Women And Inequality Essay Research Paper

Women And Inequality Essay, Research Paper “Policy making does not happen in a vacuum. Decisions about land rights, unemployment benefits or child protection are made by real people in particular historical settings and under pressure from a wide range of individuals and organisations” (Dalton, Draper, Weeks and Wiseman, 1996, p.23)

Women And Inequality Essay, Research Paper

“Policy making does not happen in a vacuum. Decisions about land rights, unemployment benefits or child protection are made by real people in particular historical settings and under pressure from a wide range of individuals and organisations” (Dalton, Draper, Weeks and Wiseman, 1996, p.23)


In this essay an evaluation of this statement will be given by using one contemporary social policy and that will be women and inequality in Australian society. It will be arguing that even though new social movements and policies have emerged in Australia, in the last twenty years to rectify the inequality towards women, (Dalton et al., 1996, p.35) it is still entrenched within Australian society and is therefore structural inequality.

This viewpoint states that inequality is entrenched in the economic political and social composition of society, and is hard to change the attitude of policy makers because of these entrenched ideals. The essay will then discuss patterns of power and exclusion and further look at the inequality of women in education and the legal system.

In Australian society we have talked about the ‘fair go’ for all Australians but this concept did not seem to apply to women, and women exchanged their domestic labour and sexual favours for support from men, particularly in the financial area (Dalton et al., 1996) In 1972 women fought for equal pay for equal work and won this battle but the struggle for financial freedom still goes on, thirty years later (p.26) and women are more likely to be living in poverty (p.33).

The whole of society is permeated by a sexism which structures and maintains the oppression of women in psychological and biological terms. (Bullock and Stallybrass cited in Leach, 1993.) The differences between female and male are socially constructed and are the source of women s oppression because women are not treated or equally entitled to respect and consideration in Australian society, (Sargent, 1992) whether it be in employment opportunities, education or a political career, child minding, reproduction, or the legal system for instance.

Social disadvantage and inequality are generally understood to have been affected by economic factors. Ideologies such as Conservatism, promote and legitimise social division. Social inequality is built into the system, which is structural inequality, that is the systematic production of unequal outcomes.

Through structural inequality women belong to a sex class and they are therefore oppressed and treated as second class citizens. This is accomplished through the use of the sexual politics of love which stress women s subordination, the double standard of morality for women forced on them by males, and the social structure of sexism. (Leach 1993.) The power elite consists mainly of white, ‘Anglo’ middle aged, well educated, wealthy men and so the structure of society deliberately advantages the ruling class by economic, political and social inequality and oppressing women, keeping them in a lower class.

Patterns of power and exclusion stem from major structural sources of gender, class, race, culture, and sexuality/sexual preference. Social inequality can be understood to be both the result and cause of reduced, limited or diminished access to valued social resources. Examples of such resources are educational institutions and the work force. Social inequality also comes from the result of certain groups being excluded to varying degrees, from cultural and political involvement, and a lack of power or interest in the policy making process.

This in turn means that they are excluded from many of the financial and emotional rewards of our society. One of the ways this is accomplished is through socialisation, learning our place, role defining and gender behaviour. Not all women understand the roles of gender behaviour and therefore never reach demystification, that is, that of perceiving the ideology of dominant groups and that it is not necessarily to the advantage of women. (Sargent, 1992) This in turn perpetuates the myth that women are inferior and also reduces the power of women to affect changes in society and policy.

The groups with economic or political and social power ensure that their interests are served and looked after. Through State institutions such as education, the state reinforces their power positions and advances the powerful interest groups and compounds the problems of the weak or disadvantages them, thereby creating more social inequality.

Many key features of Australian social policy continue to be based on older assumptions such as full male employment and female dependency, with working hours not incorporated into the need for women to pick up children from school. (Dalton et al. p.34)

Women have been expected traditionally to bear children, rear them and then take care of other family members, make them happy and take care of the home as well. Women s roles were determined largely by social status and had few rights that were independent of men, the power elite . In the past women s behaviour was determined by men, by their fathers or other male relatives and when they married, then, by their husbands. Women of higher social status produced children, preferably male and then fulfilled the role of decorative hostesses while their lower status counterparts worked in the fields labouring, up until the birth of the child and directly after the birth. (Brassil, Dukic & Fleming. 1995.)

It is still the major responsibility of women for home making and childcare within a family. They are still disadvantaged and usually in a lower socio-economic position than men. When women wish to return to work after having children and the children are pre school age they must find childcare for them. There are long waiting lists at childcare centres due to Government cuts and a lack of quality childcare. When the woman is lucky enough to get a placement she has to pay large fees further reducing her spending power and wage. Consequently women are low paid workers doing temporary, casual and part time work as the demands of raising children, keeping the home and family in order, place heavy demands on them. Working women still find themselves with the same domestic duties.

Recent studies by Sally Loane (Lateline, ABC.1997.) have indicated that women think that childcare centres have a higher standard of care than what mothers can give at home further undermining the status of women. Government cut backs has produced lower standards and workers are unskilled and untrained, low paid and usually women. Quality childcare is hard to find and very expensive producing alienation and guilt in working mothers as they want the best for their children.


Inequality in the education system is perpetuated by the exploitation of certain groups in society and socialises them into assenting to the existing social order and the acceptance of the idea that this job is appropriate for their social class and status, (Sargent, 1992.) Sex role stereotyping is an example of this and girls are nurtured into dependence and not being autonomous and placing great value on the approval of males.

The language taught in schools is based on patriarchal supremacy and uses words like chairman, manhole and mankind even though women account for over half the population. In the teaching profession the majority of low paid generalist positions are held by women and the higher status positions are held by men which indicates that women are trained for low skilled positions and unpaid domestic labour.


Because women are in a class, (sex) that is, they find inequality in the legal system as they usually earn less than men and are restricted by the glass ceiling which leaves them in a position of less power than their male counterparts. The law does not protect women when it comes to Domestic Violence. Annette Cander who is the Co-ordinator of the NSW Domestic Violence Advocacy says,

that the law fails miserably to protect women. (Current Affair 22 April, 1997.)

Gender bias in court does not help to change structural inequality, as shown over the last two or three years with the comments of some South Australian Judges, namely Justice Boland regarding the treatment of women and their handling.

The general communities attitudes are not much different and in 1987, The Sydney Morning Herald published the results of a survey that showed that one-fifth of the people felt or thought that it was acceptable for a man to hit his wife. Police see Domestic Violence as a private matter and are reluctant to intervene.

Women will often suffer disadvantages if the marriage or de facto relationship comes to an end. Property decisions after the dissolution of de facto relationships may not take into account women s socio-economic disadvantage (Brassil, Duke and Fleming 1995.). Another issue is that of legal aid which is not available to women for the dissolution of marriage, which is discriminatory against women because they usually cannot afford to pay for divorce proceedings, whereas their husbands may be able to. Social inequality is in practice in many areas of our society and is perpetuated through the legal system, policy making, the media and elsewhere (Sargent, 1992.).

Structural inequality is also evidenced by the fact that there are not enough women is senior positions within the police force, legal systems, political arenas and this needs to be addressed. The judicial and legal profession lacks education in gender awareness (Brassil, Duke and Fleming, 1995.) as women have not yet reached the status of Police Commissioner. When the status of women is raised in the judicial system we will see more equity and empowerment for women, policy changes and a fairer distribution of resources.

In conclusion it can be seen that even though policies have made some attempt at redressing the inequalities toward women in society there is still some way to go before women reach the state of equality. Women still need to become active, get involved in the making of policy and in the future this may change. Empowerment will come through policy changes and raise the status of women.


Brassil, B., Dukic, N., and Fleming, L. (1995) HSC Exam Notes:Legal Studies, Pascal Press, Glebe.

Dalton, T., Draper, M., Weeks, W., and Wiseman, J. (1996) Making Social Policy in Australia – An Introduction, Allen and Unwin, Sydney.

Leach, R. (1993) Political Ideologies: An Australian Introduction 2nd ed., Macmillan Education, Melbourne.

Sargent, M. (1992) Sociology for Australians 2nd ed., Longman Cheshire Pty. Ltd, Melbourne,

A Current Affair. 22nd April, 1997. (Presented by Ray Martin) Channel Nine Studios, Sydney.

Video: (15th September 1997) Who’s minding the baby? LATELINE ABC Production, Sydney.

“Policy making does not happen in a vacuum. Decisions about land rights, unemployment benefits or child protection are made by real people in particular historical settings and under pressure from a wide range of individuals and organisations” (Dalton, Draper, Weeks and Wiseman, 1996, p.23)