Reform in Australia:
by Kaye Schofield
In Australia we have gone through four waves of thinking about our objectives for women in vocational education and training. Over the last two decades considerable progress has been made possible by our collective actions, achievements which are the practical result of feminists strongly and actively pressuring the system and responding to the demands and entitlements of women in the community. From an appreciation of our success, we can gather strength for the new battles which always await us.
Women's engagement with the issue of training began in the mid to late 1970s, when vocational education and training was a giant black hole for most of us. We knew that the "tech" was the place our brothers went one day a week for three years, that they needed slide rules and technical drawing instruments, and that they did not like going there. There was little or no feminist analysis of if, how or why this part of the education system should be, in its own right, a site of feminist struggle. This did not mean that there were no struggles. These derived directly from the objectives of the 1972 agenda for child care and for removing barriers to education and thus to employment and equal pay.1
By the start of the eighties, the systemic objectives of unrestricted access for individuals created synergies with more clearly articulated feminist objectives. This marked the onset of the second wave, the movement beyond access. These included breaking down the sexual division of labour and improving women's employment prospects, economic position and working experience, through institutional training. The focus on women in non-traditional occupations strengthened and the links between women in vocational education and feminists concerned with the position of women in the labour market were forged.
It was in the early to mid-eighties that we saw the rise of feminists in the bureaucracy of the State Departments of Technical and Further Education (TAPE)2 who, with great skill and support from feminists in the community, exerted pressure from within. New positions and structures, such as Equal Opportunity Officers and the National Working Party of Women's Advisers, put enormous pressure on the policy arms of the state and federal bureaucracies and helped with a clearer articulation of objectives for action within TAPE.