Fighting for what's right
Thursday, 5th March, 2009
Jeanine Clarke does not think of herself as an activist for women's rights, but her determination to fight for what was fair and just earned her that reputation.
In 1981, Ms Clarke challenged a long-established local union ruling which prevented married women working in some professions.
After a long legal process the trained dental assistant was able to prove she was sacked because of her marital status and not the town dental clinic's claims of "economic reasons". The sacking was found to breach anti-discrimination laws and after winning and settling out of court, it opened the option of paid employment to other women within local businesses. Whilst she is applauded as a women's rights campaigner, Ms Clarke said she was simply fighting for what was fair. "Because I had a ring on my finger and a piece of paper, that took away my choice. "It just started with me wanting to keep my job. "I didn't really think it would have an impact on the future generations." Ms Clarke was in her early twenties when she challenged the rule, with the support of her parents and former husband Mark Whitehair and his family. It was after the case became public that she realised that many women were unhappy with the inequality which existed, but believed they had to accept it because the unions had so much control. "Oh definitely, there were a lot of women living with their partners.... they were too frightened to get married. "I know of one woman who was secretly married for five years, even her parents didn't know." She believes had she not challenged the breach of federal laws, someone else would have. "A married woman is entitled to have a choice whether she works or doesn't." The former local, who now lives in Adelaide, was in the city yesterday to speak at the local International Women's Day dinner. She said she had no regrets about challenging her employer, despite the overwhelming publicity and some negativity amongst people who did not want the status quo changed. "If you do believe something is unjust and not right, you should fight it."