Legal Studies- Women (status, changing needs, gender bias in the Australian legal system)

Essay by dorianaHigh School, 12th grade April 2006

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a) Historically, to what extent were women treated as second-class citizens?

It can be stated that women have been treated as second-class citizens to a very large extent throughout history. In the past, women have always been held at an inferior place to men. The traditional role of women has been one of subservience to men. The role of a woman was either as a prostitute, or as a wife at home. Men were the breadwinners and the head of the household whilst women served their husbands, bore children and in charge of domestic duties. The eighteenth century Industrial Revolution brought about vast alterations in relation to the nature and structure of work.

Within the family, the common law doctrine of coverture fixed the authority and supremacy of men over women and the notion of women being the 'property' of a man. The law gave a husband substantial control over his wife's property, as well as certain rights in relation to her body and personal freedom.

The law also offered little or no protection to women whose husbands offered little or no care. Even in 1857, when divorce became available, a man only had to prove adultery on the woman's part, whereas a woman would have to establish adultery and some other misbehaviour, for example, cruelty of rape.

Furthermore and more importantly, because a woman's role was with the family, they had limited access to education and to many opportunities to professional life. Women, until 1929 were not recognised as 'persons'.

Australian women also had to fight to achieve formal legal equality with men such as the right to vote in federal elections (1902 women entitled to vote in federal elections). Women also suffered discrimination in the workplace, as employment opportunities were limited. The burden of a woman's domestic role,