By Helena Adeloju
International Women’s Day (IWD) celebrations are set for Friday 8 March and coincidentally Australia’s national theme, ‘More Powerful Together’, echoes some of the sentiments in our recent article suggesting that men and women work together for mutually beneficial change. The theme recognises that ‘it takes all of us, working in collaboration across that which sometimes divides us …to create a world were women and girls everywhere have equal rights and opportunities.’
So, how has Australia fared when it comes to advancements for women in the 12 months since IWD 2018?
Last week, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) announced its list of 2018-19 WGEA Employer of Choice for Gender Equality citation holders, with a record number of 141 organisations receiving the citation. This year the 26 first time recipients of the citation included the Australian football league, the first national sporting organisation to receive this recognition.
WGEA Director Libby Lyons said the growth in the number of recipients showed increasing recognition by Australian employers that gender equality is not just good for business but gives organisations a competitive advantage.
“More organisations are introducing strategies and policies to ensure women and men are equally valued and rewarded in their workplaces. Gender equality has become an important focus for Australian employers,” Ms Lyons said.
Earlier this month the Australian Bureau of Statistics released findings that the gender pay gap has reached a historic low of 14.2 per cent for full-time employment. And in NSW, the unemployment rate among women has hit a record low of 3.7 percent.
Internationally speaking, Australia ranked in the top 10 of the U.S News and World Report Best Countries for Women, coming in at number eight when results were released in January. The rankings were determined by results collated from nearly 9,000 women around the world. The annual survey used five equally weighted country attributes as measures: care about human rights, gender equality, income equality, progress and safety.
Late last year, Minister for Women Kelly O’Dwyer launched the first Women’s Economic Security Statement, which included a package of initiatives to target education, skills, financial literacy and empowerment for women.
Other notable wins for women in the last 12 months include the removal of the GST on women’s sanitary items including tampons, pads, menstrual cups, maternity pads and leak-proof underwear. The move will put $30 million back in women’s pockets following a long fought 18-year campaign, since the change required unanimous agreement from all state and territory treasurers.
The year since International Women’s Day 2018 has seen significant improvements in the lives of Australian women, and economically speaking, women enjoy greater equality and opportunity than ever before. However, there is still much that needs to be done.
In particular, more support also needs to made available for women experiencing crisis pregnancies, including greater flexibility regarding work and study arrangements during pregnancy, accessible and affordable childcare, and access to pregnancy counselling and support. There is currently also a push for GST to be removed from other women only items, such as breastfeeding aids and supplemental nursing systems, which are key supports for women with feeding troubles or sick or premature babies.
Other issues that require urgent attention include child brides and forced marriages, which have been referred to authorities throughout Australia with disturbing frequency over the past few years; prostitution law reform recognising that it is a practice rooted in gender inequality, which violently commodifies women; the harmful sexualisation and degradation of women and girls in pornography, advertising and entertainment; and sex-selective abortions, which research has shown exist amongst certain migrant communities in Australia.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day this week and reflect on the many gains made for women over the past year, let’s not forget that Australian women led the world when they secured the right to vote, as well as the right to run for political office. If anyone can champion the cultural change necessary for the challenges that lie ahead, we can.
Let’s redouble our efforts in building a better country for Australian women, their families and communities, and a better world for all girls and women now, and into the future.
Helena Adeloju is a journalist and a freelance writer from Melbourne.
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