Gender disadvantage in Seymour under the microscope

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A study into gender disadvantage in Seymour has highlighted the numerous factors limiting opportunities for women and affecting their economic security.

The Flip It report, written last year by Dr Dina Bowman and Dr Margaret Kabare, investigated the financial wellbeing of women living in regional areas and used Seymour and its residents as the focus of the study.  

The 28-page report was officially marked as complete and tabled in Parliament this month, and is now available to the public.

As part of the report, 15 women and seven community workers were asked to share the positive and challenging aspects of living in Seymour and detail the issues affecting women’s economic security.

Key findings included ‘a big divide between the rich and the poor’, that residents felt Seymour was being ‘forgotten’ by Mitchell Shire Council and that limited opportunities in Seymour constricted women’s independent financial security.

Women face disadvantage 

The report highlighted that Seymour residents experience ‘multilayered and persistent disadvantage’, and that women encountered the most significant challenges to achieving economic security.

Limited suitable employment opportunities, poor access to specialised medical care for women, the scarcity of family violence services and transport challenges were commonly identified issues.

Some participants said the poor access to public transport and limited childcare options created barriers for women to employment.

Seymour is classified as a ‘childcare desert’, where there is only one place available at childcare for every three children in the area.

Some participants said limited childcare options created barriers for women to employment.

Participants mentioned the lengthy wait list to Seymour’s one long-daycare centre and the childcare responsibility often fell upon the mother when out-of-home care could not be sourced.

“In the absence of these conditions, opportunities are constrained for women, even if jobs appear to be available,” the report said.

‘Old school’ gender attitudes 

The report found the barriers to employment ‘reinforced the prevalence of old school gender attitudes’, which manifested into high rates of family violence.

Interviews highlighted the ‘culture of mateship’ often resulted in family violence being ignored, posing a barrier for women facing abuse.

“People turn a blind eye to what their friends do,” one participant said.

“Therefore, men accused of perpetrating domestic violence are unlikely to be held to account by other men.”

Interviews highlighted the ‘culture of mateship’ often resulted in family violence being ignored, posing a barrier for women facing abuse.

The lack of family violence services, including crisis support and emergency accommodation, as well as the inaccessibility of affordable housing, were among the issues highlighted as causing gender disadvantage.

Seymour divided

The report found residents perceived Seymour to be ‘divided by the haves and the have-nots’ by the railway line, supposedly marking where the rich and poor live and the quality of their livelihoods.

The public housing area, known by Seymour residents as ‘up on the hill’, was generally stigmatised as being ‘a rough area’ with ‘social problems’ including crime and drug use. 

But the Flip It report labelled the perceptions of those in public housing as ‘blanket characterisations’ that minimised the factors limiting those ‘up on the hill’ in participating and accessing services.

“Participants often attributed poverty and disadvantage to individual circumstances despite exhibiting an awareness of structural barriers,” the report said.

Participants also believed Seymour had been ‘forgotten’ and ‘not prioritised’ by Mitchell Shire Council.

“I think council also put us on the back burner a bit, they put other places before us because they see the other places have more growth,” one participant said.

Where to next?

The report recommended services move from a gender-neutral to a gender-sensitive approach and ‘flip’ their focus to recognise the barriers posed to women before implementing solutions.

Ms Kabare said proposals to invest in Seymour ‘don’t acknowledge or address the specific barriers that women face’.

“A gendered understanding of regional issues can help improve economic possibilities for women and flip the narratives of disadvantage to opportunity for women and their families in towns like Seymour,” she said.

Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland attended the local launch of the report in Seymour this month.

Member for Euroa Annabelle Cleeland at the local launch of the Flip It report in Seymour. The report highlights the challenges and possible solutions to women’s financial wellbeing in the area.

She said those who shared their stories and contributed to the report showed ‘immense vulnerability’.

“The statistics are sobering, but the progress we can achieve together as a community in breaking generational disadvantage is truly remarkable,” she said.

The report forms one component of the more comprehensive Sustaining Economic Empowerment and Dignity for Women project, known as SEED.

Led by the social justice organisation Brotherhood of St Laurence, the SEED project facilitates several studies to research gender disadvantage among women in regional areas and also recommends solutions.

The SEED Project team can be contacted on 0482 188 099 or via email at seedproject@bsl.org.au for confidential support surrounding financial hardship.

To find out more about the SEED project, visit bit.ly/3FtuiW8.

To read the full Flip It report, visit bit.ly/3QaNBIu.