Tuesday, July 30, 2013

“Hands on Forum” Report

On 1 May 2013, as a representative of the Health Care Consumers’ Association, I attended the Hands on Forum – a community consultation for the ACT Ministerial Advisory Council on Women on the ACT Women’s Plan 2010-2015.  The Women’s Plan outlines the ACT Government’s vision for improving the status and lives of women and girls in the ACT.  This vision is to value and invest in women and girls and promote and safeguard the freedoms and rights necessary for all women and girls to actively participate in all areas of Canberra life.  The plan outlines objectives for three identified priority consultation areas – economic, social and environmental.  The forum involved an introductory speech on each of these areas followed by facilitated group discussion highlighting suggestions to address concerns in each area. 

Speaker: Rebecca Cassells, Principal Research Fellow and Leader, Women, Children and Families, NATSEM, University of Canberra.
The economic strategic outcome is for women and girls to equally and fully participate in and benefit from the ACT economy.  The indicators of progress in this area are:
  • pathways for women and girls in education and training;
  • increased opportunities for the advancement of women in the workforce;
  • increased economic leadership and decision making opportunities for women and girls; and
  • improved financial equity.

Rebecca gave a snapshot of the economic environment for ACT women.  The ACT has the highest labour force participation of men and women in Australia, including more stable employment, low unemployment, low working hours and low travel time. The ACT economy is dominated by the public service with a highly educated workforce, a low gender employment gap and the highest standard of living in Australia.  

Overall, ACT women are generally doing better than the rest of Australia, but problem areas include work/family balance, significant hours of unpaid work, wage gaps (particularly due to part-time work) and the trend of poorer economic positions of older women, indigenous women, linguistically and culturally diverse women, and women with disabilities. Implications of lower wages for women include less current and future economic security, lower standards of living for women and their children, decreased lifetime earnings and accumulation of wealth for retirement, and increase welfare reliance. 

Forum participants were asked to give responses in relation to 4 key economic themes. Suggestions included:
  1. Affordable Housing – greater access to government loan assistance, particularly for women working part-time or at home with children, and more community housing.
  2. Affordable Childcare – more centres and places available, access to subsidies across a wider range of child care services, more workplace-based care and flexible options/occasional care.
  3. Pay Equity – equal opportunity for promotion for women (including part-time workers), longer paid maternity leave, better arrangements for breastfeeding in the workplace, and government monitoring of pay gaps between different industries for various types of work.
  4. Flexible Work Arrangements – opportunities for flexible hours and working arrangements to ensure good work/life balance, job sharing, and fathers able to equally take paternity leave to better share the care of children. Workplaces need a cultural change that increases respect for part-time workers, working mothers and their childcare commitments (without impacting on advancement opportunities).

Speaker: Susan Helyar, Director, ACTCOSS.
The social strategic outcome is for women and girls to equally and fully participate in sustaining their families and communities; and enjoy community inclusion and wellbeing.  The indicators of progress in this area are:
  • recognition of women and girls’ contributions to the community;
  • increased community leadership and decision making opportunities for women and girls;
  • affordable and accessible gender and culturally sensitive services;
  • pathways for women experiencing disadvantage, social exclusion and isolation;
  • addressing violence against women and their children and protection and support for victims.

Susan spoke about problem areas in the ACT including housing, housing, transport, violence against women and girls, and an environment of patriarchy.

Susan asked the forum for suggestions in relation to 2 key social themes. Responses included:
  1. Gender Specialist Services – more birthing options in the ACT (eg. waterbirths at Calvary, more places in the Birth Centre program and a publicly funded home birth program), more services specific to Aboriginal women and better consultation with Aboriginal women for plans such as the Women’s Plan.
  2. The ACT’s Domestic Violence Strategy – more funding for services, better community consultation, and steps to overcome the ‘shame’ barrier for men engaging with services.

Speaker: Gay Williams, Senior Manager, Design Policy, Environment and Sustainable Development Directorate, ACT Government.
The environment strategic outcome is for women and girls to fully participate in planning and sharing a safe, accessible and sustainable city.  The indicators of progress are:
  • available opportunities for women in decisions about urban planning, transport and the environment; and
  • consideration towards female safety, security and accessibility when designing, building and retrofitting public facilities. 

Gay spoke about how urban planning tends to have a masculine focus on objects (roads, cars, buildings, streets) rather than people and their relationships.  She spoke about a need to change the focus, language used, and values driving urban planning to empower the human experience, invite dialogue and ignite the spirit. 

Forum participants were asked for suggestions in relation to 2 key environmental themes. Responses included:
  1. Accessible Transport – safer road cycle lanes (like in Amsterdam with a concrete barrier between), more accessible public transport and parking, more taxis offering a more reliable service, and designated lanes on cycle paths for walkers and cyclists.
  2. Safety Issues – improved lighting, prioritising a few areas as key community focal points, more interaction between the police and community including more localised police services. Greater community participation/ownership of spaces (e.g. by allowing community art, street performances, music, festivals, food stalls etc.) could improve safety.

If you would like to read more, you can access the full plan (PDF, 488KB) or visit the Women ACT website

Gemma O'Loghlin
Consumer Representative

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