Women in Australia

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Women in Australia
StateLibQld 1 252713 Taking tea on the verandah, ca. 1910.jpg
Australian women having tea on a verandah in 1910
Gender Inequality Index [1]
Value0.120 (2015)
Rank24th out of 159
Maternal mortality (per 100,000)6 (2015)
Women in parliament 30.5% (2015)
Females over 25 with secondary education 91.4% (2015)
Women in labour force58.6% (2015)
Global Gender Gap Index [2]
Value0.730 (2018)
Rank39th out of 149

Women in Australia refers to women's demographic and cultural presence in Australia. Historically, a masculine bias has dominated Australian culture.

Bias is disproportionate weight in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair.




Early colonial administrations were anxious to address the gender imbalance in the population brought about by the importation of large numbers of convict men. The first attempt to redress this balance was in 1777, with the voyage of the Lady Juliana, a chartered ship to carry only female convicts to NSW, but which became notorious on the trip and was nicknamed "the floating brothel" [3] Between 1788 and 1792, around 3546 male to 766 female convicts were landed at Sydney. [4] Women came to play an important role in education and welfare during colonial times. Governor Macquarie's wife, Elizabeth Macquarie took an interest in convict women's welfare. [5] Her contemporary Elizabeth Macarthur was noted for her 'feminine strength' in assisting the establishment of the Australian merino wool industry during her husband John Macarthur's enforced absence from the colony following the Rum Rebellion. [6]

<i>Lady Juliana</i> (1777 ship) convict ship to Australia in 1789

Lady Juliana, was launched at Whitby in 1777. She transported convicts in 1789 from Britain to Australia.

Elizabeth Macquarie was the second wife of Lachlan Macquarie, who served as Governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. She played a significant role in the establishment of the colony and is recognised in the naming of many Australian landmarks including Mrs Macquarie's Chair and Elizabeth Street, Hobart. Governor Macquarie named the town of Campbelltown, NSW after his wife's maiden name and a statue of her now stands in Mawson Park, Campbelltown.

Elizabeth Macarthur Australian pastoralist and merchant

Elizabeth Macarthur was an Anglo-Australian pastoralist and merchant, and wife of John Macarthur.

The Catholic Sisters of Charity arrived in 1838 and set about providing pastoral care in a women's prison, visiting hospitals and schools and establishing employment for convict women. They established hospitals in four of the eastern states, beginning with St Vincent's Hospital, Sydney in 1857 as a free hospital for all people, but especially for the poor. [7] Caroline Chisholm (1808–1877) established a migrant women's shelter and worked for women's welfare in the colonies in the 1840s. Her humanitarian efforts later won her fame in England and great influence in achieving support for families in the colony. [8] Sydney's first Catholic bishop, John Bede Polding founded an Australian order of nuns—the Sisters of the Good Samaritan—in 1857 to work in education and social work. [9] The Sisters of St Joseph were founded in South Australia by Saint Mary MacKillop and Fr Julian Tenison Woods in 1867. [10] [11] MacKillop travelled throughout Australasia and established schools, convents and charitable institutions. She was canonised by Benedict XVI in 2010, becoming the first Australian to be so honoured by the Catholic Church. [12]

Sisters of Charity of Australia

The Sisters of Charity of Australia is a congregation of Religious Sisters in the Catholic Church who have served the people of Australia since 1838.

St Vincents Hospital, Sydney Hospital in New South Wales, Australia

St Vincent's Hospital is located in Darlinghurst, New South Wales, an inner suburb of Sydney. Though funded and integrated into the New South Wales state public health system, it is operated by St Vincent's Health Australia. It is affiliated with the University of New South Wales Medical School.

Caroline Chisholm English humanitarian in colonial Australia

Caroline Chisholm was a progressive 19th-century English humanitarian known mostly for her involvement with female immigrant welfare in Australia. She is commemorated on 16 May in the Calendar of saints of the Church of England. There have been proposals for the Catholic Church to also recognise her as a saint.

The humanitarian, Caroline Chisholm was a leading advocate for women's issues and family friendly colonial policy. Caroline Chisholm.jpg
The humanitarian, Caroline Chisholm was a leading advocate for women's issues and family friendly colonial policy.

Late 19th-century suffrage

South Australian suffragette Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910). In 1895 women in South Australia were among the first in the world to attain the vote and were the first to be able to stand for parliament. Catherine Helen Spence.jpg
South Australian suffragette Catherine Helen Spence (1825-1910). In 1895 women in South Australia were among the first in the world to attain the vote and were the first to be able to stand for parliament.

Australia had led the world in bringing women's suffrage rights during the late 19th century. Propertied women in the colony of South Australia were granted the vote in local elections (but not parliamentary elections) in 1861. Henrietta Dugdale formed the first Australian women's suffrage society in Melbourne in 1884. Women became eligible to vote for the Parliament of South Australia in 1895. This was the first legislation in the world permitting women also to stand for election to political office and, in 1897, Catherine Helen Spence became the first female political candidate for political office, unsuccessfully standing for election as a delegate to the Federal Convention on Australian Federation. Western Australia granted voting rights to qualified non-aboriginal women in 1899. [13] [14]

Womens suffrage the legal right of women to vote

Women's suffrage is the right of women to vote in elections. Beginning in the late 1800s, women worked for broad-based economic and political equality and for social reforms, and sought to change voting laws in order to allow them to vote. National and international organizations formed to coordinate efforts to gain voting rights, especially the International Woman Suffrage Alliance, and also worked for equal civil rights for women.

Henrietta Dugdale Australian suffragist

Henrietta Augusta Dugdale, néeWorrell was a pioneer Australian who initiated the first female suffrage society in Australia. Her campaigning resulted in breakthroughs for women's rights in Australia.

Parliament of South Australia

The Parliament of South Australia at Parliament House, Adelaide is the bicameral legislature of the Australian state of South Australia. It consists of the 47-seat House of Assembly and the 22-seat Legislative Council. All of the lower house and half of the upper house is filled at each election. It follows a Westminster system of parliamentary government.


Women energetically participated in the war effort, with few signs of defeatism or resistance to government policies. [15] In 1922, the Country Women's Association was formed with the intention to improve the lives of women in rural Australia. It has since expanded to become the largest women's organisation in the country.

Country Womens Association Australian womens organisation

The Country Women’s Association of Australia is the largest women's organisation in Australia. It has 44,000 members across 1855 branches. Its aims are to improve the conditions for country women and children and to try to make life better for women and their families, especially those women living in rural and remote Australia. The organisation is self-funded, nonpartisan and nonsectarian.

Since 1945

In the Second World War, government propaganda encouraged women to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the female branches of the armed forces or joining the labour force Victory job (AWM ARTV00332).jpg
In the Second World War, government propaganda encouraged women to contribute to the war effort by joining one of the female branches of the armed forces or joining the labour force

In 1974, the Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration granted women the full adult wage. However, resistance to women being employed in certain industries remained until well into the 1970s. Because of obstruction from elements of the Unions movement, it would take until 1975 for women to be admitted as drivers on Melbourne's trams, and Sir Reginald Ansett refused to allow women to train as pilots as late as 1979. [16] In 1984, the Sex Discrimination Act became enforced, making sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment illegal. [17] Criminalization of marital rape in Australia began with the state of New South Wales in 1981, followed by all other states from 1985 to 1992. [18]

The Commonwealth Court of Conciliation and Arbitration was an Australian court that existed from 1904 to 1956 with jurisdiction to hear and arbitrate interstate industrial disputes, and to make awards. It also had the judicial functions of interpreting and enforcing awards and hearing other criminal and civil cases relating to industrial relations law.

Trams in Melbourne Public transport network in Victoria, Australia

Trams are a major form of public transport in Melbourne, the capital city of the state of Victoria, Australia. As of May 2017, the Melbourne tramway network consists of 250 kilometres of double track, 493 trams, 24 routes, and 1,763 tram stops. The operator Yarra Trams claims the system is the largest operational urban tram network in the world. Trams are the second most used form of public transport in overall boardings in Melbourne after the commuter railway network, with a total of 206 million passenger trips in 2017-18.

Marital rape or spousal rape is the act of sexual intercourse with one's spouse without the spouse's consent. The lack of consent is the essential element and need not involve physical violence. Marital rape is considered a form of domestic violence and sexual abuse. Although, historically, sexual intercourse within marriage was regarded as a right of spouses, engaging in the act without the spouse's consent is now widely recognized by law and society as a wrong and as a crime. It is recognized as rape by many societies around the world, repudiated by international conventions, and increasingly criminalized.

Analytical writings

Until the 1960s, the Australian national character was typically masculine. [19] [20] Only in more recent decades has attention been paid to the role and marginal status of women and minority groups. One of the earliest studies on the role of women in Australian culture was conducted by Miriam Dixson in her 1975 study, The Real Matilda. [19] Dixson concluded that there was deep contempt for women in the Australian ethos and that the only role for women was within the family. [19]

Marilyn Lake argues that the first stage of women's history in the 1970s demonstrated an angry tone, with a revolutionary critique that reflected its close connections with the women's liberation movement. By the late 20th century, women's history was less strident and more thoroughly integrated into social history and labour history. In the 21st century, the emphasis has turned to a broader horizon of "gender relations", which includes such concepts as femininity and masculinity. [21]

Reproductive rights and health

State-by-state legality of abortion in Australia.
Legal on request
Exemptions, due to legal definitions, in criminal law for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, mental health, economic factors, and/or social factors
Legal for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, and/or mental health Map of Australia, abortion laws updated 01JULY2017.png
State-by-state legality of abortion in Australia.
  Legal on request
  Exemptions, due to legal definitions, in criminal law for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, mental health, economic factors, and/or social factors
  Legal for maternal life, rape, health, fetal defects, and/or mental health

Abortion in Australia is governed by state law rather than on federal law. While legal in every state to protect the health and life of the woman, grounds for which abortions are permitted differ between states and territories. [22]

Abortion was illegal under all circumstances until the 1969 case R v Davidson (also known as the Menhennitt ruling). In this case, Justice Clifford Menhennitt ruled abortion could be considered legal if the physical and/or mental health or the life of the woman was endangered. [23] The ruling was adopted in principle in New South Wales and Queensland in 1971 [24] and 1984 respectively. [25] As of 2018, abortion is legal in all Australian states and territories except for New South Wales where it is considered a criminal offence for doctors and women unless the woman's physical and/or mental health is endangered. [23] It is estimated that a quarter to a third of Australian women will have an abortion in their lifetime, [22] and it has strong popular support. [26]

According to a 2017 study, abortions in Australia have an average cost of $560 after receiving the Medicare rebate, with some women also incurring extra costs from travel, accommodation, GP referrals, lost wages, childcare and medical tests. 34% of women surveyed reported they found payment for abortions difficult or very difficult. [27] The maternal mortality rate in Australia is 5.5 deaths/100,000 live births as of 2015. [28]

Australia, as of 2014, had a total fertility rate (TFR) of 1.8 babies born/woman, reflecting a sub-replacement fertility rate; the replacement rate is 2.1 children born/woman. [29] This TFR has a recorded low of 1.74 in 2001, and a record high of 3.55 in 1961. [30] The TFA has been below the replacement level since 1976. [29]

Women in politics

Despite being given the right to stand for federal election in 1902, [31] women were not present for the first 20 years of Australian politics until the 1921 election of Edith Cowan to the West Australian Legislative Assembly, [32] and were not represented federally until the 1943 federal election when Dorothy Tangney and Enid Lyons were elected to the Senate and the House of Representatives, respectively. [33] [34] Lyons would go on to become the first woman to hold a Cabinet position in Robert Menzies' 1949 ministry. [35] Women would not go on to lead a state or territory until Rosemary Follett was elected Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory in 1989. [31] Australia's first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard was appointed in 2010. [36] [37]

Since the 1970s, women have received increasing representation in the parliament. Despite examples such as in 2010 females holding every position above them in Sydney, (Clover Moore as Lord Mayor, Kristina Keneally as Premier of New South Wales, Marie Bashir as Governor of New South Wales, Julia Gillard as Prime Minister, Quentin Bryce as Governor-General of Australia and Elizabeth II as Queen of Australia) [31] they still remain a minority in parliament, and as of 2016 only number 32%, an increase of 1% from the previous election. [38]

See also

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Christianity in Australia

The presence of Christianity in Australia began with the foundation of a British colony at New South Wales in 1788. Christianity remains the largest religion in Australia, though declining religiosity and diversifying immigration intakes of recent decades have seen the percentage of the population identifying as Christian in the national census decline from 96.1% at the time of the Federation of Australia in the 1901 census, to 52.1% in the 2016 census.

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Primary sources

Further reading