At the Women and Leadership: Year in review event, panellists Ms Caro and journalist and author, Catherine Fox were asked to reflect on the highs and lows of 2016 for women.
Ms Caro listed the low point of the year as seeing Hillary Clinton defeated by Donald Trump at the recent US election.
“The lowlight for me was seeing one of the most qualified persons who has ever stood for the office of President of the United States
defeated by an almost cartoonish misogynist – a misogynist of such spectacular offence that it’s hard not to see it as a deliberate message to the women of the world. That if we get too uppity, if we get too threatening, if it looks like we might actually take 50 per cent of the power, then we will be slapped down hard,” she said.
“What I think the US election has done is highlight how hard people – men and women – will fight, to keep women out of leadership positions. This is about actual active bad will. And to know about it is to be able to do something about it.”
Ms Caro said the highlight of the year has been the change in conversation around domestic violence.
“I can’t say that it’s a very good thing, for the very fact that domestic violence is still such a large part in every society. I believe the number of women killed by domestic violence in Australia this year is getting close to 60-ish, which is terrifying and dreadful,” she said.
“But the fact is now people are talking about it in a new way. We do not hear nearly as often as we used to ‘Why didn’t she just leave?’ As the evidence shows, women are at their greatest peril when they try to leave.
“I also read some interesting research the other day on the extraordinary financial impact leaving a marriage has on women.
“The relationship between domestic violence and financial disadvantage is clear, and I think it’s good that we’re beginning to understand this... The fastest growing group of homeless are women over 55.”
In her own reflections, Ms Fox said, “Of course there are some highs. But I think this was a pretty amazing year in ways that make us a little downcast.
“In October in Poland the Government was going to make a total ban on abortion – something that many of us thought we had challenged and changed about 30 years ago, maybe even longer. It’s estimated that 7 million women in Poland demonstrated and protested, and the government backed off. For me, this is a reminder of what we can do when we join together.
“Remember, of course, we are 51 per cent of the Australian population; we are the majority of this country. We get spoken about as though we are a minority, and certainly we are marginalised, but not in numbers.
“I suspect that’s something we have to reconnect with, and reflect a bit on the suffragette history. We have to remember that activism is what gets things to change. And if we join together, like we’re doing today, we can be affirming and encouraging.
“So that for me was a high, coming out of an incredible low.”
Ms Fox said the particular low for 2016 was seeing that progress across a number of workplace and business spheres had stalled or stopped.
“The thing I’m noticing in the workplace and business sphere, which I talk about in and write in a lot, is that we’re going back to blaming women for their own marginalisation. This actually doesn’t make sense, by the way. They’re the people out of power so they need to change it? That simply doesn’t happen,” she said.
Ms Fox referenced the annual World Economic Gender Forum Global Gender Gap Report as evidence of Australia’s regression in equality.
“We’ve dropped to number 46 out of 144 countries. We’re particularly bad on economic participation and political empowerment,” she said.