On 8th March, countries across the globe celebrated International Women’s Day (IWD). International Women’s Day allow greater awareness on the importance of increasing access and equity in the social, political and economic spheres not just for the women’s development itself but also for positive development for countries as a whole. It is not a mere celebration, but also a reflection on how the progress that has been made towards gender equality. : So how far has Australia progressed in terms of gender equality? What is IWD’s history in Australia and the UN?
The UN and Women
The United Nations (UN) has celebrated IWD since 1975. UN Women Australia, a United Nations division that focuses on women’s development, conducted several IWD Breakfast Fundraising events across Australia inviting people to celebrate while engaging discussions from experts and professionals that have huge concerns and dedications in improving women’s life. Another action that is taken by UN Women is online invitation to the public to publish a picture with a purple ribbon, purple being a colour that has been used to acknowledge and remember violence against women and further support the effort in ending the violence against women and increasing women’s development.
Women in Australia
How are conditions for women in Australia? Actions ensuring women’s rights and development to be implemented have been made along the time. For example, South Australia became the first state to protect women’s right to vote in 1895. This significant action initiated in South Australia spread across the country and by 1911 every state and territory in Australia acknowledged women’s right in voting. In 1921, for the first time women help positions in public office and the first female prime minister of Australia was elected in 2010. Women also have access to education and workforce equally with men with laws and policy to minise discrimination against women in these areas.
According to the Gender Gap Report (GGP) published by the World Economic Forum in 2013, Australia is ranked 24th in terms of gender equality. This report was based on comparison between men and women’s access to health, economy politics and education. Australia dropped nine levels from ranking 15th in 2006 by the same report. This shows that Australia actions in ensuring gender equality are falling behind.
There are several explanations on the decrease in minimising the gender gap in Australian soil. Australia is a country with equal access for men and women to education. However, according to the GGP, Australia is ranked 43rd in terms of political access for women. The ranking is made based on the number of women in parliament and numbers of women political leaders in Australia for the past 50 years. The Australian Human Rights Commission also stated that there is a crisis of women representation in terms of leadership positions. Women may have common access to the workforce but little have achieved the leadership positions. For example, in 2012, only 24.7% of women were elected to the House of Representatives and 38.2% in the Senate. Another example is 61.4% of the law graduates are women but only 22% attain senior and leadership positions in law firms.
Australia is ranked 75th in terms of wage equality. As reported by UN Women, women in Australia are paid around 17% less than men. It estimated Australia can obtain an increase of $93 billion in its GDP if the wage gap is eliminated. The Department of Social Services also reported that, on average, one in three women have experienced physical abuse and almost 20% of women have experienced sexual violence since they were 15 years old.
While various parties in Australia work towards increasing women’s quality of life, equal access for Australian women has not been achieved, showed by the slow actions taken by the government in narrowing the gender gap. The government’s commitment in creating policies that address gender equality and public supports towards women’s higher involvement in the society is essential in minimising the gender gap.