International Women’s Day is recognised on 8 March each year. The theme in 2022 was #BreakTheBias. It asks us to imagine a world that’s free of stereotypes and discrimination, and where diversity and inclusivity is valued and celebrated. As Elisabeth Shaw, CEO of Relationships Australia NSW, explains, it’s a goal we’re passionate about working towards every day of the year.
In a sector in which women are more highly represented, we are perhaps somewhat protected from issues related to gender inequity in our day-to-day professional workplace experience. I say somewhat – because despite women making up 80% of the community sector workforce, they are still underrepresented at a management and executive leadership level.
But for many of our clients, every day we see disadvantage through poverty, violence, sexual assault, financial problems, separation and solo parenting. It’s tempting to see these as a result of individual family crises. The reality is much more complex, and the construction of power and gender in our society plays a big part in enabling these situations to arise.
We know, from our decades of work in this space, that gender inequity is at the heart of domestic violence, coercive control and sexual assault. Stereotypes that assign unequal value to men and women, along with an unequal distribution of power, resources, and opportunity, are a huge contributor to unhealthy relationship patterns and attitudes.
Indeed, statistics highlight just how unequal economic participation, opportunity, and political empowerment still is in Australia:
- Women comprise roughly 47% of all employees in Australia, but they take home on average $261.50 less than men each week
- The national gender “pay gap” is 14.2% and it has remained stuck between 13% and 19% for the past two decades
- Australian women account for 72% of primary carers for older people and people with disability
- 88% of primary parental leave (outside of the public-sector) is taken by women, and women spend almost three times as much time taking care of children each day, compared to men
- Australia continues to slip downwards on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, dropping from a high point of 15th in 2006, to 50th in 2021.
It’s clear that while Australia scores highly in the area of educational attainment, there is still a lot of progress to be made.
‘Equality’ is just the start
The feminist and author Germaine Greer has said that aiming for equality is a “profoundly conservative goal” for women, and that it is wrong to accept an idea of “equality feminism”.
Within groups of women, there are more extreme disadvantages, such as amongst the LGBTIQ+ community, and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. I am also mindful of women who are isolated from friends and family due to geographical distance, women with disability, and women who otherwise have less access to the workforce, and greater vulnerabilities. How can we reach them?
However, there is also progress to celebrate. Indeed, young women can sometimes wonder what all the fuss is about – including, to my consternation, my teenage daughter at times.
You will have your own stories of course, and now is a chance to bring these stories to life. There might be time for you to reflect on your experience, as women and men, on issues of power and gender, and what place International Women’s Day holds at this point in our lives and work.
And so, we continue to ask ourselves – how do we seek to progress inequity? How can we all finally realise that domestic inequality costs us a lot more than we realise? How might we advocate for women? How is our own workplace fostering equality and fairness, inclusion and diversity?