International Women’s Day

Equity and inclusion – Where to now?

Each year International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March provides an opportunity to reflect on the gains in overcoming discrimination against women at work and in the community and to highlight the challenges still ahead in gaining full equity and inclusion. While IWD is a global event, its focus on equity is significant for all facets of life and work for women, men and families.

This year the IEU chose to highlight workplace equity issues on IWD, noting in particular the inequities of recognition and remuneration facing teachers in the early childhood sector and support staff in schools. We especially acknowledge early childhood teacher Amy Martin and support staff member (and IEU Support Staff Vice President) Carolyn Collins for their contribution to IEU IWD events.

An unfortunate part of the context of this year’s IWD is concern about recent events in/around the Federal Parliament and reports by young women of sexual harassment and assault by male students in some Sydney schools.

Our union has a deep commitment to fair, safe and inclusive workplaces for staff and for students’ learning and wellbeing. In 2020 the IEU conducted two online PD sessions on supporting women working in boys’ schools and on boys’ education issues. Planning is underway for further IEU engagement in anti-gender violence education in 2021.

The IEU also participated in the research by the Australian Human Rights Commission into sexual harassment at work which resulted in 2020 Respect@Work report and strongly supports calls for the Australian Government to endorse ILO Convention 190 which recognises the right of everyone to a “world of work free from violence and harassment, including gender-based violence and harassment.”

Impact of COVID

Also very much part of the context for IWD 2021 is the impact of COVID-19 on women, families and on the economy. There is much evidence of the gendered effects of COVID and that women have experienced disproportionate social and economic consequences from the pandemic. In the words of 50 prominent Australian women in an open letter to the Prime Minister on 11 March, “ …while inequality persists, true development and economic growth can never flourish.” The open letter calls in particular for a commitment to enhancing early learning, with a focus on valuing and supporting early education professionals, and the IEU is actively engaged in supporting the Thrive By Five initiative.

International Women’s Day also occurred this year following an announcement from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency of a reduction in the national gender pay gap from 14 per cent. Unfortunately, it is still at 13.4 per cent, a difference on average of $242.20 per week between women and men, which has significant implications for women’s earnings and retirement incomes.

The recognition in the enterprise agreements for Catholic systemic principals and teachers of up to 12 months unpaid parental leave as service for salary progression is a welcome contribution to addressing the gender pay gap for many of our members. As already noted, however, pay inequity remains a significant issue for early childhood teachers and for support staff . The IEU highlighted this issue in our IWD events this year.

While the theme of this year’s IWD was on ‘achieving an equal future’, the time is now for us to act collectively to achieve dignity, respect and inclusion at work for women and men and to foster these values in the children and young people we teach.