With International Women’s Day coming up on March 8th, we were inspired to look back through history at how women came to establish their financial independence within Australian society.
Some significant milestones led to women gaining influence and control over their finances, and eventually, over the direction of Australia’s economy.
Empowering milestones in women's history
Something to account for
Before the mid-nineteenth century, women in Australia could not open a bank account without their husbands’ permission. This meant women couldn’t take out loans or have their own savings, and it even prevented many from joining the workforce. Having the option to open a savings account in their own name meant that women had more control over their own finances.
Suffrage movement giving women a say
Established in 1888, Australia’s first women’s suffrage society pushed for gender equality and gave a voice to women. By 1890, the first women’s trade union was established to better protect women’s rights in the workplace.
With the suffragettes pushing for equality, by 1902, non-indigenous women won the right to vote in federal elections, while Australia was also the first country to allow women to run for federal elections. Indigenous women and men later won the right to vote in 1962. Having the vote meant politicians had a new and rather large demographic to please. Whether it was putting more funding towards education, medicine or community development or backing better workplace and employment laws; there were suddenly a lot more voters politicians had to appeal to; and some potential contenders for office who they had never even considered.
The pill available and marriage bar lifted
Some other major historical milestones have heavily influenced our economy, workforce and cultural landscape; including the contraceptive pill becoming widely available in Australia in 1961. This gave women more financial autonomy by making family planning more widespread and accessible. Five years later in 1966, the bar on married women working in the public service was lifted. This ‘marriage bar’ had been introduced at the beginning of 1900s and aimed to boost the birth rate and prevent women from ‘stealing’ men’s jobs. Of course, many women chose to keep their marriages secret so they could continue working.
The early to mid 1970s saw a mass reform of women’s rights. The government outlawed employment discrimination based on gender or marital status, provided new single mother benefits, passed the federal Childcare Act, instated an equal national minimum wage and implemented both paid and unpaid maternity leave. These reforms provided legal protection for women in their careers, allowing them to earn a more secure income. | Greater Bank
Still trying to bridge the pay gap
It’s clear that there’s more work to be done when it comes to the gender pay gap in Australia. A bleak pay gap was recorded in 2018, with an average man’s full-time pay being 21.3% higher than the average woman. Groups like UN Women and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency are continuing to push to close that gender pay gap.
Thanks to the hard work of the women before them, each new generation of women is being equipped with more tools and support to achieve full equality and financial freedom.
For more inspiration, check out financially savvy high school students Emily and Skye’s story, as they begin to establish their own financial independence.