benedict XVI in 2010, becoming the first Australian to be so honoured by the Catholic Church.
Women energetically participated in the war effort, with few signs of defeatism or resistance to government policies. In 1922, the Country Women's Association was formed with the intention to improve the lives of women in rural Australia. It has since expanded to become the largest women's organisation in the country.
In 1974, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration granted women the full adult wage. However, resistance to women being employed in certain industries remained until well into the 1970s. Because of obstruction from elements of the Unions movement, it would take until 1975 for women to be admitted as drivers on Melbourne's trams, and Sir Reginald Ansett refused to allow women to train as pilots as late as 1979.
Australia had led the world in bringing women's suffrage rights during the late 19th century. Propertied women in the colony of South Australia were granted the vote in local elections (but not parliamentary elections) in 1861. Henrietta Dugdale formed the first Australian women's suffrage society in Melbourne in 1884. Women became eligible to vote for the Parliament of South Australia in 1895. This was the first legislation in the world permitting women also to stand for election to political office and, in 1897, Catherine Helen Spence became the first female political candidate for political office, unsuccessfully standing for election as a delegate to the Federal Convention on Australian Federation. Western Australia granted voting rights to women in 1899.
Edith Cowan was elected to the West Australian Legislative Assembly in 1921. Dame Enid Lyons, was the first woman to hold a Cabinet post in the 1949 ministry of Robert Menzies and finally, Rosemary Follett was elected Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory in 1989, becoming the first woman elected to lead a state or territory. By 2010, the people of Australia's oldest city, Sydney had female leaders occupying every major political office above them, with Clover Moore as Lord Mayor, Kristina Keneally as Premier of New South Wales, Marie Bashir as Governor of New South Wales, Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, Quentin Bryce as Governor-General of Australia and Elizabeth II as Queen of Australia.
Up until the 1960s the Australian national character was typically masculine. Only in more recent decades has attention been paid to the role and marginal status of women and minority groups. One of the earliest studies on the role of women in Australian culture was conducted by Miriam Dixson in her 1975 study, The Real Matilda. Dixson concluded that there was deep contempt for women in the Australian ethos and that the only role for women was within the family.
Marilyn Lake argues that the first stage of women's history in the 1970s demonstrated an angry tone, with a revolutionary critique that reflected its close connections with the women's liberation movement. By the late 20th century, women's history was less strident and more thoroughly integrated into social history and labor history. In the 21st century, the emphasis has turned to a broader horizon of "gender relations", which includes such concepts as femininity and masculinity.
- Convict women in Australia
- List of Australian sportswomen
- Women and government in Australia
- Women in the Australian military
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