International Women's Day: Wednesday 8 March 2023
International Women's Day (IWD) celebrates the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women globally. The day is also a call to action for accelerating women's equality.
For me, these dual aspects of IWD make it particularly powerful, as we pay homage to the successes of women who have achieved so much, and resolve to continue to work towards developing a more equitable future, in which all people are able to thrive.
An example of the tensions between celebrating women’s successes and recognising the obstacles they face can be found in the pioneering achievements of Edith Emily Dornwell. In 1885, Edith was the first woman to graduate at the University of Adelaide. At her graduation, Chancellor Chief Justice Samuel Way said that she had ‘vindicated the right of her sex to compete’, and that she was ‘a perfect wonder of successful mental effort’. However, despite her academic and professional capability, Edith’s career ended when she married, as was the custom of the day.
We have made significant strides forward since Edith’s day. Few Australian women would expect, or accept, their job being terminated on marriage. However, challenges remain. For example, in 2022 the Workplace Gender Equality Agency calculated that Australia's gender pay gap was 22.8%, with women earning an average of $26,596 less than men each year.
On IWD 2023, let us take the time to aspire to a gender equal world, which is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, and commit to working towards a university which is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all students and staff, where our difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality.
In this spirit, Deputy Vice Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic) Jennie Shaw, as well as the Co-Directors of the University’s Fay Gale Centre, Katie Barclay and Pam Papadelos, offer some thoughts about IWD below.
Anne Hewitt, Associate Dean, Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
"On IWD 2023, let us take the time to aspire to a gender equal world, which is free of bias, stereotypes, and discrimination, and commit to working towards a university which is diverse, equitable, and inclusive for all students and staff, where our difference is valued and celebrated. Together we can forge women's equality."Anne Hewitt, Associate Dean, Gender, Equity, Diversity and Inclusion
I join Anne in sharing this call to celebrate - and act - and note it is incumbent on all male colleagues to hear the concerns and learn from the experiences of their female colleagues and students, and also to speak up and act in support of equality. Speaking as a queer scholar, I’d also like to add a call to recognise the full breadth of experience variously gathered under any label.
Andrew van der Vlies, Deputy Dean People and Culture
As we celebrate IWD 2023 with this year's focus on embracing equity, I’m struck by the fact we still have such a long way to travel to achieve that, and, in fact, in some areas we have travelled the wrong way. So, whether that’s supporting the restoration of primary, secondary and tertiary education rights for girls and women in Afghanistan or human rights in the United States, or championing equal pay and equal recognition for female employees in Australia, please encourage others to embrace equity as we celebrate the achievements of our female colleagues, students and alumni and support them to make future change for good.
Professor Jennie Shaw, Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Vice-President (Academic)
IWD has been observed for over a century, and it was designed to draw attention to the limited rights and opportunities given to women when compared to their male counterparts. In 2023, one of the missions promoted by IWD is ‘to forge inclusive work cultures where women’s careers thrive and their achievements are celebrated’. This is a goal shared by many academic women, not least those whose research is dedicated to promoting gender equity. It is particularly important to us as Directors of the Fay Gale Centre for Research on Gender.
The Fay Gale Centre is a cross-faculty, interdisciplinary Research Centre advancing research which recognises the importance of gender and gender equity in all aspects of life. It was founded in 2009 (100 years after the first IWD!) and now has more than 70 members and 35 affiliate members, mostly women. The Centre understands the concept of 'gender' to refer to an overarching socio-cultural variable, which refers to both women and men, and to their power and social status relative to each other. Gender relations are deeply embedded in all aspects of everyday life, and are constantly under negotiation and change. Understanding gender relations at an academic level is thus no simple task. It requires ongoing and complex theoretical and empirical engagement in cross-disciplinary, transnational and comparative contexts.
This is not least the case in relation to workplaces like universities. The Fay Gale Centre has thus always seen itself as having a dual mission – to promote research on gender – and to use that knowledge to improve the position of academic women and minority genders within the academy. Currently, the Centre is sponsoring research projects that include interviewing retired academic women about their careers in the SA universities, reflecting on nearly 50 years of gender equity initiatives, and considering how far we have come and where we’ve got to go. We have a project on feminist mentoring within the academy, looking to offer an alternative to schemes that seek to mould women into a male form, and rather asking how we might promote systems that value alternative ways of thinking about the academic career and the range of contributions that make universities the successes that they are. We are also working to promote ‘gender responsive budgeting’, an economic approach which asks those distributing funds to consider the impact of their investments on gender equity.
Universities, like many large employers, have had to take gender equity seriously. They are often model employers when providing benefits like parental and carer’s leave and in providing flexible working hours. Yet, gender equity, like for society at large, remains an intractable issue. Women remain under-represented amongst managers and in the professoriate. Studies on the distribution of work suggest that women do more ‘service’ work – sitting on committees – and perform more pastoral care of students, tasks that are often poorly rewarded in promotion systems. Academic women are less likely to win large grants to fund their research; they take up less floor-space relative to both their research income and size of staff - they get the small office! Women are still talked over in meetings and have their ideas attributed to other speakers.
Some of these experiences may seem more trivial than others. But for many women, the everyday acts of disrespect are more wearing than the larger, more substantive discrepancies in the distribution of resources. For people of all genders to thrive in their workplaces, their expertise and skills need to be respected and valued, and that is shown through small actions as well as the large.
As Directors of the Fay Gale, we are interested in promoting a culture that enables gender equity. For us, that means going beyond numerical equality to how the university values the contributions of its staff, both male and female. A critical issue for us is that the university was designed with men in mind – male careers are the default way of working and the benchmark against which we measure success. We are interested in asking what a university would look like if we shifted that default to something that accommodated a wider range of pathways and people.
IWD asks us to forge an inclusive work culture where women’s careers thrive and are celebrated, and that is a project that for many of us is as personal as it is political. We welcome those who wish to work with us in making that happen.
Professor Katie Barclay, Head of Historical and Classical Studies and Director of the Fay Gale Centre on Research.
Dr Pam Papadelos, Senior Lecturer in the department of Sociology, Criminology & Gender Studies and Director of the Fay Gale Centre.