Adjournment: International Women’s Day

In Parliament | 09.03.16

Adjournment: International Women’s Day, 8 March 2016

The Hon. PENNY SHARPE [7.13 p.m.]: I speak tonight in recognition of International Women's Day [IWD]. It is a day of celebration, recognition and commemoration of the women in our lives, the women in our community and the women we will never meet. International Women's Day gives all of us an opportunity to focus on the inequality that half the human race, not a minority, experiences each day. The reality is that in Australia today women are worse off in every stage of their lives: girls receive 11 per cent less pocket money than their brothers; female graduates earn 18 per cent less than men; women earn an average of $284.20 less per week than their male counterparts; women spend twice as much time doing unpaid work; 38.7 per cent of single women will retire in poverty; and one in three women will suffer from physical or sexual assault in their lifetimes.

These numbers are sobering. I choose to highlight them rather than sweep them under the carpet in the hope that we can change the present to improve the future for all girls and women. There is a lot of public discussion about women on boards, on decision-making bodies, and in Parliament—they are important discussions. Tonight I want to talk about women in our community who are doing it particularly hard. I want to draw attention to the issues they face and I also want to salute their determination to make the best lives for themselves and their families.

I would like members to reflect on the decisions we make and what action we can take to make the lives of these women a little bit easier, a little bit better and, importantly, a lot fairer. I want us to think about women in prison and their families. There are about 850 women incarcerated in New South Wales. The number of women in prisons has more than quadrupled since 1982. Although women make up only 7.5 per cent of the prison population they are incarcerated at four times the rate of men and within two years 40 per cent of the women released will return to prison. The women in our prisons face challenges that we can only imagine.

Aboriginal women face an even tougher time. The increase in Aboriginal women in custody is 230 per cent compared to a figure for non-indigenous women of 43 per cent. The majority of prisoners come from deeply disadvantaged backgrounds with 78 per cent reporting a history of childhood and adult sexual, emotional or physical abuse. Histories of drug and alcohol abuse, poor education and a lack of family support lead to the shocking statistics that 20 per cent have been admitted to a psychiatric unit and 27 per cent have attempted suicide. Importantly, half of the women in custody have children that are under 16 years old.

Almost two-thirds of women prisoners are sentenced for minor offences and serve less than six months in custody. It should not be beyond the ability of Parliaments to recognise the challenges facing women in prison, or who have left prison, and to do more to support them and their families as they rebuild their lives. I pay tribute to organisations such as Guthrie House, the Women in Prison Advocacy Network and Shine, all of whom provide that support. I call on the Government to provide more resources for them to do their work.

I draw members' attention to the situation of women with disability. Approximately two million women with disability live in Australia—that is one in five women. Women with disability experience disadvantage not just because they have a disability but because they are women. As Stella Young said:

Half of all people with disabilities [in Australia] live near or below the poverty line. Less than 40 per cent of us participate in the workforce.

In fact, Australia ranks last among the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development [OECD] countries when measured on quality of life for people with disability. The peak advocacy group Women With Disabilities Australia makes these sobering points about how this disadvantage is worse for women: women with disabilities experience violence, particularly family violence and violence in institutions; women with disabilities are more vulnerable as victims of crimes from both strangers and people who are known to them, yet crimes against disabled women are often never reported to law enforcement agencies; disabled women are much more likely to live in poverty; women with disabilities are more likely to be sole parents, to be living on their own, or in their parental family; women with disabilities have less financial resources at their disposal and are particularly vulnerable to living in insecure or inadequate housing; and women with disabilities are more likely to face medical interventions to control their fertility. It should not be like this.

The National Disability Insurance Scheme is a major step forward for men and women with disabilities. I call on the Government to ensure that the specific issues for women are being properly acknowledged and addressed through this program. Finally, tonight I want to pay tribute to the trans women I know and the organisations that are advocating on their behalf. To grow up in the wrong body and to undergo the transformation to your true self shows more courage than many of us have. The risk of family rejection, relationship breakdown, bullying, violence, unemployment and subsequent poverty are very real. Trans women face discrimination every day.

The impact of discrimination is cumulative and contributes to figures that show that over half of the trans population have been diagnosed with depression at some point in their lives and 21 per cent have reported thoughts of suicidal ideation or self-harm. Trans people are up to four times more likely to have been diagnosed with depression than the general population. The trans women I am privileged to know are fighting these statistics every day. They inspire me by being out, by being proud and by living their lives on their terms, but importantly they make me recommit to doing what I can to remove the discrimination they face. The law in New South Wales has a long way to go.