By Erin Longney
On International Women’s Day, Scott Morrison had a wonderful opportunity to share words that inspired solidarity and harmony amongst all Australians in the midst of an already turbulent political period. Instead, he delivered what may come to be known as one of the most ill-fated speeches of his prime-ministership.
His speech on International Women’s Day sparked fierce backlash across multiple social media platforms, with the validity of his sentiment called into serious question. Addressing the Chamber of Minerals and Energy in Western Australia, he said:
“We want to see women rise. But we don't want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.”
His words drew ardent criticism from some of the nation’s most prominent female political figures. Tanya Plibersek, Deputy Labor Leader, was one of many who hit back at the Prime Minister’s comments.
Kristina Keneally, Labor Senator and ex-Premier of New South Wales, also chimed in to counter the Prime Minister’s words. She highlighted the hypocrisy of Morrison’s statement considering his own ascent to the prime-ministership to the detriment of many of his political colleagues, including long-serving Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop.
ScoMo had missed the mark. He had wasted an opportunity to share a speech that fostered harmony and unity on a day rooted in the celebration of equality. Instead, he offered a divisive analysis of the situation that belittled the fight for gender equality to nothing but an attempt to drag men down.
Greens Senator Mehreen Faruqi pointed out that for gender equality to be achieved, it “requires a rebalancing of the power patriarchy gives men.”
The Prime Minister’s comments generated such public interest that his speech was brought to the attention of international news outlets, including CNN and Britain's The Independent. He was forced to defend himself against the masses of people who condemned his speech, saying:
"What I was saying yesterday was I don't want to see this agenda pursued by setting women against men. I want to bring all Australians together to focus on this. I want all Australians to support the advancement of women."
If the Prime Minister is so invested in progress in the area of women’s rights, then why does his party boast such poor representation of women in Parliament? Women represent just 23% of the Liberal Party’s federal representatives, and just 19% of the entire party.
Feminism is not an attack on men. It is not an attempt to vilify men, either. It is simply the fight for equality between men and women and for equal opportunities and treatment regardless of gender. Equality requires equity, and for equality to truly be realised, the patriarchal structures that have been embedded in Australian society for generations must be fundamentally changed. Scott Morrison’s speech may have completely misrepresented the essential message that International Women’s Day aims to encourage, but women’s empowerment will not be pushed aside.