22/09/2016 5:31 AM AEST | Updated 22/09/2016 9:04 AM AEST

There Is No Glass Ceiling, But There Is An Asbestos-Filled Wall

Carving through the asbestos ceiling is no easy feat. Sometimes, just as we feel we are about to make a breakthrough, we find ourselves choking on the poisonous fibres.

Don't choke on the poison.

I am so tired of hearing about the supposed "glass ceiling" that women have above them. The metaphor used to describe the unseen limits and barriers faced by women could not be further from our reality. It is not invisible, we are all well aware of it and if it was indeed a glass ceiling that was holding us back it could be easily shattered by a few sharp whacks from a five-inch Louboutin heel.

I have a different view on what it is that has been placed above women so that their struggle for equality is a difficult one. It's not a glass ceiling, but an asbestos-filled wall.

The word asbestos is derived from the Greek word meaning 'inextinguishable'. Legend has it that an early Roman emperor used to marvel at the fact that he could throw his asbestos tablecloth into the fire after meals and it would emerge clean and unscathed! This was an indestructible material... or so they thought.

However, by the middle of the 1900s, it was becoming apparent that asbestos was causing health problems. Cracks were starting to appear in areas that were weak, that were not properly bound together, that were no longer connected.

The same could be said about our 'ceilings'. As women continue to fight for equal rights and an equal voice, the once indestructible voice of those who placed that 'ceiling' above us is beginning to weaken, cracks are starting to appear and through that opening women are staring to emerge.

Whether it is an unconscious bias or flat out misogyny, many men still see the role of a woman as inferior. For this reason, we have to work doubly hard to achieve the same outcome as men. Is that fair? No. But will it always be this way? Not a chance.

I had someone ask me recently why I spent so much time advocating for women and calling out men and their misogyny. "It has always been this way and always will be," she said in a defeated voice. My response? "I speak out because women's rights are human rights. They are tools for our liberation, tools for our safety and tools for equality. It is a fight that must be fought."

Due to the tireless campaigning of the Australian suffrage society in 1902, Australia was the first country in the world to give women both the right to vote in federal elections and also the right to be elected to parliament on a national basis. This was the 19th century, an era where a woman's place was firmly considered at home in the eyes of society. With thanks to these strong and determined women, change was made.

And change continues to occur. Because of the steely determination of the women's movement the advancements in our rights and our placement within society has continued to improve.

Up until 1983, it was not possible for a man to be charged with and prosecuted for raping his wife or de facto partner. The marital rape immunity was based on historical notions that women became men's property in marriage, and that through marriage women consent, on a continuing basis, to sex with their spouse. Our rights over our bodies were not always considered possible in the eyes of the law. With this law came an increase in awareness that resulted in an increase in shelters and half-way houses to support women escaping domestic violence.

Compared to 20 years ago, women are achieving higher positions within politics and business as fewer areas are considered "male jobs". In addition, legislation that aims to create equal opportunities for women in the workplace, such as fair pay, childcare, anti-discrimination and laws against sexual harassment, has been put in place.

The women's movement worked at securing government support for single mothers. Various schemes were put in place during the 1970s and 1980s that provided pensions to widows and single mothers.

The point I am trying to make is that while equality has not been reached, we are slowly edging our way towards it. As women it is our responsibility and obligation to honor the work that has been done by the women that came before us by continuing the fight.

Carving through the asbestos ceiling is no easy feat. Sometimes, just as we feel we are about to make a breakthrough, we find ourselves choking on the poisonous fibres. These are attempts by those who resist change to silence us and to maintain the status quo. They hurt and wound us, and sometimes the damage is so fierce that it forces us to retreat and repair, but once we regain our strength, we must get back up and keep on going. Asbestos, like sexism, is an outdated tool that no one wants to be openly associated with... and one day will just become obsolete.