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Gender surcharge: Is this Melbourne café asking for too much?

credit: Handsome Her

Handsome Her

This Melbourne-based café’s name is not the only interesting thing about it. It is currently making efforts to raise awareness about the increasing  gender pay gap in the country; and it has been in the news lately for all the right reasons.

credit: Handsome Her

Just recently, the vegan cafe in the city’s northern suburb of Brunswick introduced an 18 percent “gender surcharge” for its male customers. The surcharge is donated to women and children’s services in Australia.

As can be expected, some Melburnians have expressed their discontentment over this rule, which takes the “house rules” to three. The anti-patriarchal cafe describes itself as run “by women, for women”. There is priority seating for women

The owner Alexandra O’Brien told me that Handsome Her’s main goal was to help give back to women’s charities in Australia.

credit: Handsome Her

The first  “man tax” was 70 cents and it went to the Elizabeth Morgan House – a Victoria-based NGO that supports indigenous women women and children who have suffered domestic violence.

O’Brien told me that although the tax was purely optional, no male customer had yet refused to pay it. How refreshing is that?


Australian gender pay gap

In 2016, the Australian gender pay gap stood at around 18 percent. Research by Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency found the average difference between a full-time male and female employee’s weekly wage to be 17.7 percent, or $261.30, each week.

credit: Handsome Her

This is an open violation of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which stimpulates that a person cannot discriminate against another on the ground of gender by imposing a condition, requirement or practice.

O’Brien says that she wants people to think about this gender gap more.

“We’re bringing it to the forefront of people’s minds. I like that it is making men stop and question their privilege a little bit.”

The “walls”

The cafe distinguishes itself from regular roadside cafes in other ways too. What drew my attention was the “Wall of Dames” that features photos of strong women from around the world – my heart swelled with pride when I noticed young Malala Yousafzai smiling at me proudly from the brick wall.

credit: Handsome Her

Handsome Her supports a sustainable environment and has  an “Emergency Wall of Mugs”. If customers forget their own, they can borrow mugs for $4. There are no paper cups here.


Creating a gender divide? Nah!

Some critics say that the cafe itself is  “creating a gender divide”. Some have issues with men being forced to pay a surcharge and others aren’t too happy about the priority seating rule. Too much criticism for a women-first-space in this “man’s world”, I say. I think it is a great way of raising women’s issues and the cause of the charities that the surcharge supports.

credit: Handsome Her

The principle is simple: you get paid more than us, you should pay more than us. You owe this to us! And even if a man refuses to pay the surcharge, he will still be served and will not face discrimination. Many men have so much to learn from this!

Cafes serving  that serve delicious hot and cold drinks and snacks are ubiquitous. Those playing brilliant music are common. Cafes with books are also not rare. But a cafe that raises awareness about women’s rights – that’s not to be found on every street corner. Yet, some people ask why feminism is needed. I say to question male privilege!

credit: Handsome Her

Author: Ayesha Hasan

Editor: Anne Thomas


Ayesha Hasan is a Pakistani journalist-turned-academic who is currently studying for a PhD in Peace and Conflict Journalism at the University of Wollongong, Australia. She can be reached @ayeshahasan08



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18.08.2017 | 14:20