International Women's Day: Challenging the reality for women

However, more importantly, it is also a day which challenges all Australians to consider the current realities for Australian women and decide what legacy will be passed onto future generations.

Australian women’s realities as caregivers and workers

Research has shown that there are 4.1 million Australian employees who undertake unpaid carers’ responsibilities, 70% of whom are women. While men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.

It is a reality that women cannot abandon their caregiving responsibilities when in employment. Yet, caregiving poses great financial challenges through the loss of wages from reduced hours, part time employment, time out of the workforce, family leave or early retirement.

The statistics speak for themselves:

  • 66% of employed women with children aged under 6 years worked part time compared to 7% of employed men with children of this age.
  • 35% of mothers with children under 12 years are employed casually and have no paid sick leave or carers’ leave, and
  • Only one in five female primary carers of people with disability, illness or fragility is able to work full time.

Australian women’s realities of workplace discrimination

The Supporting Working Parents: Pregnancy and Return to Work National Review 2014 (AHRC) found evidence that pregnancy and return to work discrimination is widespread. In particular, 49% of mothers reported experiencing discrimination at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. Yet, only 9% of mothers who experienced discrimination made a formal complaint (with either their organisation or to a government agency);

The Review also identified that women with family or caring responsibilities were often unreasonably denied access to flexible working arrangements. This situation is exacerbated by the fact that current industrial legislation does not provide avenues for appeal against any unreasonable refusals.

Australian women’s realities of retirement

The Accumulating Poverty: Women’s Experience of Inequality Over a Life Cycle Report (AHRC 2009) has shown that the average superannuation payouts to women are just over half (57%) that of men with many women having little or no superannuation.

This is despite more women participating in the paid workforce than ever before.

There are significant implications arising from this entrenched gender pay inequality. The failure to redress the financial disadvantage of women will result in ongoing dependence on the aged pension. As women live longer than men and are more likely to rely on the aged pension as their sole source of income in retirement, the need for effective policy solutions is pressing.

Australian women’s realities of violence

Every week in Australia, one woman is killed by her current or former partner, often after a history of domestic violence. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (2006) records:

  • 40% of women have experienced violence at some time in their adult life;
  • 29% women have experienced physical assault;17% of women have experienced sexual assault;
  • 16% have experienced violence by a current or previous partner in their lifetime; and
  • Since the age of 15, one third of women (33%) have experienced inappropriate comments about their body or sex life, one quarter (25%) have experienced unwanted sexual touching, and one in five (19%) have been stalked.

Why is the reality for Australian women still a challenge?

Several factors have been found that limit progress for women on all key areas: Women continue to be responsible for most domestic and care giving work. This unequal sharing of responsibilities negatively impacts their educational and employment opportunities.

Women’s under-representation in decision-making positions in all sectors limits the incorporation of gender perspectives in policies and programmes.

The prevalence of negative gender stereotypes based on societal beliefs and attitudes affects women and men and constrains their opportunities and choices. Stereotypical assumptions about women in the labour market lead to occupational segregation and a gender wage gap.

Limited involvement on the part of men and boys restrains advances towards gender equality in all areas. Focusing attention on gender issues and building support for social change can only be achieved when men and boys are engaged, for instance, in measures to eliminate violence against women and overcome stereotypes.

What Is needed to progress change?

To bring about change, a good starting point is the development of comprehensive legal and industrial frameworks which protect and enhance the positions of women.

The IEU through its work with the ACTU is actively campaigning for industrial rights and protections around domestic violence workplace leave and greater access to flexible working arrangements.

Yet, the development of legislation and policies alone are not enough. Legislation must be effectively implemented, monitored and resourced. This includes the effective education of both men and women which raises awareness of the rights and issues affecting women.

International Women’s Day is more than a day of celebration. It must be considered as an ongoing campaign by all Australians for empowerment and equity.

In the week of 8 March, IEU members across the country celebrated their achievements and continue the campaign. It is only through the activism of our members that sustained progress for gender equality and empowerment for the next generation of women and girls is achieved.