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, social attributes, lack of equal land access and education resulted in a highly segregated workforce and society.
It was not until 1975 when the Family Law Act (Cwlth) was passed that women gained security in their rights to property. Prior to this act, all property given to a woman would automatically become the husband's property.
b)How effective are the legal and non-legal responses in addressing the changing needs of women?
There will no doubt always be problems facing women in achieving legal justice. Legal bias continues to exist within the legal profession, as it is largely male dominated. In general, the position of women at home, at work and within society has improved. However, legislation protecting women would not be necessary if equality for women existed.
The Family Law Act of 1975 has given women financial security. In looking at the contributions, the court will consider the wife's role as housekeeper and child nurturer is taken into consideration upon the 'breakdown' of a marriage, and divide assets accordingly. The position of women in relation to violence in the home and at work has also improved. The 1981 amendment to the Crimes Act...