Thursday, 5 May 2011

Don't let the Victorian government erode women's rights

Yesterday's decision by the Victorian government to wind back changes to the Equal Opportunity Act for some sports are a dangerous step down a very slippery slope.

I am a lawn bowler and in 2001 the issue came to a head in the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal when a 19 year old woman challenged the men's only status of Saturday pennant competition. Emily South wanted to play competitive bowls on the weekend when she was free from university commitments, but was prevented because the Saturday comp was mens only.

She won the case, and as a result she and other women were able to play on Saturdays. The unexpected consequence was that men were permitted to play in the women's pennant competition on Tuesday mornings.

Both the men's Royal Victorian Bowls Association and Victorian Ladies Bowling Association opposed Emily's application (you can read the judgment here).  Here are some of their (very old fashioned) comments...

the Immediate Past President of the VLBA, Mrs Lewis was not aware of any demand from women wanting to compete in mixed pennant.
The reality: After Emily's successful challenge, thousands of working women now play on Saturdays.

She was aware that among the older group of players, there is no desire to change the way pennant competition is administered ... many VLBA members did not want to play in competitions that are open to men and that if they are made to do so, she was concerned that they will withdraw from the sport. Mr Hosken also expressed his concerns if women were allowed to play in the men's pennant and vice versa.
The reality: The Ladies pennant competition was dying, and now that men are playing on Tuesdays and women playing on Saturdays, both competitions are more successful. In fact, many clubs wouldn't be able to field teams if there was a return to same-sex formats. 
(You can read more comments here at the bowlsworld forum that support the new format)

This decision upset some older ladies and it is these individuals who are now influencing policy.  And amazingly, the head of Bowls Victoria (now mens and women combined) is in favour of returning to same-sex pennant.  See the Herald-Sun article.

So the backflip from the conservative government has been driven by a bunch of oldies, who want to return to the days when women didn't work and had Tuesdays off for a quiet game of bowls.  These are the same oldies who insist on having the Queen's photo in every bowls club, and toasting her at every official function.  I mean, we love Lizzie and all, but really, is this the 19th century!

Where will this all lead?

From a bowls point of view, there are a limited number of bowling greens, and men's and women's pennant can't both be accommodated on a weekend.  So, a return to mens only on the weekend would be a return to discrimination against women.  And yet, it has been women pushing for this change.

While the Attorney-General, Robert Clark claims this is a "victory for common sense", it's much more likely to be a thinly veiled pandering to outdated, sexist values.  And for the head of Bowls Victoria to be in favour shows that nothing has changed in the bowls headquarters in the last 10 years.

If this change to the Act was to ensure that some events could be men's or women's only, just like some are for juniors only, or for over 70s, this might make some sense.  But it's clear that isn't what the conservatives want.

Instead, this retrograde approach to equal opportunity could easily return our society back to the bad old day's of exclusive gentleman's clubs where the old boys network ruled, and women were denied fairness.  We simply cannot risk any denial of the rights that women have rightly earned - even if it's just on the bowling green.

Let me know what you think.

Mark S

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