To create an equitable world, we need to economically empower women, so that no one is forced to choose between poverty and violence. 

Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) is part of the prevention sector, which supports initiatives to address those factors which drive and exacerbate gender-based violence and inequity. Part of this work involves advocating for women to have equitable access to the choices many of us take for granted – choices around safety, wellbeing and financial autonomy. When someone who should know better gives voice to that tired cliche ‘why doesn’t she leave’, the devastating answer is often poverty and housing insecurity.

The factors which inform women’s choices in an economic climate including cost of living pressures, the housing crisis and the economic divide between men and women are complex and myriad, requiring us as a society to consider the problem of gender-based violence through a socio-economic lens. Achieving meaningful policy reform towards women’s economic empowerment requires a collective effort from everyone in our community, including high level decision-makers. Ahead of International Women’s Day next month, let’s take a look at a case study which highlights the UN theme of economic empowerment:

The power of collective activism can be seen in the 2023 changes for the single parent payment plan, after a long campaign fought for the age of eligible children to be raised.  

In 2006 the introduction of the ‘Welfare to Work’ budget reforms halved the age of eligible children from 16 to eight, meaning parents with children over eight had to move onto Newstart (now JobSeeker). This change saw parents moving from receiving $880 a fortnight to $691 and were expected to find employment whilst single handedly looking after their child. In 2022 Dr Anne Summers released “The Choice: Violence or Poverty” which revealed 60 per cent of these single mothers were survivors of gender-based violence, and as a direct result, half of them were subsisting off government benefits and living in poverty. These women were given two options, escape abuse and live in poverty with their child, or remain in an abusive environment. Many women returned to escape poverty.  

In her article ‘How to change a bad law’ Jess Hill tells the story of the hard-working women that got the age of eligible children raised to 14. The combination of advocacy and research overturned this ‘bad law’ and is a clear instance of how important the work of advocates is. Dr Anne Summers, Terese Edwards, and the other women pushing for this change combined the stark data revealed in Summers’ report, the advocacy Edwards had done for over a decade, and the political climate to get single mothers the support needed.  

Efforts to empower women politically, economically and socially requires a collective effort, and the commitment and investment from decision-makers. By collectively calling for change and development those in power are more likely to listen to our calls and make the changes our society needs. However, change does not happen overnight, and it is thanks to continual, unwavering work done by advocates that monumental changes like the ones made by Dr Anne Summers and Terese Edwards occur.  

In 2024 the UN theme for International Women’s Day is Economic Empowerment: Accelerate Progress. UN Women Australia have built on this theme with their own campaign, Count Her In. We can all contribute to women’s economic empowerment by calling on decision-makers to invest in women through policy reform and through programs and initiatives which will improve access to support, services and opportunities for women from diverse communities and circumstances.

Women’s Health Goulburn North East is part of the Women’s Health Services Network, which this year is advocating for the Victorian Government to invest in our sector long-term, to support our work preventing gender-based violence, supporting women’s sexual and reproductive, and mental health, and working to foster gender equality across the state. 

Our work towards the economic empowerment of women in rural and regional Victoria has included the development of a regional housing strategy based on the lived experience of women in Goulburn North East, collaborative research and advocacy into changing the way we see and value care and care work, qualitative research to understand and address the social, economic and systemic barriers to sexual and reproductive health services and ongoing advocacy to ensure that a gender lens is placed over economic policy

Sustained, collective advocacy works – the restoration of the Single Parenting Payment is testament to this. Together, we can work towards a region, a state and a country that values and invests in women’s equality for the long-term.