Top 15: Melanie Brash

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Analyse gender equality in your community. Should more be done to empower women?

Author: Melanie Brash

Community: Armidale, NSW

Age: 17

Imagine how proud Bella Gruerin, the first female university graduate in Australia in 1883, would be to find out that in 2012, university graduation numbers had increased to nearly 195,000 graduates, of whom 60 per cent were female. Women now outnumber men from bachelor degrees to the top doctoral peaks, and they are also the majority in seven of the 10 main subject areas including biosciences, psychology, law and business and management studies. Now imagine Bella’s dismay to learn that women still only account for 45 per cent of the workforce, only a ten percent increase in the past 25 years. So if women are generally more qualified, then why do they still make up the minority in the workforce?

The positive surge in women pursuing careers is promising, but it’s obvious that we can’t assume that everything is alright as it stands. There are some key reasons that women have not yet reached equality in the workforce. First of all, many women prefer to stay at home and look after their families, which is fine if it suits them. Additionally, many women are forced to stay home full-time, because they can’t find jobs that will give them hours they need so they still have time to look after their families. Finally, it is still quite hard for women to enter typically male-dominated fields, such as information technology, architecture and engineering.

The recent government proposal to increase education fees will discourage women from further education. It’s going to be hard enough to pay off the higher fees as it is, but if women need to take time off  work to have children and look after their families, then it will add another burden on their shoulders that will just keep getting bigger with interest as time goes by. For a lot of women, the choice will be between having a family and getting a degree; a choice where either consequence will adversely affect our local communities. We could end up with a lot of unemployed women with no university degrees or jobs but with lots of kids to feed, or lots of highly educated women with no children.

Living in a rural university town, it’s easy to see the benefits that come with a degree, not only for the individual but also for the community. It helps people advance their careers and generate an income, and also enables them to have a greater contribution to society by using their advanced skills. It would be a shame to see women not reaching their full potential because they won’t be able to pay their own way. Everything that Bella Gruerin worked for would go to waste.

The government must play a vital role in closing the gender equality gap by keeping what is so positive about our education system – keeping fees low. It will help encourage women to get a qualification, which will hopefully lead to a job. They also need to improve the pay gap between men and women to continue encouragement, and support workplaces that employ with flexible hours to show that it is possible for women to have a family and have a good job. If Bella Gruerin first achieved the ‘dream’ back in 1883, why can’t women have it today?