Winner 2017: Vanessa Vu
Name: Vanessa Vu
Community, State: Renmark, SA
School: Renmark High School
Age, Grade: Aged 18, Grade 12
Bio: Click here
From primary school to Prime Minister, how can we create strong pathways to power for women?
In modern Australia, the average woman still earns 18.2% less than the average man. One cause of this injustice is the discrimination preventing women from accessing the highest-earning careers. In the largest companies in Australia, the ASX200, the Australian Human Rights Commission reported that in 2016 women comprised only 23.6% of board members. Inequality extends to the greatest institution of power in our society, the government itself. According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union, Australia ranks 50th globally for parliamentary equality, with women making up merely 28.7% of our national parliament. Despite many dismissing feminist issues as no longer relevant, this represents a sharp decline from our rank of 15th in 1999. Even though some progress has been made, we cannot become complacent.
Women still face discouragement when attempting to enter many male-dominated careers, gradually wearing down their ambitions. All too often raising children is seen as the responsibility of women, with men spending less than half the amount of time looking after children. Women then face the dilemma of having to choose between career and family, where many suffer workplace discrimination due to pregnancies.
This lack of opportunities for women means many individuals with great potential fail to be recognised, and a culture which is hostile to new perspectives will inevitably result in stagnation. To quote the heroic feminist Malala Yousafzai, “We cannot succeed when half of us are held back”. Numerous studies demonstrate that gender diverse teams are more effective, while greater representation for women in parliament would also allow government to better represent Australia as a whole, ensuring issues affecting women are given equal consideration.
While the lack of pathways to power for women is a complex societal issue, there are some initiatives which may further narrow the gender gap. A key step is to better educate young Australians about potentially harmful public norms. The idea that the role of women is to maintain the household while men serve as ‘breadwinners’ results in many being discouraged from pursuing male-dominated careers. Everyone should feel empowered to determine their own path, regardless of gender. Women would benefit from additional support through mentors and role-models, especially in rural communities.
In the sphere of politics, the introduction of structured mentoring programs with merit-based selection would potentially create opportunities for women who lack the networking afforded to men. Ultimately, even small actions of many can create powerful change so it is imperative to get as many people involved as possible. Together, we can ensure all Australians have the opportunity to pursue their dreams without fear.