Home' The Canberra Times : FEMME 2011 Contents - SPECIAL SUPPLEMENT - THE CANBERRA TIMES - MARCH 8, 2011 - 13
A CELEBRATION OF INSPIRATIONAL WOMEN
Facts and figures
tell true story,
While much has been achieved for women over the
past 50 years, there is still much work to do, Marie
Coleman tells Jacqueline Williams
Marie Coleman has been at the forefront of social change.
Picture: Lannon Harley
Fifty years ago, when Marie
Coleman wanted to buy a car,
she couldn't, because she was a
married woman. She needed a
loan to buy a car, but married women in
the 1960s weren't allowed to have debts
in their own name. Even the account at
the local department store had to be in her
''She's got no idea what shit was
around 50 years ago,'' Coleman said to a
colleague recently about a successful
During the 1960s the Commonwealth
prevented married women from
becoming full-time public servants.
Coleman says women were generally
nurses, social workers or teachers.
''In the sexy parts of the public service,
the women were not allowed,'' she says.
Coleman has been at the forefront of
the women's movement in Australia over
the past half-century. She was the first
female to head a Commonwealth
Government statutory agency and the first
female to hold powers of permanent head
under the Public Service Act. She was the
founding secretary of the National
Foundation for Australian Women and
currently chairs the social policy
committee of the foundation. This year
Coleman was announced as ACT Senior
Australian of the year. Her list of
achievements is extensive.
''I've been involved with social and
public policy for a long, long time.
''You could say there's a strong sense
of dealing with social justice issues.''
Coleman has provided a positive
outlook for women during social change
and says she doesn't like talking about
women as victims.
Her conclusions about gender disparity
are based on facts and figures, not
''You need to do the analysis to see
where you put your efforts,'' she says.
''Get the facts and home in on that.''
Work choices, affordable housing for
women, paid maternity, paternity and
parental leave are all topics Coleman has
researched and analysed closely.
Combining childbearing and rearing with
work is one of the major problems parents
of this generation face, Coleman believes.
''It's really one of the reasons why we
need to do far more about flexible family
friendly working conditions for both
parents. So there's more opportunity to
share the load.''
Coleman says maternity leave needs to
be improved, along with childcare and
pay parity. After analysing housing from
a gender perspective she found a pattern
of women in housing stress as they moved
closer to retirement -- another issue she
says needs attention.
''You have to have policies that are as
much about changing attitudes as about
law,'' Coleman says.
Coleman is happy to say that women's
rights have definitely improved over the
past 50 years. As more girls complete
high school and women's attendance
rates at university increase, more women
pursue careers. Despite this, Coleman
believes there's still plenty of work that
needs to be done to close the gender gap.
''Things don't work out as well for
women as they do for men and that's not
setting one up against the other, it's just
having a look at the situation.
''You only have to look at the
imbalance between women's earnings
and men's earnings.''
Coleman, born in Dubbo NSW, was an
only child. Her parents didn't finish
secondary school, but both were adamant
their daughter would get an education.
''They were committed to the idea of
girl's education, when most girls from
ordinary families were leaving school at
14 or 15,'' she says.
Coleman graduated from Lithgow
High School, which in those days had
about 500 students. In Coleman's final
year there were 14 students. She was the
only one in her last year of high school
who went to university. ''Most women at
university were predominantly in arts,
although they were scattered in other
disciplines.'' Many women who attended
university during the 1950s wouldn't
have continued in their chosen career,
beyond having children.
''I certainly had a view when I married
that I was going to have finished
childbearing by 30, so that I could go
back to work,'' Coleman says. ''Which
was regarded with horror by my
Coleman has a number of career
highlights and has met many women who
she admires and respects. One who stands
out is Marie Bashir, the Governor of
NSW and Chancellor of University of
Sydney, who she met at women's college
at the University of Sydney in 1950.
But Coleman also has admiration for
women who are working and raising
''It's incredibly difficult,'' she says.
Her vision for her daughters, apart
from having a sense of their own worth,
was the same vision she has for every
woman in Australia -- to get an education.
''What you can only ever do is give
people an opportunity to do things for
themselves,'' she says.
'' Things don't work out as well for women as they do for men and that's not setting one up against the
other, it's just having a look at the situation.You only have to look at the imbalance between women's
earnings and men's earnings
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