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Australia has fallen behind in gender equality driven by a succession of federal treasurers with “gender ignorant” approaches to the economy, Victoria’s peak organisation for women’s health, equality and violence prevention said.
Gender Equity Victoria CEO Tanja Kovac said Australia’s woeful record in provision of childcare services to assist workforce participation meant Nordic countries, New Zealand, and parts of Asia were well ahead in terms of women’s participation.
Her comments follow the release of a report on Friday co-authored by global gender equality organisation Women Deliver and quantitative and qualitative research agency Focus 2030, which includes findings from an online poll conducted across 17 countries, with at least 1,000 people surveyed in each. In Australia, 1,007 respondents were surveyed, including 517 female respondents and 490 male respondents, and zero respondents who identified in another way.
The survey found 53% of respondents in Australia, and 60% of female respondents, think the government “should do more” to promote gender equality. Twenty-four per cent want the government to do “a lot more” to promote gender equality, 42% of respondents in Australia want their government to “reform laws to promote equality between women and men and end discrimination against women”. Thirty-one per cent said the government should “conduct regular reviews of progress in the pursuit of gender equality”.
Kovac said while Australia has made some progress such as increasing the profile of domestic and family violence, other countries were doing much more and at a faster pace.
The most recent federal budget attracted a backlash after it allocated $40 per female worker, or $8 a year, until 2025 to address women’s economic security – just one third of 1% of the entire budget.
After the prime minister’s office complained that “no one credible” was complaining about the lack of measures for women in the budget, the hashtag #CredibleWomen began to trend on Twitter as thousands of people including business leaders, politicians, economists and researchers disputed the prime minister’s office, sharing the ways Covid-19 in particular had disproportionately affected women.
In July federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg said he would like to see a coronavirus baby boom and that a strong economy could encourage more people to have children.
“It is a naive, almost gender ignorant statement to say that the economic problems in Australia are resolved through birthing, but we’ve heard it before,” Kovac said.
“This is not the first time that a Coalition government has wanted to put pressure on women to have more kids to create some kind of economic population growth strategy. A similar statement was made by treasurer Peter Costello a decade ago. The problem with all of this is it doesn’t match up with what has been recommended by significant international economic institutions like the International Monetary Fund [IMF].
“The IMF is saying that to grow economies you need to address gender inequality, which means you can’t birth your way of problems if as a consequence you have a whole lot of women under-utilised in work, unable to work because they have disproportionate caring responsibilities or face a lack of flexibility in the workforce.
“Treasurers have been gender blind, unable to see the impact of their policies on the everyday working lives of women. If we were going to encourage population growth, you would have to do so by fundamentally changing the infrastructure of the Australian economy to better suit women. And we are long overdue for this conversation.”
The Women Deliver/Focus 2030 report also found that more women than men in Australia said gender equality was important to them personally. The biggest discrepancy between men and female respondents to these questions was in Tunisia [a 22 percentage point difference between men and women], followed by Australia [17 percentage points].
Fifty-five per cent of respondents in Australia, and 66% of female respondents, consider it “unacceptable” to “let women do the majority of housework, childcare and elderly care” compared to 44% of male respondents. Almost one-fifth – 17% – of male Australian respondents consider this “acceptable”.
Every industry in Australia has a gender pay gap that favours men, and women on average earn $25,534 less than men every year, according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s latest gender pay gap report.
Domestic violence against women remains a significant problem: within just six weeks of the implementation of Western Australia’s new family violence laws, 77 people were charged with strangulation. Research by the Women’s Council further identified 530 women whose partners had strangled them, whether with their hands, a belt, an elbow, or an arm across their neck.
Dr Liz Allen, a demographer and lecturer with the Australian National University’s Centre for Social Research & Methods said women are often elevated as society’s saviours concerning increasing labour force participation, all while being condemned as sinners for not fulfilling outdated notions of motherhood.
“Federal treasurers in Australia have realised the importance of more women in the workplace, but no earnest investments have been made to make workplaces or society in general more equal,” Allen said.
“Women are still being told they can have it all, but the reality is if they want it all they have to do it all. In other words, women are expected to do so much more than men to be seen as fulfilling their roles in society.”
Allen said women still bear the largest share of emotional and household labour despite increasing hours spent in the workforce.
“Policy and practice just haven’t kept step with the realities of contemporary life,” she said. “Dual incomes are necessary for homeownership but the way we do work and balance life’s pressures means women typically piece together insecure jobs to balance the household budget, while men have careers. Enduring notions of the male-breadwinner model harm gender equality and promote unequal pay.”
The survey found 19% of female respondents in Australia agreed that they have not had “the same access to promotion opportunities” in their job as their male peers. Furthermore, 18% said they are “not paid as much” as their male counterparts where they work. Seven per cent “have not received or will not receive the same inheritance” as their male relatives.
There are a number of ways governments can help promote gender equality, Allen said, starting with promoting equal rights in the workplace. That would mean fathers having access to greater parental entitlements, and greater workplace diversity. More accessible and affordable childcare would also be essential to reform, she said.
“Greater representation of women across politics and policymaking is vital. For far too long we’ve had men make decisions on behalf of women, lacking the knowledge of what it’s like to experience gender inequality,” Allen said.
“The idea women can be and thus should be mothers continues to entrench gender inequality. This must change. There’s much work to do here and government has the leading role; Australia needs leadership.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: ‘Gender ignorant’ treasurers leave Australia lagging behind in women’s equality, equity advocate says | Gender