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Advancing gender equality benefits all Victorians

Gender inequality adversely affects women[1] across all aspects of their lives, including their educational and training pathways, employment opportunities, work-life balance, opportunities to take positions of formal leadership, health and safety, economic security, and social participation. These interrelated factors combine to place women at greater risk of poverty, disadvantage and social exclusion, with 14.7 per cent of all women experiencing poverty, compared with 13 per cent of all men.[2]

The VCOSS Submission to the Victorian government’s Gender Equality Strategy identifies underlying principles that could inform the strategy’s development to make it inclusive and durable in empowering and advancing the rights of all women. This includes taking a broad and intersectoral approach to gender equality that:

  • responds to the unique and multiple disadvantage faced by certain groups
  • identifyies KPIs and action plans to drive change
  • provides long-term government investment and commitment
  • implements strong governance structures and accountability mechanisms including gender responsive budgeting and gender impact audits
  • takes a collaborative whole-of-community approach that draws on the experience and expertise of the community sector.

The VCOSS submission outlines priority areas the strategy should address and makes recommendations to improve women’s economic, social and political participation and wellbeing. VCOSS makes recommendations to change cultural and structural norms that reinforce gender inequality; addresses inequality in education, employment and leadership opportunities; addresses income and health inequality; and supports women at risk of housing insecurity or homelessness. Recommendations are also made to address core determinants of family violence through funding primary prevention activities, and effective responses once violence has occurred.

Women continue to do the bulk of unpaid work across society, including caring for children, older parents or relatives with disability or long-term health conditions, and housework.[3] As a result women of all ages have substantially lower labour force participation rates[4] and when they do engage in work it is more likely to be in part-time, lower paid, insecure work. Even when working full-time, women earn lower average wages then men. A gender pay gap of 18 per cent exists between full-time male and female employees, equivalent to men earning an additional $284.20 per week.[5]

Combined, these factors place women at risk of financial and housing insecurity, both while working and in retirement. Women are more likely to live in low economic resource households, be unable to raise $2,000 in an emergency, have little or no superannuation coverage or be financially insecure in retirement.[6] VCOSS members advise that women are also more likely to experience discrimination when trying to secure private rental properties. Older women are particularly at risk of financial and housing insecurity due to a lifetime of inequality leaving them with limited savings in retirement.

There continues to be fewer women in positions of formal leadership and power, across business,[7] the judiciary,[8] the public service[9] and parliament,[10] reinforcing a gender power imbalance and limiting women’s ability to participate in decision-making processes. Structural and cultural barriers, such as workplace discrimination towards workers with caring responsibilities,[11] and unequal shares of unpaid work, are key factors preventing women from taking up these formal leadership roles.

Gender-based norms and inequality also influence women’s physical and mental health status. Family violence is gendered in nature, with the overwhelming majority of family violence perpetrated by men against women.[12] Higher rates of depression and anxiety among women[13] are linked to issues of gender inequality, including exposure to family violence and higher rates of poverty and financial insecurity.[14] The portrayal of women as sexualised objects is also linked to eating disorders, depression and anxiety.[15]

Gender inequality intersects with other potential causes of inequality and discrimination, including socioeconomic status, cultural background, geography, age, ability or health status, sexual orientation and gender identity, placing some women at greater risk of poverty, family violence, poor health and wellbeing and exclusion from economic and social participation.

While gender inequality disproportionately affects women, gender norms can be detrimental and limiting for men. For example societal pressures to be strong and not reveal vulnerabilities can negatively affect men’s health, and men who wish to work in female-dominated industries or be the primary carer of their children often face cultural and structural barriers. Achieving gender equality requires breaking down the gender norms and stereotypes affecting both men and women.

Advancing gender equality benefits women, men, children and society more generally. Women play a central role in our community and bring valuable skills and diversity to the Victorian economy. Having leaders who are more representative provides a greater diversity of ideas, perspectives and experiences leading to improved decision-making. Communities that value women’s participation and representation and in which there are fewer economic, social and political differences have significantly lower levels of family violence, and have higher rates of wellbeing and lower depression among both men and women[16]. Narrowing the gap between women’s and men’s labour force participation rates would also increase Australia’s GDP by 11 per cent.[17]

Collaborative, sustained effort is required to address the cultural and structural factors that perpetuate gender inequality and limit women’s ability to participate equally in economic, social and political life.

 

[1] The term ‘women’ is inclusive of all women and girls, including cis-women, trans-women and intersex women.

[2] ACOSS, Poverty in Australia 2014, ACOSS, 2014,

[3] ABS, Gender Indicators, Australia, Aug 2015, Cat. No.  4125.0, ABS, 2015.

[4] ABS, Gender Indicators, Australia, Aug 2015, Cat. No. 4125.0, ‘earnings, income and economic situation’, ABS, 2015.  

[5] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Gender pay gap analysis statistics, September 2015.

[6] ABS, Gender Indicators, Australia, Aug 2015, Cat. No. 4125.0, ‘earnings, income and economic situation’, ABS, 2015.  

[7] Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWA), 2012 Australian census of women in leadership: Summary of key findings, 2012, https://www.wgea.gov.au/sites/default/files/2012_CENSUS%20REPORT_0.pdf

[8] ABS, Gender Indicators, Australia, Aug 2015, Cat. No. 4125.0,’ Democracy, governance and citizenship’ ABS, 2015.  

[9] The Mandarin, The ‘concerted effort’ to put more women in top Victorian jobs, 2016,

[10] COAG, Tracking equity: Comparing  outcomes for women and girls across Australia, Report to the Council of Australian Governments, 2013, p. 8

[11] Australian Human Rights Commission, Supporting working parents: pregnancy and return to work national review –community guide, 2014

[12] World Health Organisation/London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, Preventing intimate partner and sexual violence against women: taking action and generating evidence, Geneva, WHO, 2010.

[13] Beyond Blue, Depression and Anxiety Disorders in Women, 2011, p. 1.

[14] World Health Organisation (WHO), Gender in Mental Health Research, Department of Gender, Women and Health Family and Community Health, WHO, Geneva, 2005.

[15] Women’s Health Victoria, Victorian Women’s Health Atlas, http://victorianwomenshealthatlas.net.au/#!/  

[16] Science Nordic, Gender equality gives men better lives, Norway, 2015.

[17] Goldman Sachs JB Were, Investment Research, Australia’s Hidden Resource: The Economic Case for Increasing Female Participation, 2009, p.2.