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It's time for young women to be heard and our efforts valued

8 March 2019

For gender activists like myself, International Women’s Day is a favourite time of the year. It’s a time to celebrate women and the progress we’ve made. Every year we welcome progress towards gender equality, and honour trailblazing feminists.

But there’s a darker side to the day that needs to be addressed.

Most of the women involved in public events around International Women’s Day represent a certain privileged group of women. More often than not, the women at these events are from a particular background – older, Caucasian and with a career's worth of success behind them.

These women have worked hard to get where they are and their success is absolutely worth celebrating. However, we also need to recognise and value the many who are overlooked and deprived of these important platforms. The contributions and voices of younger women – particularly those from diverse backgrounds – are far too often ignored.

Young women have a unique perspective on the modern world. We’re among the first generation to have grown up with computers and social media. As such, we went through school experiencing horrendous issues such as revenge porn and online trolling.

Our generation is also facing major challenges, such as automation in the work force, unaffordable housing prices, increasing living costs, and an incredibly challenging job market – particularly for entry-level positions.

Despite all these challenges – or perhaps because of them – young women have a lot to contribute. We are more connected and arguably more informed than ever before, because we’ve grown up with the internet at our fingertips. We’re a generation of innovators, looking at things differently and solving problems in unique and wonderful ways.

Yet too often young women’s voices aren’t being valued or heard. We’re rarely given space at decision-making tables or allowed access to power structures and important conversations that shape our lives. And we’re largely absent from public platforms, such as the Australian media – where women make up just 20 per cent of news commentators.

Moreover, when young women like myself are invited to share our stories or contribute to public discourse, we are rarely paid. Rather, we’re expected to see it as a great opportunity to build our experience and profile. While often true, the problem is that this can add up to a lot of unpaid work, with no one giving us the break that we need.

"Young women are rarely given space at decision-making tables or allowed to access to...important conversations that shape our lives."

Women have always been expected to do the bulk of unpaid work. The last national census (2016) showed that we still do almost triple the amount of unpaid work than that done by our male counterparts. Why? Because sexist attitudes still prevail in our society. In a 2017 Plan International Australia survey of girls aged 10 to 17, 98 per cent said they were not treated equally to boys, while 91 per cent felt it would be easier to get ahead if they were treated the same way as boys.

Young and older women alike are facing similar challenges due to sexist attitudes – whether it’s street harassment, or being judged on our appearance. However, young women are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to attracting attention to our causes or contributions.

Young women – like older women – don’t have a homogenous voice. Our experiences are diverse and so is the value we can add. What’s more, when tackling issues that directly relate to us, it’s a no-brainer to ask us what we think before making critical policy decisions.

To achieve gender equality, young women must be heard and our efforts must be genuinely valued. Older women can play a vital role in giving us space and elevating our voices.

We’re incredibly fortunate to stand on the shoulders of our mothers and grandmothers who fought extremely repressive attitudes towards women and our place in society.

Together, I believe we can create a world that is truly equal.

This article originally appeared in the Sydney Morning Herald and can be viewed here.

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