Women slipping back – professor


High unemployment was devastating women’s progress and sending them back to the level of the 1950s and 1960s, Professor Helen Hughes told the Women, Power and Politics conference in Adelaide yesterday.

“Sure, women have become board members and university professors, but so what?” she asked. “That’s not what matters to the majority of women.

“All through Europe, you’ve had greater representation of women, but a high proportion of women has been cut out of the economy, so they’re back to the conditions of the ’50s and ’60s. (The consequences) of this will show up in the next 20 years unless we can fix it.”
Professor Hughes, a fellow at the Institute of Applied Economic and Social Research, said Australia had become a low-wage country with long working hours.

It used to have the third-highest income per person in the world, but had now slipped to 18th. With the recessions, women had “fallen out of the workplace”.

“Women have a lower workforce participation rate here than in most industrialised countries,” she said. But historically, it was only through employment that they got equal rights.

Professor Hughes, who worked with the World Bank for 15 years, said she knew of no country in which women had made gains without economic growth as a precondition.

“I have worked in (international) development for 30 years, and the evidence is that improved health for women, improved access to education, improved income, only come with economic growth as it is formally measured,” she said.

Professor Hughes said the second key to women’s continued advancement was education to equip them for paid work, but she said that “women in Australia and other countries are being denied access to education at the trade level.”

First published in The Age.