By Sally McGlew
THE World Economic Forum has recently confirmed what many Australian women have been experiencing – that gender inequality is getting worse.
In 2006 Australian women were ranked 15th in the world in terms of financial equality with men.
Just 14 years later, in 2020 we have slid down the pole and ended up ranking at 50.
Cr Claire Scanlan said she joined the City of Swan as a councillor in October 2017.
In her previous roles, as veterinary, medical, and psychiatric nurse she said she never experienced inequality.
“I was always shown respect for my knowledge and experience by my peers and employers, and to be honest I took it for granted that I was an equal to my male peers,” Cr Scanlan said.
“Local Government is very different, and it has come as a real shock to me to see the way women are treated.
“I can’t understand why women are treated differently by men in politics.
“Recently I was referred to by the mayor as “only a housewife”, and there have been numerous other occasions where I have been defined by my gender in chambers.”
Cr Scanlan said the behaviour was offensive but even when she fought back, she was told she had ‘emotional issues’.
“I was also told I need to ‘rethink if local government is right for me’ and that I ‘need to grow a thicker political skin’.
“I’m really disappointed with local government.”
Cr Scanlan said other councils appeared to be more progressive, especially Bassendean, Bayswater and Mundaring.
West Australian Minister for Women’s Interests Simone McGurk said sadly, while the results are disappointing, she was not shocked by them.
“We know from the work done by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre that businesses all across Australia have slowed down on progressing gender equality,” Ms McGurk said.
She said addressing gender equality requires a whole-of-community approach.
“However, organisations, businesses and governments can play vital roles in tackling this issue.
“The public discussion in recent months has shone a light on these issues, and the economic data is another example of inequality and decisive action is required on all fronts.”
Behavioural researcher at the University of Newcastle, Xanthe Mallett, said that in hierarchical workplaces the dominant behaviour of males is normalised.
“Men operate in a pack mentality and a female challenging that with intelligent speech or ideas causes the men to revert to their cultural behaviour and try to remain dominant because they feel threatened,” Dr Mallett said.
“This is how dominant men express themselves culturally.
“Misogynistic behaviour is also linked to sexually aggressive and violent behaviour – it’s a way for the men to try to maintain their power.
“It’s very important to have these conversations to raise the level of awareness to prevent that slide into further inequality for women.”
Cr Scanlan said the culture is so embedded towards ignoring women on council it means it is impossible to have a voice and effect change, the precise reason she went into politics in the first place.
“It’s a boy’s club,” she said.
“I’ve been accused of having Cr Ian Johnson writing my speeches for me, as if I’m not capable, as a woman, of writing my own speeches.”