Women Making a Difference

THE BUSH LEMONS: A Leadership Award for leading feminist changes in the public sphere. The 2014 Edna Ryan Awards.

Edna Ryan Biography

Edna Ryan, feminist  (1904–1997)

Edna Ryan achieved national prominence in 1974 when she presented the WEL submission to the National Wage Case, arguing that women should receive the same minimum rate of pay as men.  Now, thirty years later, WEL celebrates this major breakthrough in the long history of equal pay, and the life of the truly remarkable woman who made it happen.

Born one hundred years ago in Pyrmont, then the industrial heartland of Sydney, Edna Ryan was the tenth child in a family of 12 children. By the time she was five, her father was unemployed and her mother was the family breadwinner.  As Edna grew up she experienced at first hand the great contradiction of the family wage system. Edna was politicised by the fact that her mother, as a woman and the family breadwinner, could earn just over half the wage paid to a man.

When she left school at the age of 16 and gained employment as a clerk typist, she found that women were second class citizens in the office. They could earn only two thirds of the male wage and had no access to promotion because they were expected to leave their job after a few years to marry and have children.  Unlike their male counterparts they could not be both workers and parents, have a career and be economically independent.

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