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Social issues

Modern World, Medieval Prejudices

The world may be moving forward, but in matters of social progress, Australia is falling behind the pack.

– by Kate Oatley

In many areas, Australia is at the front of the pack in terms of progress. Sadly, a rearing up of old prejudices in the past few years shows that this is not always the case.

The fight for gender equality has been continuing for decades, but over the past few years, complacency has seen the situation get worse rather than better. 2015 saw the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, a document described as “the most progressive blueprint for advancing women’s rights” we have ever had. With last year a time for reflection, we realised something disturbing. Of the 189 nations, including Australia, only ten countries have a female head of state, fourteen have a female head of government, and only one fifth of the world’s parliaments are made up of women.

Australia is no closer to equality, despite our outward perception of being a progressive country. The gender pay gap is worse than it was in 1995 when the declaration was signed. Reported rates of violence against women and murder by intimate partners is increasing, few of our women are leaders, and men still dominate editorial positions in the media.

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Perhaps the most worrying sign of the regression of gender equality is the head of United Nations Women’s response when she was asked about re-opening the discussion of the Beijing Declaration. Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka revealed that if the Beijing Platform for Action were reopened, we would likely lose some of the rights enshrined in the Declaration.

The situation is no better when we look at racism, an issue Australia has been dealing with since its Foundation. 85% of people believe racism is still an issue in Australia, and 20% of people have experienced racism, with 6% being physically attacked. With groups like Reclaim Australia growing in popularity and the argument around asylum seekers and immigrants continuing to heat up, it’s no surprise that those born overseas are twice as likely to experience racism in the Australian workforce.

Australia’s “best friend” (to quote Abbott) America has also failed in their attempts to curb racism. News that police have killed yet another unarmed black man for insubstantial reasons dominates the news. Policeman George Zimmerman shot Treyvon Martin in February of 2012 because he was described as looking suspicious, wearing a hooded jacket as he walked down the street.

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LGBT rights have not come much further, either. We cannot forget the moment Australia came so close to historic progress, passing the 2013 Marriage Equality (Same Sex) Act. The bill allowed same sex couples to marry from 7th December that year, only to be deemed unconstitutional by the High Court five days later after a Federal Parliament challenge. When Bill Shorten attempted to re-introduce same sex marriage bill into parliament last year, almost every seat in the Government bench was empty, forcing the bill to fail.

This dismal approach to progression in Australia signals that the attitudes of our leaders are decades behind the rest of the world, which is still more decades behind where it should be. It’s difficult to know why Australian leaders are holding onto old prejudices that belong in another time, rather than embracing change.

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It is easier to know how to change things, though, and it’s even easier to make small steps to bring this country into the modern world. A lot of Australians already hold progressive values and attitudes. However, those attitudes are not being translated into the Liberal or Labour parties to a great enough extent – that needs to change. While it might seem like a mammoth task to change the policies of the two leading political parties in the country, changing your vote to reflect the values you hold will influence major party decisions.

Looking to more progressive countries to guide our behaviour is essential. Countries like Finland have the highest percentage of female government members in the world. Casting off association with those countries that drag us backwards is equally important – countries like Russia, who persecutes people for being gay.

These things are all achievable, but they take time. There are steps you can take immediately to help Australia progress, however. Realising that all of these issues are dependent on personal change, just as much as a change in higher powers, is essential. Think back: when was the last time you did something to help inequality and remove out-dated prejudice from the community? What have you done to stop incidents when they have occurred?

Reflecting on personal actions and adapting to better ourselves will have just as much effect on casting off old prejudices in 2016 and beyond, and that’s one new year’s resolution worth committing to.

Featured Image by Huffington Post; Pay Gap Image by Anthony Masters; Boy Image by Trayvon Martin; LGBT Image by The Atlantic 

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