On June 24th Australia inherited its first ever female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard. Some have hailed this as a great achievement in the struggle for women’s rights, regardless of the fact that Australian voters had no participation in the event.
While her ascension can be attributed to male factional leaders within the Labor Party, Gillard is undoubtedly a beneficiary of the movements of women around the world that have fought long and hard for equal rights.
This movement argues for women to be judged on their merits, not their gender. In this tradition, it’s only appropriate to hold Gillard to this standard. So, what merit does Gillard have when it comes to the major issues facing women?
When is comes to working women, Gillard has proven she is no friend of workers. She stared down the Australian Education Union in the female dominated education sector during an industrial dispute earlier this year, and has paid mere lip service to the Australian Services Union’s gender pay-parity campaign. As Workplace Relations Minister Gillard implemented the Fair Work Act, legislation that incorporated the worst elements of the much despised WorkChoices legislation of the Howard era.
On the question of childcare, Labor recently reneged on its 2007 election promise to build 260 new childcare centers. The opportunity arose in 2008 with the collapse of ABC Learning, which represented 25 per cent of childcare services in Australia, to bring childcare into public ownership.
Yet the Labor Government has protected the private profiteering of the industry, rather than bringing childcare into public hands democratically run by workers and parents in the interests of families and the community. According to a recent report, 72 per cent of childcare centers in Melbourne cannot accommodate any more children, making childcare unavailable to many families.
For Indigenous women, the Labor-backed NT Intervention has stripped them of the right to control their own lives. Women’s centers have been closed down, basic healthcare remains inaccessible and childcare facilities have been reduced, yet the NT Intervention will continue under Gillard’s reign.
In fact, Labor’s policy of blaming the victim for their social disadvantage has been extended under Gillard’s leadership. Welfare quarantining has now spread to non-Indigenous welfare recipients, including many single mothers receiving income support.
Gillard’s plan for refugee women is to demonise them, traumatise them, and lock them up wherever they cannot access their full rights under international law.
In regards to same-sex attracted women, Gillard has pledged her commitment to continue to deny them the right to marry.
With these new and continuing attacks on working women, single mothers, Indigenous women, lesbians and refugees, it’s impossible to see how the coming to power of Australia’s first female PM is a win for women.
Despite the fact that the three top positions in the Australian government- Head of State, Governor-General and Prime Minister- are all currently held by women, women’s oppression continues on many fronts.
The unfortunate fact is that social equality won’t come through the ballot box. Representatives of the major political parties, whether Labor or Liberal, male or female, do not represent the interests of ordinary people. Gillard’s policy shifts since becoming PM have been designed to appease big business and divert attention away from real attacks on people’s living standards in the context of economic instability.
What women need is not a female PM dedicated to the continuation of attacks against women as workers, mothers, lovers or ethnic minorities, but a movement of women and men demanding equality in every aspect of our lives.
The fight for equality is the fight for a society where the needs of all are met, regardless of gender, race, nationality, sexual preference or religion. The struggle for women’s rights is the struggle for socialism.