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What is happening to women?

By Mary Bryant - posted Wednesday, 7 March 2007


On Saturday night a friend was over for dinner, she is a school counsellor and as we both have young girls reaching adolescence we started the scary conversation about young women at school.

We could have started the conversation about their obsession with body image, about the fears of eating disorders or the rise of self-harm and cutting among young women. We could have talked about the growth of anxiety management programs in schools and family conflict.

But we didn’t: instead we started with the stories about the now common practice of having security guards at school-age kids’ parties. It is big news to us (generation X’s) because it is hard to imagine the need to have security guards standing outside your home.

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The cost, the fear of strangers, dealing with anger and violence, when the whole idea of a party is to have fun. It seems so strange and yet now it is common practice.

Other parents may say “no” to parties, regarding it as all too hard, but then young people turn to parks, beaches and other kids’ parties for their evening get-togethers.

By the end of the night my head was spinning with stories of young women being sexually assaulted while onlookers did nothing to help; young girls saying that using contraception was not sexy any more; little 13 and 14-year-olds offering oral sex to young boys thinking they would retain their virginity. It's hard to imagine how this is a step forward in equality of the sexes.

A recent study of adolescent sexual behaviour in the United States showed that more study participants reported having had oral sex (19.6 per cent) than vaginal sex (13.5 per cent), and more participants intended to have oral sex in the next six months (31.5 per cent) than vaginal sex (26.3 per cent).

Adolescents evaluated oral sex as significantly less risky than vaginal sex on health, and in social and emotional consequences.

It made me wonder about what has happened to women: to our liberation, freedom and to the role of women in our society.

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The New South Wales Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research found the recorded rate of sexual assault had risen 132 per cent from 1990 to 2004. Assault had risen by 105 per cent in the same period. The recorded rate of "other" sexual offences also was higher, up 85 per cent.

Women retire with half the super of men and yet we live longer. In terms of employment and pay equity the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission warns us that: “There are a number of studies which suggest that women are less likely to benefit from a culture of individual bargaining than men. For those women on enterprise agreements, the level of wages negotiated tends to be lower. (In May 2004, women on registered collective agreements received average hourly earnings of $22.50 compared to men's $25.10, and on unregistered collective agreements received $20.30 compared to $22.00: ABS Employee Earnings and Hours Cat No 6306.0 May 2004 ) The average weekly earnings for full-time women workers is still only 84.4 per cent of their male equivalents.”

The best indicators available on violence against women published in the ABS personal safety survey 2005 shows us that it is possible to estimate that approximately one-in-five women (19 per cent) have experienced sexual violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15 and one-in-three women (33 per cent) have experienced physical violence at some stage in their lives since the age of 15.

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About the Author

Mary Bryant is a social worker, mother and friend of many women who have experienced the loss of a child. She also works as the Director at UNIYA Jesuit Social Justice Centre in Sydney.

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