Legislative Council: Thursday, March 21, 2024


International Women's Day

Adjourned debate on motion of Hon. M. El Dannawi:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 8 March is International Women's Day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women;

2. Notes this year's theme 'Inspire Inclusion' recognises the need to ensure that all women and girls are included to equally and actively participate in our economy and in every aspect of community life;

3. Acknowledges the need to continue to tackle gender stereotypes, call out discrimination and draw attention to bias; and

4. Commits to doing whatever it can to work towards preventing and ending sexism, harassment, violence and abuse of women in all its forms and to advancing the status of women and girls everywhere.

(Continued from 7 March 2024.)

The Hon. J.M.A. LENSINK (16:57): I rise to make comments in support of this motion and to thank the honourable member for bringing it to the chamber. We all, particularly those of us who are female members of parliament, are very well aware of International Women's Day and the importance of marking that day. It does have quite a history in terms of having a role to ensure that women experience gender equity and gender equality in all ways of life. I do note and support the clauses in the motion and would like to thank all of the committees and volunteers who organise so many events for International Women's Day.

There was an event at Government House which I was not able to make it to because I attended the big breakfast which is organised every year by the office and the committee of Senator the Hon. Penny Wong. That is a very well attended breakfast, increasingly by schoolchildren so that they can hear the stories. It is also a wonderful event to catch up with so many of our friends in various areas whether it is through the organisations we belong to such as Zonta or Business and Professional Women's Foundation, or women whom we know from Adelaide being Adelaide with two degrees of separation. I thank everybody who is involved in putting on those wonderful events.

Of course, there is a serious nature to the celebration of International Women's Day. As I think I heard someone say at one of the events, it is not about sharing cupcakes, it is actually about promoting equality of women, so I just wish to, in my contribution, state that I have enjoyed having the status of women role for many years, both in opposition and in government, and to put on the record some of the many things that we did to advance equality for women. We have had a strong record over many years. The Hon. Diana Laidlaw was a particularly well-known advocate for women's rights, and she continues to be.

In the Marshall Liberal government, we had a comprehensive suite of initiatives. We introduced the South Australian Women Economic Security and Leadership Strategy 2020-23 to underpin our strongly held belief in choice for women. Gender equality in the workplace, and other areas of life, is key for women in a general sense, but as we know, women are subjected to very high levels of sexual harassment and domestic and family violence and sexual violence, so equality in the workplace and in economic security is one of those areas in which women are provided with choices not to have to continue to be in those places that are not supportive of them. If women have economic security then it makes it easier for them to leave a domestic violence situation.

The campaign theme for International Women's Day 2024 is Inspire Inclusion, and this is very much to appreciate the diversity of all women. As I think we heard at the breakfast once again, and it has been part of well-known management theory for decades globally, inclusion and diversity lead to better decision-making in organisations and a more inclusive society. That means that everyone is able to participate. Also, of course, we want to ensure that wherever women are, whatever choices they make, they are able to thrive safely.

In our strategy that I mentioned, we implemented employment entrepreneurship, leadership recognition and financial wellbeing, and we promoted women's participation and leadership through the high-tech sector through partnering, and promoted opportunities to increase women's participation in apprenticeships, traineeships, construction and STEAM. We increased leadership opportunities and platforms for recognition of women and leaders of all ages, promoted and encouraged flexible workplaces, and worked across government to address the gender pay gap. I note that under the term of the Marshall Liberal government South Australia had the lowest gender pay gap that it has ever had, and we were nationally the best. That position has since deteriorated.

We promoted and encouraged paid domestic and family violence leave for women to stay connected to employment and, in terms of economic participation, we had a strategy with the Department for Innovation and Skills to break down a lot of those barriers in non-traditional areas. Indeed, I remember talking to one of the trainees, who I think was a chippie, who was part of this program and who was very keen on one day—she was quite young; I think 23—having her own business, which is something that I think is to be commended.

We are very familiar with women entering traditional areas such as early childhood, health, and care areas, but we need women to be involved in all aspects of employment to ensure that they have the choices that everyone deserves.

We did a lot of work in the domestic and family violence space, which I think has been acknowledged. In one instance in 2021, we put out a media release and lined everything up. It is actually 3½ pages, so people will appreciate that I am not going to read the whole thing, but for anyone who is interested in reading that release it is from Tuesday 4 May 2021 and it says, 'What the Marshall Liberal government is doing to address domestic and family violence'.

There were a number of legislative reform measures which were under the carriage of our Attorney-General, Vickie Chapman, such as the expansion of the definition of abuse and increased penalties for repeat and violent offenders, amendments to the Sentencing Act, amendments to the Victims of Crime Act and the abolition of the defence of provocation.

We had a number of programs, which led to record funding of some $21 million in addition to what had taken place before. These included the early intervention impacts of violence on children program; the Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme, which has been quite groundbreaking; funding to keep victims of domestic and family violence informed; funding for Relationships Australia to provide counselling services; funding for the Commissioner for Victims' Rights to support victims through the court process; and the Family Safety Framework, which has existed for some time but allows for the sharing and safety planning for high-risk victims of domestic and family violence.

We extended funding for the Domestic Violence Crisis Line, which had previously operated nine to five. Our funding enabled that to operate when victims really need it, which is at any hour of the day or night. There was funding for Yarrow Place to provide specialist counselling and health responses to those impacted by rape and sexual assault. The Domestic Violence Court Assistance Service also received funding.

Forty new crisis accommodation beds were funded, which was quite novel and enabled women to escape from violent situations very quickly because those beds were set aside. They included nine set aside for perpetrators, so that women and children could stay in the family home while the perpetrator was removed.

There was funding for a new domestic violence app, which I think has been re-funded under the current government. There was funding for the first time for the peak body, which was known initially as the South Australian Coalition of Women's Domestic Violence Services and is now known as Embolden. There was funding to support 10 safety hubs in regional areas. That was to extend people's understanding of what domestic violence is, so that they might actually be able to get services and support.

Funding was provided for the incredibly important national sexual violence prevention program, Stop it at the Start. Funding of a $5 million interest-free loan went to the YWCA for them to develop new housing. Ask Angela was a program with the Hotels Association so that women who might be experiencing sexual harassment could talk to the staff and ask for Angela, and the staff would instantly know that that woman was experiencing unwanted sexual harassment and would provide her with a safe passage. We released Committed to Safety, which was a whole-of-government policy designed to address domestic, family and sexual violence in South Australia.

There are other programs that I could also mention, but we are very proud of the record that we have in terms of all the programs that we provided for women across the spectrum. In relation to the royal commission, we welcome the appointment of Natasha Stott Despoja AO to lead that commission, given her deep experience in this area and advocacy over many years. I support the motion.

The Hon. N.J. CENTOFANTI (Leader of the Opposition) (17:09): I rise in support of this motion put forward by the honourable member. International Women's Day for many represents a celebration of progress and empowerment, yet as a conservative woman my perspective may deviate from the mainstream narrative. While I acknowledge the strides made in advancing women's rights, I also recognise the importance of everlasting values and roles within society.

For me, International Women's Day serves as a reminder of the unique contributions women make within the framework of family, business and community. It is not solely about breaking glass ceilings or shattering stereotypes, it is also about honouring the inherent dignity and worth of women in their various roles. In an era when feminism often promotes a one-size-fits-all approach to womanhood, I advocate for the freedom to choose one's past, whether it aligns with traditional gender roles or ventures into uncharted territories.

Yes, I am extremely proud to be the Leader of the Opposition in the Legislative Council, but that is of no more worth than any of the other hats I have worn—as a veterinarian, as the wife of a Navy man who was in the Iraq war or as a mother. True empowerment comes from embracing diversity of thought and lifestyle choices rather than conforming to a singular ideology.

Moreover, International Women's Day should prompt discussions on how to support all women. It is about fostering inclusivity and understanding even amidst differing viewpoints. In essence, I recognise the importance of International Women's Day as a platform to celebrate the diverse experiences and contributions of women worldwide, irrespective of their ideological affiliations.

I would like to cycle back to something I said just a moment ago—that true empowerment comes from embracing diversity of thought and lifestyle choices. We must support and lift women who are doing it tough. The equality model of prostitution law is considered pro-feminist, because prostitution and trafficking are internationally recognised by many pro-feminist groups and socialist movements as a form of gender-based violence and exploitation.

The fourth line of the honourable member's motion calls for a commitment to preventing and ending sexism, harassment, violence and abuse of women in all of its forms, and I could not agree more wholeheartedly. We must support models that shift our culture away from seeing women's bodies as commodities to be bought and sold, and we must find mechanisms which strip away demand for the abhorrent exploitation of trafficking and prostitution.

International Women's Day is an opportunity to acknowledge the good, meaningful role women can, should and do play in our society, and by acknowledging and addressing the root causes of gender-based inequality we can combat systemic oppression and promote dignity and autonomy for all individuals.

International Women's Day serves as a global platform to amplify women's voices, celebrate their achievements and advocate for gender equality across all spheres of life. As a proud mother, wife, professional and political leader, I know women can do anything through conscious empowerment, through grace and with the community we serve at the centre.

The Hon. J.S. LEE (Deputy Leader of the Opposition) (17:13): I rise to indicate my support for the Hon. Mira El Dannawi's motion to acknowledge International Women's Day and to celebrate the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women from all cultural backgrounds and all walks of life.

While Inspire Inclusion has been highlighted as the theme in this motion, the United Nations has published its 2024 theme to be: Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress. Both themes have been used by different organisations in South Australia at various events and are equally powerful. It is great to recognise the importance of investing in women, championing inclusion, communities, organisations and public institutions, including parliament.

Over the years, I have had the pleasure to attend many women-led and women-focused events that celebrate International Women's Day. As shadow minister for multicultural South Australia, I am grateful to be invited to support many International Women's Day events celebrating women from multicultural backgrounds.

Women, especially those belonging to under-represented groups and marginalised communities, continue to face barriers when seeking employment opportunities or are in leadership roles. The first IWD event I attended was at the Australian Migrant Resource Centre. I thank AMRC for hosting an International Women's Day forum with a focus on migrant and refugee women's voices for economic empowerment. The forum brought together many distinguished guests, community leaders and panellists to shape the discussion of empowerment, inspiration and meaningful dialogue.

I was pleased to see the Hon. Mira El Dannawi represent the minister there. I want to express my thanks to the amazing AMRC team for their hard work and dedication to managing another successful International Women's Day forum. I was very moved by the letter of appreciation sent to me by Ms Mirsia Bunjaku, Chief Executive of AMRC, after the forum. It was very humbling to receive such a beautiful note. I would like to read and quote the contents of the letter:

Dear Jing,

I am writing on behalf of the Australian Migrant Resource Centre to express our sincere gratitude for your invaluable contribution to our recent International Women's Day (IWD) event.

Your willingness to share your personal journey as a migrant woman, along with your insights and experiences, left a profound impact on everyone in attendance.

Your story served as a powerful reminder of the resilience, strength and determination of women, especially those who navigate the challenges of migration and cultural adaptation.

By sharing your personal story and insights, you not only enriched the event but also ignited a sense of empowerment and solidarity among the audience.

I am sure we all come into this place to make a difference and to represent the people of South Australia and to do so with the best intentions and to the best of our abilities. It is very humbling to be recognised in such a lovely way when it is least expected. I thank Mirsia and the AMRC team for their outstanding work and look forward to continuing to work closely with them on many economic empowerment programs for women.

The second IWD event I attended was a UN Women's International Day breakfast. The UN women's breakfast event was attended by a record crowd of over 3,000 guests this year, with guest speaker Annabel Crabb. I had the pleasure to join the table of Lidia Moretti, the President of the United Nations Australia Association (South Australia Branch), along with many members. It was great to see the support by many parliamentary colleagues, including the Hon. Michelle Lensink, our shadow minister and former minister for women, who has long been an advocate for gender equality and is a consistent fixture at many events for International Women's Day.

The third IWD event I had the pleasure to attend this year was a Radio Italiana 531 International Women's Day gala dinner. The Radio Italiana dinner encourages South Australian Italian women to celebrate, reflect and highlight the achievements and journey of Italian-Australian women. Radio Italiana embraced the theme Inspire Inclusion, which emphasised the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society. The theme underscores a theme of inclusion in achieving gender equality and calls for action to break down barriers, challenge stereotypes and create environments where all women are valued and respected.

It was a great honour to be invited to speak at that event, and I took the opportunity to emphasise the letter 'I' in my speech. I asked the audience to think about all the positive words starting with 'I' and put those words in front of women, so we would have international women, Italian women (for that event), inspiring women, inclusive women, innovative women, independent women, imaginative women, inspirational women, intelligent women, incredible women, and so on.

I mentioned that women tend not to think about 'I'. The notion of 'me, myself and I' is not a concept for most of the women I know, particularly with women from multicultural backgrounds. I know that my grandmother, my mum and my mother-in-law have always put their husband, their children, their families and their community ahead of themselves. From the reactions I saw and from the feedback I heard on the night, a roomful of woman guests at the Radio Italiana event resonated with my experience.

In my speech I encouraged women to put the 'I' back into their lives. I called on them to start looking after themselves better so that they are in good health and have the strength, energy, clarity, mental capacity and calmness to look after those people they care about.

It was great to hear about the inspirational journeys and moving personal stories of two exceptional guest speakers, Professor Marinella Marmo and singer Claudia Migliaccio. Rosa Matto, who is the Governor's Multicultural Award winner this year, was a most eloquent, articulate and charming facilitator during the panel discussion. Well done to Rosa and the panel speakers. A special thanks to Eleonora Finoia, Toni Cocchiaro OAM and Josie Belperio, who are on the Radio Italiana organising committee, for doing a remarkable job putting the IWD dinner together. Congratulations to all involved for making the IWD dinner into such a fun and successful evening.

The last event I would like to highlight today is the Multicultural Communities Council of SA Quiet Achievers Awards presentation for International Women's Day. It was held at Adelaide Town Hall on 15 March. MCCSA's Quiet Achievers Awards began in 2018 and have been held biennially to recognise a select group of women from multicultural communities across South Australia. The awards shine a spotlight on the many well-deserving quiet achievers who contribute above and beyond to their respective communities. We thank them for working relentlessly to give back.

This year, 10 fantastic women were presented the award, recognising their contributions. This list of women includes Ana Lucia Marques Britto, from the Brazilian Association of South Australia; Dayawati Pandey, fondly known as Daya Aunty, who at 74 years old is doing a great job as a volunteer for the Saraswati Community School; Helen Johanna Carvajal Rodriguez, from Colombian Community Adelaide; Jozefina Datko, from the Slovak Club of SA; Krystyna Andrecki, from the Polish Hill River Church Museum; Luma Alhammouri, from the Palestinian Community Association; Luz Estrella Avila, from the Hispanic Women's Association; Professor Marinella Marmo, from the Com.It.Es Italian community; Tatiana Chechurova, who is doing a great job for MCCSA's Ageing Well program for senior Russian-speaking women; and Violeta Leslie, who has worked as a volunteer and is a great leader for the Filipino community, including Filipino radio.

Congratulations again to the 10 wonderful women, and thank you for your contributions to serve the community. Also, I express my thanks to MCCSA Chairperson, Miriam Cocking; MCCSA CEO, Helena Kyriazopoulos OAM; and the team, especially Lena Gasparyan, for their outstanding hard work. The many celebrations and events that are held every year for International Women's Day in South Australia demonstrate the great, wonderful impacts that women have on our society. With those remarks, I thank the honourable member for moving this motion and am delighted to support it.

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:22): I rise on behalf of the Greens to support this motion:

That this council—

1. Acknowledges that 8 March is International Women's Day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women;

2. Notes this year's theme 'Inspire Inclusion' recognises the need to ensure that all women and girls are included to equally and actively participate in our economy and in every aspect of community life;

3. Acknowledges the need to continue to tackle gender stereotypes, call out discrimination and draw attention to bias; and

4. Commits to doing whatever it can to work towards preventing and ending sexism, harassment, violence and abuse of women in all its forms and to advancing the status of women and girls everywhere.

We celebrate all women in their diversities. We embrace their facets and intersections of faith, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual identity or disability. We celebrate those who came before us, those who stand beside us now and those who will come after. It is time to celebrate the achievements of women, whether they be social, political, economic or cultural. International Women's Day emerged, however, from the labour movements of the 20th century. Here in Australia, we even had an International Women's Year, and in 1972 then Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had his own special adviser for women and children.

International Women's Day was recognised for the first time by the United Nations in 1977 and was meant not only to promote female suffrage but fairer legislation for working women, social assistance for mothers, equal treatment of single mothers and the provision of early childhood education and international solidarity with women across the globe. However, at the current rate of progress, it will take 131 years more to reach full gender parity, according to the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report 2023. This year, the UN Women Australia's theme for IWD is Inspire Inclusion, imagining a world free of bias, stereotypes and discrimination. Sadly, it is a world we still have to imagine.

Gender equality continues to be one of the greatest human rights challenges, despite evidence outlining how it will improve society, the economy and protect the future of our planet. UN Women explains that globally women are paid less than men, are less likely to be working in that paid work and when they do work it is actually more likely to be informal and vulnerable employment. Women, of course, also undertake a higher proportion of unpaid care and domestic work.

In 2023, the World Bank reported that an estimated 2.4 billion women of working age lived in economies that did not grant them the same rights as men. One of the key challenges in achieving gender equality by 2030 is an alarming lack of financing, with a staggering equivalent of a $US360 billion annual deficit in spending on gender equality measures. In a world that is facing multiple crises that are putting immense pressure on our communities, achieving gender equality is more vital than ever. Ensuring women's and girls' rights across all aspects of life is only one way to secure prosperous and just economies and a healthy planet for future generations.

The Greens are fighting for this. We are implementing a number of policies right across the country and here in South Australia that will address gender disparity, including:

full funding for frontline crisis response services and primary intervention;

addressing the housing crisis;

ensuring equal pay for equal work;

securing a Senate inquiry into menopause and perimenopause to understand the health and economic impacts on those who menstruate;

legislating protections for the right to request flexible workplaces;

extending paid parental leave with superannuation contributions and superannuation reforms more broadly for a fairer retirement; and

affordable and accessible early childhood education for all.

But in light of what we already have, does IWD still matter? Well, if equality is the destination, we are not there yet and in this matter the destination is actually far more important than the journey. With 131 years to go, I think it is time to say, 'Are we there yet?' and speed it up a little.

Back in 1911, only eight countries allowed women to vote, equal pay for equal work was unheard of and that was if women were allowed to do paid work at all, and of course reproductive rights were barely talked of and almost non-existent. We have come a long way. Whereas once women did not have suffrage, we are now actually leading countries as prime ministers, as premiers and as leaders.

We are equal in number in this particular council chamber. Regardless of which woman gets elected on Saturday in the Dunstan by-election, it will be a woman and I welcome that, but I note that in the other place we are still only at around one-third of the members in that place being women.

Where we once faced restrictions on where we could work or if we married whether we could keep our jobs, we are now running corporations. We are now afforded far more equality and in countries such as ours we have rights that our grandmothers could only have dreamed about. But we still do not have complete equality and the majority of the world's women are nowhere near as close to that goal as we are. More than 100 years ago, that first march was about ending harmful workplace conditions, for equal rights and equal pay, and an end to exploitation. Sadly, those aims are relevant still today.

The Hon. Nicola Centofanti spoke about sex work, which is a debate that I think will not go away from this place until we see some reform. Without reflecting on the bill that is currently before this parliament, I will reflect that we lost Stormy Summers, a well-known brothel manager, or madam, who once ran for Lord Mayor of the City of Adelaide to raise the profile of the issue of legalising sex work many decades ago.

Stormy Summers came in the last time we saw sex work decriminalisation reach a vote in the House of Assembly chamber, to watch that piece of legislation, which had passed this chamber, fail by just a handful of votes in the other place. She was devastated. As a woman who has passed away this week in her late 70s, I am sure she thought that in her lifetime she would see sex workers treated with human rights, work under laws that gave them workplace safety and respect, and remove the police as the regulators of that workplace rather than the appropriate safety regulators, as exist in other industries, for adult consensual sex work.

A woman's right to agency and autonomy is a fundamental human right. To deny women that right, to deny women that choice is the antithesis of feminism, and that is why so many feminist groups actually support the decriminalisation of sex work. I note that those are the groups—whether they be Zonta, the BPW, the YWCA, or indeed the health groups that advocate for decriminalisation of sex work, or the human rights groups such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that advocate for decriminalisation of sex work—that are actually at the rallies, that are there, day in day out, that are not afraid to call themselves feminists from day to day.

They turn up and stand up not only for their own rights but for others' rights as well because if you touch one, you touch all, as the Perfection Fresh workers are currently finding as they take their cases of sexual harassment through our courts with the solidarity of the union movement behind them and the women's movement and the human rights movement.

On that note, International Women's Day is a time to reflect, regroup, recalibrate and take stock of what we still have to do. With that, I commend the Hon. Mira El Dannawi for moving this motion, for reminding us of the importance of International Women's Day and reflecting on what we have yet to achieve.

The Hon. M. EL DANNAWI (17:32): I would like to thank the Hon. Michelle Lensink, the Hon. Nicola Centofanti, the Hon. Jing Lee and the Hon. Tammy Franks for their contributions. I would also like to thank them for the individual contribution they have made and continue to make to advancing the cause of gender equality and their advocacy for preventing family and domestic violence.

It is a fair judgement to say that there is a direct link between the undervaluing of women in all areas of society and the violence and disrespect that they suffer. We have seen this in the statistics of domestic violence and the gender equality report. As I said in my initial speech, the cause of gender equality is one we must all commit ourselves to. Both men and women, regardless of our political alignment, have a role to play. I look forward to continuing the fight for women's equality with all of you. I commend the motion.

Motion carried.