As women, we make up half of the world’s population, but the structures of power that exist in our communities are almost always designed to accommodate men and discriminate against women. As a result, women, and especially young women, face countless barriers and challenges in our daily lives.
So, what are power structures? They are the structures, systems and norms in our societies which determine how decision-making and influence are distributed and exercised.
Power structures can be found in the home, community, workplace and in the political system.
Most often, the power structures we encounter intend to uphold the patriarchal status-quo and perpetuate gender inequality. We only need to look at the low representation of women in Parliament or the gender pay gap in almost all industries and sectors, to see that the current structures of power are not working for women.
We all experience power structures in different ways, and this is contingent on our diverse identities and different lived experiences. Members of our Young Women’s Council have identified some of the power structures they encounter (and challenge!) as they move through the world as young women.
Ashlee, 25, Darwin
In the workplace, women are often judged for their physical appearance and personal choices instead of their work ethic and skills. This can make the workplace an unwelcoming environment for women, and we saw this play out publicly with the misogynistic treatment of our first female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard.
I have previously worked in a male dominated industry which often resulted in me not being taken seriously or considered knowledgeable in my field. Seeing more diverse women in high profile positions of power will inspire women to strive for leadership, and wider society to accept women in these roles.
Tanmaya, 13, Melbourne
Gender stereotypes and perceptions can hold women back, especially in male-dominated industries. I go to an all-girl school that works to empower young women, and our guest speakers are always women in high positions in their fields. All schools should have a curriculum where students are able to see men and women in high positions talking about their diverse experiences.
Laura, 26, Darwin
Young women’s safety is always under threat and going out in public spaces requires constant vigilance. As young women we’re always asking questions like ‘can I walk home alone?’ ‘Is that person following me?’ ‘Have I left my drink unattended’? As a society we’re guilty of perpetuating this problem through victim blaming and we need to challenge the entrenched disrespect for women through education in schools, workplaces and in the home. When a young woman feels her freedom is restricted because of fear of violence, this can prevent her from fully participating in all parts of society.
Georgie, 24, Adelaide
There is an unfair expectation that women should ‘pick up the slack’ by taking on unpaid labour and managing the ‘life admin’ of a home or workplace. This can include everything from organising the school run, baking the cakes for a morning tea, organising birthday parties, buying the Christmas presents etc. As we know, unpaid labour contributes significantly to the gender pay gap in Australia. We need to provide more opportunities for young women and girls to be involved in decision-making conversations at all levels. Lowering the voting age to 16 is a crucial step in ensuring that not only young women are heard, but that their views and opinions are properly valued from early in life.
Emiko, 27, Perth
There are some power structures that continue to negatively impact the lives of mothers living in Australia. For example, the economic security of many mothers are at risk due to a number of factors such as discriminatory views that women should be primary care givers, inadequate welfare support and lack of secure forms of employment for mother’s returning back to the workforce. In order to challenge these power structures gender stereotypes and gender relations must be challenged and redefined
As YWCA feminists, we seek to transform these power structures to make participation, decision-making and leadership more inclusive and equitable for all people including women, young women and girls in all their diversity. You are the key to unlocking systemic societal change!
Here are our top three tips for transforming power in your life and the lives of others around you:
1. When there’s no seat at the table, take your own chair.
Representation is our human right so when young women are excluded from leadership tables, we need to get creative and bold about how we access these spaces. There are organisations and communities out there (like YWCA!) that value the voices of young women and carve out dedicated spaces for young decision makers.
2. Be an ally to other young women by creating spaces for diverse voices and experiences to be heard.
Part of this is recognising our own individual privilege and acknowledging those times when we may be taking the space of others and perpetuating a power structure. There is space and opportunity for everyone!
3. Use whatever platform you have available to call out injustice.
This may be whipping up a blog piece (send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org, we’re always interested in publishing opinion pieces by young women!), speaking out on local radio, joining fellow activists at a rally or sharing your experiences with friends and family. The more people that are aware of everyday sexism and inequality, the more allies we have in the fight.