A Feminist a Day: Jessie Street

Who is she?

jessieJessie Street was an Australian feminist, aboriginal rights campaigner and human rights advocate.

Jessie was a member of the Australian Federation of Women Voters and United Associations of Women. Their aim was to give women ‘real equality’ – an end to discrimination against women in the workplace, in law, in the appointment to public office, as a consequence of marriage or motherhood.

Jessie campaigned for divorce law reform and the appointment of women to jury service and public office. Her most ardent cause was women’s right to economic independence –  she ran a long campaign against laws and organisations which denied women the right to work once they married.

She lobbied for child endowment to be paid to mothers, and was the only Australian woman delegate at the founding of the United Nations in 1945.

Her campaign for equal pay influenced the Australasian Council of Trade Unions’ endorsement of equal pay in 1942. This resulted in the creation of the Women’s Employment Board that set wage rates for women war-workers at 60 to 100 per cent of male rates.

Jessie was relentless – when only one woman was included in the team for the 1936 Olympic Games, she ran a campaign for additional selections.

Understanding that women’s health and reproduction impacted their access to work, Jessie promoted sex education and was involved in setting up the first contraceptive clinic in Sydney in 1933.

I could go on. What a woman.

Why should we thank her?

For doggedly pursuing important issues to Australian women – equal pay, healthcare and workplace access. She spent her whole life fighting for the benefit of others, including Aboriginal Australians. (I didn’t even get to that but she was pivotal in the success of the 1967 referendum which enabled Aboriginal Australians to be counted in the census). She had such a real, tangible impact on the lives of everyday women.

Best quote 

“I believe that in a democratic, free society women should be at
liberty to choose whether they will take up home life or work outside the home; that
men and women should receive equal pay and equal opportunity; that home life should
be made less of a tie and the burden of raising a family be lightened.”

*This quote is part of this speech Jessie delivered on ABC Radio National in 1944, asking why working women during WW2 had to return to the home. It’s a corker.

A Feminist a Day: Jessie Street

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