APEC Economic Committee and APEC Policy Partnership for Women and the Economy – Session 6

APEC Public-Private Dialogue on Structural Reform and Gender

Josephine Cashman, APEC Wellington NZDuring this session speakers will describe their own economy’s experience with implementation and enforcement of legislation, regulations and policy that advance women’s economic empowerment. In addition, speakers will outline what has worked and what has not and how economies can avoid potential pitfalls.

I wish to acknowledge the Māori people and their elders past and present. I acknowledge their continuing culture especially their contribution to New Zealand and APEC. I respect their cultural heritage and beliefs and I appreciate their strength, resilience and capacity. I am honoured to be standing on the ancestral lands of the Māori people. I pay my respect to the elders of this community and extend my gratitude to their descendants who are present.

Aboriginal culture is celebrated for its interconnectedness. Every tribe has hundreds of songs and thousands of dances and each is connected to a clan and country. There are no land title deeds and our cultural leaders are responsible for continuing this ancient tradition. It is an inherited birthright passed down through an ancient oral tradition. Children are taught from early childhood to sing every part of our country in detail from the colours of the sunset to the brightness of the coral. This tradition has been reproduced in some Yothu Yindi[1] songs.

Aboriginal lore governs commerce, personal relationships and land ownership. I belong to Warrimay country located on the mid North Coast of New South Wales, Australia. It is known as Many Rivers country. I am connected by family to Yuin, Gurindji, Southern Arrernte, Yolngu and more.  My traditional name is Bonba, or the butterfly. I acknowledge my ancestors, my elders and the Aboriginal leaders who have invested in me. I am honoured to be a recipient of their trust. I am privileged. I carry the responsibility to represent my people and all Australians.

We belong to the land. I am honoured to have been invited to speak at APEC today, thank you.

There are social, legislative and regulatory impediments preventing women from taking their rightful place in the Australian economy. So much so commentators are arguing for gender equity quotas to be introduced in business and politics. Australia has achieved outstanding outcomes for women and girls in education opening career pathways for contemporary women earlier female generations could not have imagined. However, Australia is falling behind in female representation elsewhere. Recently female political representation has been highlighted as a major problem for the Liberal Party. The growing underrepresentation of women in its ranks has been talked about in the media. It is posing problems for the Party and the electorate.

It is relevant to note that because politics and business are elite industries it is impossible for women from low incomes to gain entry without major structural changes. After the recent downfall of our 29th Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull female Liberal Party Parliamentarians have been outspoken about bullying in its ranks. It has been said to be so intense one Victorian female MP, Julia Banks has declared she will not be running at the next federal election despite the fact she was the only Liberal member who won a seat from the Labor Opposition at the last election! One female MP has told the New York Times, ‘male colleagues were more interested in commenting on their hair or their wardrobe choices than discussing policy’.[2]

It has not proven to be enough to pass laws against gender discrimination and domestic violence. Nor is it good enough to rely on economic growth and education to change the dynamic for women and girls from all classes of society. Australian women are economically disadvantaged in the Superannuation system because women must take time off work to have babies without access to Super and women are paid less than men. The high cost of childcare and inadequate maternity leave payments for low income women has not helped either. These considerations are posing problems for Australian governments and it is noticeable as more economically disadvantaged older women retire from the workforce without enough money to pay the rent. The government sector has failed these women and it has not prepared for it, despite warnings from economists.

There will always be resistance to change because human beings are not always rational and change is not always positive. Unfortunately, ordinary people are feeling left behind and this is a global trend.  The surprise election of President Trump has intensified these sentiments with many pundits declaring our democratic system is fundamentally broken.

The call for gender equity is not new. I would like to acknowledge my feminist foremothers who have worked hard to improve the opportunities for Australian women. I am a beneficiary of their enduring efforts. I may not be standing before you today if not for their commitment.

A former Australian Labor Party Opposition leader, Mark Latham has been rallying against gender equity as we witness the rise of Men’s Rights activists (MRA) in Australia. Latham attacked the 2015 former Australian of the Year and Domestic Violence advocate, Rosie Batty whose son was killed tragically by his father. Late last month one MRA group gathered in Melbourne. First on its agenda was a proposed Underpants Burning ceremony[3]. This is no doubt a reference to the 1960s Bra Burning movement made famous in Australia by Germaine Greer who burnt her bra after, The Female Eunuch[4] was published in October 1970. Six men discussed whether burning their undergarments was an appropriate response to a ridiculous awareness raising stunt by Russian student, Anna Dovgalyuk who flashed her pants at commuters to raise awareness for upskirting laws in her homeland.

It would be easy to dismiss this behaviour as crazy however history teaches us to be cautious. Domestic violence has been widespread in Australia for generations. By way of perspective, until the late 1800s under Australian and British law it was permitted for a husband to beat his wife! Despite the MRA proposition the scale of violence against Australian women is real:

  • one in three women have experienced physical or sexual abuse by someone known to them;
  • one in five women have been stalked, and
  • one in five women have been harassed in the workplace.[5]

On average one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner and for Indigenous women the picture is significantly worse. These women are 35 to 80 times more likely to be hospitalised[6] and for a long time there has been a lower tolerated acceptable standard for violence against Indigenous women.

I have been a Prosecutor working on sexual assault and domestic violence trials. I was the instructing solicitor on the famous Lani Brennan case. The offender received a sentence of 28 years with 26 years non parole. My sister Genevieve Grieves directed the award winning documentary, Lani’s Story.[7] In 2013 Harper Collins Australia published a comprehensive account of the Lani’s background, the offenses and the trial process.[8]  The offender and victim were both Aborigines (Lani also has Māori ancestry).  It took the police three and a half years to arrest the offender despite the fact he was at large and arrested for 44 unrelated offences including assault and possessing firearms. In this circumstance the police failed to execute the arrest warrant after the victim had given her statement. It felt like the police considered the victim would never go to court therefore there was no point in pursuing it! In the policy and enforcement arena at that time, there was a view it was cultural. This is not cultural. It makes me wonder whose culture is being referred to! It is not acceptable to promote or sustain lower standards for Aboriginal people.

I am advocating for grassroots female social entrepreneurial empowerment to lead change. My colleague, Professor Marcia Langton set up a campaign using her own resources, ‘From little Things, Big things Grow’. I wish to thank the Australian Labor Party Opposition leader, Bill Shorten for his support.

In November 2016, we spoke at the National Press Club in Canberra. This followed the failure of a federal government initiative, Third Action Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children. It recommended violence cases against Indigenous women and children should be dealt with and I quote, ‘through activities that provide wraparound, case managed support for families and encourage behavioural change without resorting to police or court’. Indigenous women who call for the end of this violence ask: Why does the Third National Action Plan recommend the police and courts not be involved in the rising tide of violence against them?

Professor Langton calls it, ‘drinking the Kool Aid … the people I have met in government with key responsibilities in this area have been told by Aboriginal leaders this level of violence is cultural yet when I have asked what that might mean, there have been no answers.’[9]

At the Press Club address, I drew attention to the gender focus of the Australian Aid Investment program pointing out the empowerment of women and girls is embedded in Australian foreign policy, economic diplomacy and Overseas Aid programs. At a minimum DFAT aims to avoid exacerbating gender inequalities and it seeks to enhance women in decision making and leadership roles. At least 80 per cent of its aid program investments need to demonstrate real progress in addressing gender equality. I wish to thank Julie Bishop, the former Liberal Party Minister for Foreign Affairs for initiating this minimum standard and more.

Why not write similar standards into Indigenous Affairs and Domestic Violence policies? Funding agreements with Aboriginal organisations could be linked to a minimum number of women on their Boards and participation in compulsory training on minimum standards of behaviour can be made mandatory for members of community organisations.

During my role as a member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory Council and as the Chair of the Safe Communities Subcommittee it struck me there was a need to support the No More program and others like it. It had been pointed out to me that domestic violence action plans had reduced police call outs by 70 per cent.[10] Not long after the Domestic Violence Press Club address we were successful in holding hands at Parliament House.[11] It had been my Uncle Charlie King’s dearest wish and he achieved it with no funding. It was an historic and moving event. The Rirratjingu clan chartered an aeroplane from Arnhem Land at their own expense and they performed the Two Sisters Bear Breasted sacred creation story, a ceremonial honour reserved for special gatherings.

In late August 2018, The National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO) Ochre Day Summit[12] was held at Nipaluna (or Hobart) where 200 hundred Indigenous men apologised for the abuse of women and children.[13] These men are courageous. They are committed to ending violence, they stand against the stereotype that all Aboriginal men are abusers and the myth that violence is part of our culture. It is not. These men deserve to be listened to. They want to contribute to positive change and to take responsibility and they have demonstrated true leadership emphasising it is time for action, unity and forgiveness.

It is time to initiate a national campaign on violence and bullying led by Indigenous men and women. It is time for an Agreement. I think we need a cross-jurisdictional justice target in order to encourage best practice, prevent social exclusion, map services, collate statistics, gather data and to monitor and publish progress.

I recommend a National Indigenous family violence policy framework be established to ensure the police are given the resources necessary to build trust in communities, to take effective action and to make certain the rule of law can be applied. Victims deserve justice.

We have not benefited from a Treaty with our first people in Australia and it has been something Aboriginal communities have been working towards with disappointing results. We are not giving in. Reconciliation Action Plans or RAPs have been set up to deliver a framework for organisations to realise a vision. This achievement has been working because RAPs are practical plans of action built on relationships, respect and providing opportunities. They are equipped to generate social change and economic opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A RAP community is a diverse collective of corporations, not-for-profit and government organisations resourced to turn good intentions into action. Since 2006 more than 1000 organisations have created a RAP that have accelerated change and created competition.[14]

I think a similar plan can be applied to gender. A Gender Equality Action plan has been spoken about at the UN since 2006 and its adoption could be considered by APEC because it understands the impact of domestic violence and acknowledges the fact gender equity restricts female workforce participation. The APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines, Vietnam 2017 offers five key pillars for action: access to capital and assets, access to markets, skills capacity building and health, leadership, voice and agency.[15]

Chile dedicated 2016 as the Year of Productivity[16]. Since then it has shown an increase in the economic participation of women and girls due to a supportive system of training and other measures.  Chile has certified women entrepreneurs, the establishment of female Associations and regulatory reform.

I have talked about the behavioural issues I believe need to be addressed. All human beings must be treated equally. To ensure we sustain this we are advised to advocate for the end of poverty. We must take everyone with us and cultivate innovative solutions to achieve workable gender action plans.

This speech was delivered to APEC Public-Private Dialogue on Structural Reform and Gender, Wellington, New Zealand, by Josephine Cashman.

© Big River Impact Foundation 2018.


[1] A quintessential Aboriginal Australian rock band, see further at, https://mushroommusic.com/songwriters/yothu-yindi/

[2]Rick Rojas, The New York Times, ‘Women in Australia’s Parliament Denounce Sexism in Push for Change’, 10 September 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/10/world/australia/women-parliament-sexism-bullying

[3] Ben Graham, news.com.au, ‘There’s going to be civil war’: Inside men’s rights meeting’, 31 August 2018 https://www.news.com.au/lifestyle/real-life/news-life/theres-going-to-be-civil-war-inside-mens-rights-meeting/news-story/58f7a676cad3b97cae66b0a74297a59f

[4] Germaine Greer, The female eunuch’, 1971, McGraw-Hill

[5] White Ribbon Australia, 2008, ‘Understanding domestic violence – facts about violence against women – domestic violence statistics’, cited 9 September 2018, https://www.whiteribbon.org.au/understand-domestic-violence/facts-violence-women/domestic-violence-statistics/

[6]See at, The Conversation, ‘Facts Check Q&A: Are Indigenous women 34-80 times more likely than average to experience violence?’ 4 July 2016, https://theconversation.com/factcheck-qanda-are-indigenous-women-34-80-times-more-likely-than-average-to-experience-violence-61809

[7] Opening of the documentary Lani’s Story, Black Fella Films https://vimeo.com/39672831

[8] Lani Brennan and Hazel Flynn, 2012, Lani’s Story, HarperCollins Australia, https://www.harpercollins.com.au/9780730495109/

[9] See biography, Big River Impact Foundation, ‘Our Board 2018’, http://bigriverfoundation.com.au/about/our-team/.

[10]Michael Gordon, Sydney Morning Herald ‘When will we say, ‘No More’ to family violence?’, 7 October 2016, https://www.smh.com.au/opinion/when-will-we-say-no-more-to-family-violence-20161007-grxb8h.html

[11] Fergus Hunter, ‘Malcolm Turnbull and Bill Shorten link arms to stand up to family violence in Indigenous communities’, Sydney Morning Herald, 28 November 2016 https://www.smh.com.au/politics/federal/malcolm-turnbull-and-bill-shorten-link-arms-to-stand-up-to-family-violence-in-indigenous-communities-20161128-gsyvw1.html

[12] See more at, NACCHO Aboriginal Men’s Health: ‘NACCHO Ochre Day Events’ https://www.naccho.org.au/programmes/aboriginal-mens-health/

[13] See more at, NACCHO, Ochre Day 2018 Conference, ‘Aboriginal Men’s Health, Let’s Own It! See more’, 5 September 2018, https://www.naccho.org.au/ochre-day-2018/

[14] See more at, Angus Armour, Managing Director and CEO, Australian Institute of Company Directors, ‘Reconciliation and governance’, 29 June 2018, https://aicd.companydirectors.com.au/membership/company-director-magazine/2018-back-editions/july/from-the-ceo

[15] See more at, APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines Vietnam 2017 APEC Gender Inclusion Guidelines, https://www.apec.org/-/media/APEC/Publications/2017/11/APEC-Gender-Inclusion-Guidelines/217_PPWE_Gender-Inclusion-Guidelines.pdf.

[16] See more at, Michelle Bachelet, President of Chile The economic empowerment of women for more productive and inclusive societies, OECD Yearbook 2016, http://www.oecd.org/chile/economic-empowerment-women-productive-inclusive-societies.htm,