Melanie Sheppard.

Carving a Path for Future Generations of Women.

Carving a Path for Future Generations of Women.

In her 2008 concession speech, Presidential candidate Hilary Clinton said, “Although we weren’t able to shatter that highest, hardest glass ceiling this time, thanks to you, it’s got about 18 million cracks in it”.

The metaphor of the glass ceiling is used to illustrate an unseen barrier faced by women striving for success and equality, but I am not convinced that this is the best way to describe it. It is not invisible, we are all well aware of it and if it was indeed just a glass ceiling that was holding us back it could be easily shattered by a few sharp whacks from a five-inch Louboutin heel.

As a woman who grew up in the 80’s, I have a different view on what it is that has been placed above my head and the heads of so many women, making our fight for equality very real and at times painful, and it's not a glass ceiling.

I call it an asbestos-filled wall.

The word asbestos is derived from the Greek word meaning 'inextinguishable'. Legend has it that an early Roman emperor used to marvel at the fact that he could throw his asbestos tablecloth into the fire after meals and it would emerge clean and unscathed! This was an indestructible material, or so they thought.

By the mid 1900s, it was becoming apparent that asbestos was causing health problems. Cracks were starting to appear in areas that were weak, not properly bound together and were no longer connected.

The same could be said about our 'ceilings'.

As women continue to fight for equal rights and an equal voice, the once indestructible opinion of those who placed that 'ceiling' above us is beginning to weaken, cracks are starting to appear and through that opening women are staring to emerge.

At a recent Business Chicks event I found myself on a table with a group of dynamic young women most of which were in their thirties and all working tirelessly in their chosen careers. The majority of them didn’t seem to have encountered the extreme levels of sexism that I once did in the work place, but were all innately aware of its existence. I was filled with enormous joy as they shared their stories of success but I couldn’t help but wonder how much further we have to go to reach true equality. Did these nine women realise their obligation to carve a wider path for the generations of women that will follow them?

Women's rights are basic human rights. They are tools for our liberation, our safety and equality. But unlike men, these tools were not something that we organically acquired. They were provided to us by the heroic women that came before us through their blood, sweat and many tears.


With thanks to the tireless campaigning of the Australian suffrage society in 1902, Australia was the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. This was the 19th century, an era where a woman's place was firmly considered at home in the eyes of society.

More recently, up until 1983 it was legal for a man in Australia to rape his wife or de facto partner. The marital rape immunity was based on historical notions that women became men's property in marriage, and that through marriage women consent, on a continuing basis, to sex with their spouse. Women of this era (for many of us this is our parents) had no rights over their bodies so they fought hard to change these laws. Once they were passed the increase in awareness resulted in a push for more shelters and half-way houses to support women escaping domestic violence.

Compared to 20 years ago, women are achieving higher positions within politics and business as fewer areas are considered "male jobs". In addition, legislation that aims to create equal opportunities for women in the workplace, such as fair pay, childcare, anti-discrimination and laws against sexual harassment, has been put in place.

The women's movement worked at securing government support for single mothers. Various schemes were put in place during the 1970s and 1980s that provided pensions to widows and single mothers. Thanks to their steely determination the advancements in our rights and our placement within society has continued to improve.

The society we live in now has not come without a fight and while we are slowly edging our way towards equality, it has still not been reached. It is the responsibility and obligation of all women to honour the work that has been done by those that came before us by continuing this fight. We must stand up not only for our rights but for the rights of all women because it is in solidarity that the strength is derived to make positive change.

Carving through the asbestos ceiling is no easy feat. Sometimes, just as we feel we are about to make a breakthrough, we find ourselves choking on the poisonous fibres. These are attempts by those who resist change to silence us and maintain the patriarchal status quo. These fibres hurt and wound us, and sometimes the damage is so fierce that it forces us to retreat and repair, but once we regain our strength, we must get back up and keep on going.

Sexism, like asbestos is really just an out dated tool that no one wants to be openly associated with and one day will also just become obsolete.




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