International Women’s Day (IWD) on 8 March provided women, often divided by national boundaries and cultural, economic and political differences, with an opportunity to come together to celebrate achievements. IWD is also a day that challenges all Australians to decide what legacy will be passed onto future generations of women.
The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day was Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality. This theme calls upon countries to implement strategies which would achieve the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), especially SDG number five: Achieve Gender Equality and Empower all Women and Girls.
Long road to equality
Gender inequalities are still deep rooted in every society. In many situations, women are denied access to basic education and health care and are victims of violence and discrimination. They are under represented in political and economic decision making processes.
The 2014 World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. One year later and the 2015 Forum estimated that a slowdown experienced in the already glacial pace of progress meant that the gender pay gap would not be closed until 2133.
Meanwhile, violence against women is a pandemic affecting all countries, even those that have made laudable progress in other areas. Worldwide, 35% of women have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non partner sexual violence.
The facts on inequality
Australian women and girls are not isolated from these trends. They continue to experience inequality and discrimination in many important parts of their lives.
The facts for Australian women and girls are stark. The national gender pay gap is 18.2% and it has remained stuck between 5% and 19% for the past two decades.
While women comprise roughly 46% of all employees in Australia, they take home an average of $283.20 less than men each week (full time adult ordinary time earnings).
Australian women account for 92% of primary carers for children with disabilities, 70% of primary carers for parents and 52% of primary carers for partners.
Average superannuation payments to women are just over half (57%) that of men with many women having little or no superannuation. Forty per cent of women have experienced violence at some time in their adult life.
Women are under represented in leadership roles. Only 57% of leadership roles in primary schools are held by women and 49% in secondary schools. This is despite the fact that women make up the majority of the workforce in schools.
What is needed to progress change?
Since all areas of life relate to gender equality, efforts must be made to cut the roots of gender discrimination wherever they appear.
Equality must be embedded across legal systems, upheld in both laws and legal practices.
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.
Women who still bear the bulk of responsibility for caring, simply do not fit into employers’ concept of the ideal (full time) worker.
The gender pay gap would be considerably reduced and could vanish altogether if workplaces did not disproportionately reward individuals who laboured long hours and worked full time employment.
In fact, the gender pay gap is smallest in industries where work can be done flexibly and shared among employees.
In these workplaces, workplace flexibility is seen as a workplace benefit, not a hindrance. Such employers are able to safeguard the skills of half their workforce, reshaping jobs to ensure that women workers are able to keep contributing.