ZANETA MASCARENHAS MP
WE NEED MORE THAN AN ICON
THE WEST AUSTRALIAN
SATURDAY 29 JULY 2023
Who would have thought that in 2023 almost 4 million people would tune in to watch a women's soccer game and that a women's soccer player would become a national hero? Sam Kerr is a driving force for change that is demanding more opportunities for women in sports, increased coverage, and greater recognition.
The Matildas have taken the country by storm in this World Cup and continue to exceed expectations. They have sold more jerseys and filled more seats than ever before, yet their pay still lags their male counterparts. The nation held their breath as they heard of Sam Kerr’s injury in round one. On Thursday night, an almost sell-out crowd in Brisbane shared with them the pain of defeat to Nigeria.
Another, more controversial icon, has gripped Australia recently. Barbie has been the biggest movie of the year and the biggest ever opening week for a female director. Australia’s own Margot Robbie is showing the world what Australian women are capable of, as she both stars in and produces the blockbuster.
There is a moment in this film that perhaps brings these disparate events together and tells us something poignant about women in the world today. To paraphrase, Barbie arrives in the real world, and she is stunned, “Where are all the women CEOs, why do men rule this world, didn’t I show you that women could be anything?”
Her unreachable beauty standards and impossible curves aside, Barbie has been quite ahead of the curve. She has always pursued her own career and owned her own car and home. As Director Greta Gerwig observes, “Barbie went to the moon [as an astronaut] before women in America could have credit cards.”
She has even gone into politics; Mattel has sold a ‘President Barbie’ every US election year since 1992. Here Barbie remains ahead; America has never seen a woman president. When that day comes, I am sure we will rejoice as another milestone goes from dreams to a reality.
“You can’t be what you can’t see”, “Nothing about us without us”, “I will not be lectured about sexism and misogyny by this man”. These are wise words, but as Margot Robbie’s character realised women need more than an icon, and the Matildas have shown a team is more than its star player.
Goal setting, policy changes, and structural reform are needed to help Australian women reach their full potential. This means cheaper childcare, closing the gender pay gap, improving workplace culture, and making workplaces safer. It is change that can benefit everyone. Danielle Wood, CEO of the Grattan Institute, reveals that increasing the childcare subsidy would boost GDP by more than twice the budget cost. Because women are typically the lead parent and primary caregiver, access to early childhood education unleashes their economic potential.
Trailblazers, heroes, and icons may inspire, but bringing more women with us demands more. I have been heartened by Australia embracing its most diverse Parliament. My election as the first woman in 101 years to represent Swan made history. Today, 43% of the Federal Parliament are women, and 10 of the 23 Ministers are women.
The culture of workplaces and schools also matters. Thanks to the heroic voices of women like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, Australia went through a national reckoning. The way we respond in a crisis, treat victims, and support workers impacts how safe and welcome women feel. The Jenkins Review gave concrete recommendations, and our government has committed to their implementation.
A similar reckoning is being had here in WA. Our mining industry, in particular FIFO sites, is having a wake-up call. 75% of women working FIFO have reported sexual harassment in the past five years.
This is unacceptable. All workers deserve to have a workplace that is free from bullying and sexual harassment. As an engineer who loved her career in mining, I hope that we see the industry take steps to support its workers and keep them safe.
As we rally behind our Matildas, let's remember that their journey represents more than just a game. It symbolises a brighter future for women in Australia. The conversation may start with heroes, icons, and trailblazers, but it ends with social and economic changes that empower all women.
Zaneta Mascarenhas is the Federal Member for Swan.
0403 953 162 | (08) 9355 0099 (Perth) | [email protected]
IMAGE: DON LINDSAY