Development, Government and governance, Law, Social policy, Education, Health, Arts, culture & society | Australia, Asia, East Asia, South Asia, Southeast Asia, The Pacific, The World

5 March 2020

As the world celebrates International Women’s Day on 8 March, Policy Forum turns its attention to the arduous journey of achieving gender equality. Julia Ahrens kicks us off by looking at the steps the global community has taken, and the mountains it still has to climb.

Each year, on 8 March, the world honours women and celebrates their achievements. This International Women’s Day, under the slogan ‘Each for Equal’, organisers want to raise awareness of the still existing bias women are facing, and encourage people to ‘take action for equality’.

The good news is, we’ve made progress – both in Australia and the world. Last year marked 50 years since Australia enshrined the right of women to be paid the same as men in law.

In 2019, Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency found that the number of women on boards of Australian Securities Exchange-listed companies grew from 8.3 per cent in 2009 to 26.8 per cent in 2019. Attitudes towards childcare responsibilities have also been shifting, with 90 per cent of both men and women believing that men should be as involved in parenting as women.

Employers are also supporting flexible work more often, and almost 50 per cent of them offer paid primary carer’s leave. Furthermore, between 2018 and 2019, employer action on domestic violence also jumped by 13 per cent, to 60.2 per cent.

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Around the globe, there are glimpses of hope as well. More and more countries are achieving gender balance in their parliaments, for example in Rwanda, and more businesses have measures in place to ensure better representation of women on their boards.

On top of that, the #MeToo movement has finally given women a platform to voice their experiences of harassment in the workplace.

In recent years, the world has also seen the rise of more female political leaders, such as New Zealand’s Jacinda Ardern, Sanna Marin in Finland, or Zuzana Čaputová in the Czech Republic.

But, it’s not all good news.

According to latest Australian data from November 2019, women’s full-time average weekly earnings were 13.9 per cent less than for men – this is the smallest the pay gap has been since 1999, but it has seen its fair share of ups and downs over the past few decades, hovering between 13.9 per cent and 19 per cent.

If other variables are taken into consideration, such as the specific industry, occupation, state, year, firm size, company, and job title, women still earned 3.9 per cent less than their male counterparts.

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Globally, the 2019 SDG Gender Index found that “nearly 40 per cent of girls and women – 1.4 billion – live in countries failing on gender equality”.

Even the basic human right of security of person isn’t a given – according to the World Health Organization, one in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence by an intimate partner, or non-partner sexual violence. The recent case of a young Australian mother and her children being brutally murdered by her estranged husband is a grim reminder of that.

Ultimately, whilst there has been progress, the world is still a far cry from where it should be when it comes to gender equality.

In 2018, United Nations Under-Secretary-General Shamshad Akhtar wrote on Policy Forum that annual global output could be boosted by $28.4 trillion by 2025 if women’s participation in the workforce increased.

Looking towards Asia and the Pacific, she also found that most women in the region work in precarious, informal employment, characterised by low wages and dangerous conditions.

On top of that, as Lyndall Strazdins and Amelia Yazidjoglou write, women do more unpaid work than men – both in developed and developing nations.

Neither the world nor Australia has reached the end of this road – not by a long shot. The Global Gender Gap Report 2020 published by the World Economic Forum found that gender parity will not be attained for another 99.5 years – a damning outlook. This is not only bad news for generations of women to come, but also for Australia’s and the world’s economies – a report by the World Bank Group found that if women earned as much as men in their lifetime, global wealth would increase by about $24,000 per person.

Policymakers can’t afford to put this issue on the back burner. In the coming weeks, Policy Forum’s special In Focus section will get expert authors to dig deeper into these issues and make tangible suggestions on how to move forward.

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