In recent decades, significant progress has been made towards gender equality and women’s empowerment in Australia. A growing number of women have taken on leadership roles in universities, boardrooms and in government, forging pathways for other women and girls to follow. In 1984, the Sex Discrimination Act came into force, making sexual discrimination and harassment across various parts of public life against the law. The Act, which gives effect to Australia’s international human rights obligations, has played an important role in changing community attitudes and helping advance gender equality in the country.
Upon signing the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Australia introduced the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, federal legislation that prohibits sex discrimination. Under the Act, people are protected from discrimination and unfair treatment due to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, relationship status, pregnancy or breastfeeding. The Human Rights Commission is tasked with monitoring the act.
The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022 was developed to bring a significant and sustained reduction in violence against women and their children through a whole-of-community effort. It included funding to develop a range of prevention measures to stop domestic and family violence and sexual assault and to continue to change the attitudes and beliefs that can lead to violence. It also comprised targeted prevention initiatives to reach Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse communities and persons with disabilities (Australian Government, 2019).
The Realising the benefits for all: Gender Equality Strategy 2021–26 presents a pathway to realise gender equality in the Australian Public Service (APS) with a vision for respectful, safe and inclusive workplaces that enable all genders to fully participate and flourish. The Strategy builds on the outgoing strategy, Balancing the Future: APS Gender Equality Strategy 2016–19.
The Department of Social Services (DSS) is responsible for coordinating the work undertaken by the Australian Government to promote real and sustained reductions in the levels of violence against women and girls. The National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and Children 2010-2022 was endorsed by the Council of Australian Government (COAG) in 2011. To ensure that action is coordinated and efficient, the plan intends to mainstream the work done by Australian governments, community organizations, and individuals to support gender equality across the nation.
Last updated January 2023
Women’s Participation in Decision-Making
Female representation in Australia's parliament is steadily increasing, with an increase of 15.6 per cent from 1997 to 2022 (Hough, 2022). Although this increase in representation is undeniably positive, female representation in Australia remains relatively low and is increasing at a much slower rate than observed in other countries around the world. In 2010, the number of seats held by women in national parliaments was 27.3 and it only increased to 31.1 per cent in 2021 (United Nations Database, n.d.).
Gender quotas have been enacted into law in many nations with higher levels of female parliamentary involvement to achieve greater parity between men and women in positions of decision-making but are not enshrined in Australian legislation, with gender quotas implemented solely on a voluntary basis. Presently, only the Australian Labor Party has enacted a gender quota to increase female representation within the party to 50 per cent by 2050 (Hough, 2022).
In contrast to the low figures reported in the lower house of parliament, women hold 53 per cent of the seats in the Senate, which has a far larger proportion of females in leadership positions (Hough, 2022). This can be attributed to the Senate's use of proportional voting, which encourages parties to nominate a larger variety of candidates for election.
Last updated January 2023
Women accounted for approximately 62.2 per cent of Australia's workforce in 2022 (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022). This represents a significant increase in women's economic participation over the past few decades. As a result, Australia has one of the highest female workforce participation rates amongst developed countries (5th in the OECD). However, even though this is a significant win towards advancing gender equality in Australia, several significant barriers still prevent women from achieving full economic empowerment.
In Australia, part-time employment is significantly more common among women, who make up 68.3 per cent of all part-time workers (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022). This overrepresentation is frequently attributed to the additional flexibility part-time employment gives women, which may be necessary for them to balance work and caregiving obligations. Women in Australia are also significantly less likely than their male counterparts to be promoted to managerial and leadership roles with data showing that only 19.4 per cent of CEO positions and 34.5 per cent of key management positions are held by women (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022). When considering the lack of female representation on company boards, which are overwhelmingly made up of men, the lack of representation in decision-making roles becomes even more glaring (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022). Women hold 18.2 per cent of chair positions and 33.4 per cent of board member positions. These low figures are especially shocking given that Australia leads the world in female educational attainment.
As a result of these trends, the gender wage gap in Australia persists. Australia currently has a national gender pay gap of 14.1 per cent, with women earning $263.90 less per week on average than men (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022). As a result, men have an average superannuation (employer-sponsored retirement account) balance that is 23.4 per cent higher than that of women, making women more likely than men to experience poverty and homelessness as they age (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022).
Australia offers parental leave of up to 18 weeks at the federal minimum wage to the primary caregiver (Australian Government). Many organisations (60 per cent) in Australia have added the option of employer-funded paid parental leave in addition to the government programme, though the specifics of this option vary greatly depending on the size and sector of the employer (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2022).
Australia has taken a proactive approach to address these gender imbalances. The Australian government has currently set aside $482 million of its 2022 budget to assist women in advancing their careers and enhancing their financial stability (Australia, n.d.). This budget will be used to both improve policies geared at better preparing women for the ‘jobs of the future’ as well as develop initiatives aimed at supporting women in senior and leadership roles through training and mentoring.
As a G20 leader, Australia has committed to the 'Brisbane Goal’ which requires all member states to reduce the gender participation gap by 25 per cent between 2012 and 2025.
Last updated January 2023
Australian women typically devote significantly more time to unpaid care and domestic work than men; men were found to spend less than 5 hours per week doing housework, whereas women reported doing between 5 and 14 hours per week. (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2021) Moreover, 70 per cent of unpaid child carers are women, while 56.1 per cent of unpaid elderly, disabled, and long-term caregivers are women (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2016). These numbers are expected to have increased as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The amount of time women spend engaging in unpaid care and domestic work varies over the course of a woman's life. Many women report a marked increase in time devoted to these jobs after having children. (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2016) On the other hand, the amount of unpaid care, domestic work, and paid work performed by men stays constant over the course of their lives, even after they become parents. (Workplace Gender Equality Agency, 2016)
To reduce these inequalities, the Australian government has developed a strategy to ‘Boost Women’s Workforce Participation’ by 2025. Under this strategy, the main action areas include more budget dedicated to childcare assistance, the introduction of a Child Care Subsidy, and the promotion of a more flexible workplace for both men and women to blend work and family.