By Mark Gaetani, National President of St Vincent de Paul Society in Australia
Along with encouraging the community to ‘embrace equity’ the Australian organisers of International Women’s Day (8 March) 2023 stress that ‘allies are incredibly important for the social, economic, cultural, and political advancement of women’.
Based on the personal experience of our members and shop volunteers — the majority of whom are women — the St Vincent de Paul Society is a longstanding ally in the campaign for gender equity. Moreover, the majority of those whom we assist are also female.
The sad fact is that women aged over 50 are the fastest growing demographic in the poverty cycle in our nation. If working, they face inequitable wages, and their savings and super balances are markedly lower than men’s.
This makes many women susceptible to insecure housing or even homelessness, vulnerable to assault, and exclusion from wider society, with severe risk of mental health issues.
Recently I delivered the Society’s submission to the Inquiry into the Extent and Nature of Poverty in Australia which is being conducted by the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs. The statistics in our report reveal an alarming state of affairs.
Of the people seeking urgent assistance from the Society some 60 per cent are female and around one-third are single parent families, a disproportionate number of them reliant on the mothers. Behind every set of figures lie the human stories of hardship, with causes including illness, accident, relationship breakdown and job loss, mostly unexpected and unpredictable.
In the Society’s submission to the Inquiry, we included case histories provided by our conference members who meet with people seeking assistance. Many of those we help have never approached a charity before, which confirms that financial conditions are getting tougher.
These personal stories encompass family and domestic violence, housing and homelessness, and household debt. Many women and their dependents are challenged across all these areas, with 1-in-6 women having experienced physical and sexual violence by an intimate partner since the age of 15 years.
A 70-year-old woman had six grandchildren in her care after they lived in squalor in a caravan with parents. The experiences of poverty caused issues with their social development. The Society has been able to give them a better chance for a decent life.
The Society also helped a single mother with two kids after the business she worked for suddenly closed. The JobSeeker payment was not enough to pay for rent on a three-bedroom home and food for children. The family was unable to secure another affordable rental and after the 17-year-old son moved in with a family friend the mother and her young daughter slept in their car for several weeks.
These and so many more stories typify our commitment to supporting the safety and equity of Australian women. This flows from our mission of serving Christ in the poor with love, respect, justice, hope and joy, and working to shape a fairer and more compassionate society.