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April 08, 2024
| Womens Advocacy

Founder's Weekly 20th August 2021: Afghan women fear for their future & Aus' gender pay gap widens

The Taliban says women are safe under its rule, but those who remember the horrors of its previous reign are terrified.

Fellow remarkable women,

This week has been nothing short of heartbreaking as we continue to watch the tragic events unfold in Afghanistan. The newspapers, our newsfeeds and TV screens have been flooded with images of terrified women, children and men desperately trying to escape Taliban rule in the nation. While we cannot physically care for and protect these people, we can donate, share articles and write to government bodies calling for more support for those in need. The Remarkable Woman has donated to CARE in response to this crisis. As you read this, we are also writing to relevant government bodies, asking them to heighten their response. Join us in urging the Australian government to do more to help Afghan people at this harrowing time. 

Closer to home, we’re disappointed by the decision to close BreastScreen centres. We’re also disappointed by the data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics showing that the gender pay gap has in fact widened during COVID-19. 

Fortunately, there were some rays of light, including news that the Australian co-founder of Reese Witherspoon's Hello Sunshine media company, Sarah Harden, negotiated the sale of a majority stake in the business, which will enable her to communicate more entertaining, impactful and illuminating stories about the lives of women around the world.

Taliban threatens a terrifying reality for women and girls once again

Women, girls and sexual minorities are fearing for their lives following the Taliban seizing power in Afghanistan this week and we are nothing short of heartbroken.

Insurgents have stormed across the country, capturing all major cities in a matter of days, with reports of unwed women over 15 years of age and widows being forcibly married to fighters.

The reports have been dismissed by the Taliban as "poisonous propaganda", but older generations remember the horrors of the Taliban’s previous reign.

Women were forced to wear head-to-toe coverings and were forbidden to vote, work or receive an education after the age of 12. They weren’t allowed in public without a male guardian and were beaten, whipped or even killed for breaking these laws. Women accused of adultery were stoned to death.

Since taking control, Taliban fighters in the Takhar province have already shot and killed a woman for not wearing a burqa.

When the Taliban regime fell in 2001, Afghan women began acquiring basic freedoms – the 2004 Afghan Constitution granted them equal rights under the law and legislation in 2009 protected them from violence as well as forced and underage marriages. Women were allowed to attend school and work outside their homes.

Earlier this week, spokesman for the Taliban Zabihullah Mujahid promised the Taliban would honour women’s rights within Islamic law.

"Women are a key part of society and we are guaranteeing all their rights within the limits of Islam," he said during a press conference on Tuesday.

"They are going to be working with us, shoulder to shoulder with us. The international community, if they have concerns, we would like to assure them that there's not going to be any discrimination against women, but of course within the frameworks that we have.”

However, women's rights activist Hoda Raha, speaking from Kabul, told the ABC she had no faith in the Taliban, calling them "hypocrites and deceivers, especially about women".

"The tolerance that the Taliban are now having with the people is because they want to make the international community believe that they have changed," she said.

"In their beliefs, a man can do anything to his wife/sister/daughter to make her stay home. So the law the Taliban are preparing to implement is far more horrific than the world imagines. Women and girls will face countless acts of violence inside their homes. Their wills will be killed.

“They will be forced to completely erase the dream of a woman as a human being from their minds."

LGBTQ people in Afghanistan are also vulnerable to mass violence. Just last month, a Taliban judge told German tabloid Bild that gay men would be executed by being crushed to death.

We cannot stress enough how important food, water, shelter and protection are to the 393,000 people who have been displaced by the conflict. We may not be able to physically care for and protect these people, but we can donate, share articles and write to government bodies calling for more urgent support for Afghan people in need. 

We’ve made a company donation to aid CARE in response to the crisis and were inspired by the many generous donations of our team members. As you read this, we are also writing to relevant government bodies, asking them to heighten their response.

It is heartening to see that both Canada and the United Kingdom have said they will take in 20,000 refugees from Afghanistan, but it’s simply not enough. We can’t help but to look to our government, to our nation’s leaders and ask what we’re doing to help in this crisis? Put simply - nothing. 

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said "Australia is not going into that territory". The government is allocating an initial 3,000 places to refugees, but those places will be within Australia's existing annual humanitarian intake of 13,750 – not additional to it. How helpful.

The Australian Afghan community is begging the government to do more and so are we. 

Yes, we’re in quite the predicament ourselves and COVID no doubt adds some challenges here, but how can our government turn what seems like a blind eye to injustice, inequality, death and the loss of freedom.?

The right to live in a safe world is not just a political responsibility, it is a human responsibility.

It’s about time ScoMo grew empathy and step  to join a united global community actively seeking justice and the reinstatement of fundamental human rights.

Women at risk as government stops breast cancer screenings

Breast cancer support groups fear women could die from preventable cancer, following BreastScreen centres closing in NSW and the ACT due to COVID-19 outbreaks.

A recent study by Queen Mary University of London, published in the journal Radiology, revealed that women who have yearly mammograms have about a 30% reduction in breast cancer mortality.

BreastScreen NSW said modelling it commissioned to look at what would happen if it cancelled all appointments found the impact was “minimal”, however a report released by Radiation Therapy Advisory Group (RTAG), which represents cancer patient advocates, healthcare providers and oncology professionals, tells a different story.

It looked at data from overseas that showed about 8,600 British women who missed a scan due to COVID-19 restrictions have undetected breast cancer.

Chair of the RTAG, Peter O'Brien, said: "Sadly, we are already seeing the negative impact of breast screen closures last year in Victoria, with more women presenting with later-stage breast cancer disease.

"Continuation of breast cancer screening in a COVID environment in a manner safe for women and staff is a challenge we must address."

Director of policy and advocacy at the Breast Cancer Network Australia, Vicki Durston, told ABC News that closing the centres will cost lives.

"We know the best outcome for breast cancer diagnosis is early detection,” she said. "The long-term restrictions of breast screen disruptions and closures, for many what would now be a preventable and treatable cancer diagnosis, will be replaced with advanced presentations.

"Over 20,000 people will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2021 and the best outcomes for a breast cancer diagnosis is that early detection and intervention."

Breast Cancer Trials Medical Advisor Dr Nicholas Zdenkowski told Prevention: “Breast cancer does not wait until the end of a pandemic. The longer a cancer is left undiagnosed, the more likely it is to grow and travel elsewhere in the body such as to the lymph nodes under the arm, or worse, to other parts of the body.

“The idea of screening mammography and self-awareness of breast change is that cancer or pre-cancer (such as DCIS) is found at its earliest stage when there is the best chance of cure with minimal treatment. There are some early indications that fewer cancers have been diagnosed during COVID. This is not because they are not occurring, but that people are not getting their screening mammograms.”

Currently, Breast Screen centres in the ACT and NSW don’t even have a timeline for reopening.

Here’s the outrage, KFC is regarded as an “essential service”, yet women can’t attend a Breast Screen clinic. This is yet another dilemma where we can’t help but feel:

We’re calling on the NSW and ACT governments to seriously reconsider their decision and continue providing access to this life saving procedure.

Australia’s gender wage gap widens during COVID-19

Concerning new figures show Australian men are earning $260 a week more than women as the gender pay gap widens during COVID-19.

Australian Bureau of Statistics data released this week showed average weekly earnings for full-time men grew by 1.8% to $1,837 in the six months to May, while for full-time women it increased by just 0.9% to $1,575.

"This was partly explained by the high average earnings growth in the construction industry, which has a high proportion of men," the ABS said.

Sally Moyle, from the ANU Gender Centre, told ABC News: “This shows that funding the Federal Government shovelled into the construction industry and the trades through the first round of COVID has paid off. It’s worked for men, but unfortunately we’ve overlooked the caring professions that women predominate in – the hospitality and retail sectors.

“When we entered the first round of COVID, it was a great revelation that caring is an essential service, but since then we haven’t done the hard yards to improve the wages of women in the caring professions in particular.”

The news comes on the eve of Equal Pay Day, which has been set for August 31 this year, marking the 61 extra days from the end of the previous financial year that women, on average, must work to earn the same annual pay as men.

Workplace Gender Equality Agency Director Mary Wooldridge said the increase in the pay gap was concerning and needed to be driven down again.

“This Equal Pay Day, we’re calling on all Australians to ask #WhatsYourPayGap? in their workplaces and industries as a crucial step towards bridging this divide,” she said.

“Equal Pay Day is an ideal opportunity to remind employers around the country that one of the key levers of change is through gender pay audits. These audits help employers identify and address discriminatory pay, to ensure that women are equally compensated and valued.

“Research proves that regular audits close pay gaps faster. The 2021 Gender Equity Insights Report from BCEC and WGEA showed that employers who consistently did pay audits between 2015-20 closed their managerial pay gaps faster than all other companies. By contrast, those who stopped doing pay audits actually saw their managerial pay gaps increase.”

We encourage you to become active advocates on this issue in the lead up to Equal Pay Day this year.

As Woodridge suggests: “Take the first step to find out #WhatsYourPayGap? by going to our website and seeing if your employer has done a pay gap audit and acted on its findings. Start a conversation with your colleagues and friends about the gender pay gap, what it means to you and to them and how you can help to close it. We can all work together to eliminate gender pay discrimination.”

Hope for women in Hollywood

While it’s been a challenging week for women, it was so amazing to hear that Geelong-born Sarah Harden and actress Reese Witherspoon have sold a majority stake in their Hello Sunshine media company for $900 million.

Hello Sunshine’s mission is to change the narrative for women - proudly putting women at the centre of every story it creates, celebrates and discovers. Among its successful productions are “Big Little Lies” and “The Morning Show”.

Two former Disney executives - Kevin Mayer and Tom Staggs – are behind the new venture, which is backed by the Blackstone Group.

Witherspoon and Harden will continue to oversee its day-to-day operations and will join the company’s board.

“Our platform will foster a uniquely creator-friendly culture that gives elite talent the resources they need to create and capitalise on their best, most inventive work. We look forward to backing Reese, Sarah, and their world-class team as they continue to produce and identify dynamic, engaging content for years to come,” Mayer and Staggs said in a statement.

“Today, we’re taking a huge step forward by partnering with Blackstone, which will enable us to tell even more entertaining, impactful and illuminating stories about women’s lives globally. I couldn’t be more excited about what this means for our future,” Witherspoon said.

“Kevin and Tom and our partners at Blackstone see what we see – women’s stories matter, and we have economic power as consumers, creators and business leaders. Their commitment enables us to double-down on our mission and our ambitious growth agenda,” Harden added.

Harden told The Age the experience had been “an incredible ride”.

“We’ve done the deal to set ourselves up for the next phase of growth, the company is scaling really well,” she said. “This is Reese’s life work, this is my life work, I look at everything I’ve done in the last 20 years, it’s brought me to the place of starting Hello Sunshine.

“The driving mission of our company is to change the narrative for women. If you want to change your stories, you have got to change the storytellers.”

The inspiration for the company came from Witherspoon, who was frustrated at the roles she was being offered.

“Often good things are born of frustration,” Harden says. “I’ll never forget Reese saying before Big Little Lies she’d never acted with other actresses like that, she had been the single actress on the call sheet.”

Harden said the entertainment sector had ignored stories of women and minority groups for too long.

“It’s not good enough, we’ve had decades of lost stories of women and you’ve had women, people of colour, and filmmakers, directors and creators just structurally excluded from Hollywood,” she explained.

“As you change the story, you attract audiences who see a wider range of experiences reflected on screen. It not only feels good, but it’s a great business strategy as well.”

What an exciting new chapter for Hello Sunshine and women alike!

Until next week, stay safe and be kind to yourself,
Team Remarkable

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