Women are still angry – even as the public sector leads the way

The old stereotype that feminists are angry is coming true right now. Will women ever be happy?

Well, no, not with the current state of gender equality in Australia. Recent data shows that the gender pay gap stands at 22.8%, that men are twice as likely to be in the highest income brackets as women, that women make up only 20 % of CEOs and that more than 50% of women have been sexually harassed.

Last year’s Global Gender Gap Report ranked Australia 50th out of 156 countries on gender equality, down from 15th.and in 2006. Although figures for this year are not yet available, Australian women may have fallen further. The pandemic has affected women disproportionately, increasing gender inequality as women have lost their jobs, received less government assistance than men, and taken on a greater share of domestic and care work.

Last year we saw an outpouring of anger from women, culminating in the March for Justice. Since then, the Australian government has taken steps to improve gender equality. As reported this week, the government has increased funding for domestic and family violence prevention, consent education campaigns and men’s behavior modification.

Although essential, these initiatives do not go far enough and the women are still angry. This week, a coalition of women leaders came together to call on the Australian government to do more. To close the gender pay gap, keep women safe at home and at work, provide accessible early childhood education and care, expand paid parental leave, introduce 10 days of paid violence leave family and implement the National Plan for Women and Girls.

This coalition also calls on the government to implement a key reform of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins [email protected] report. The recommendation to include a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act would oblige employers to take proactive measures to prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Government intervention in all these areas is welcome. Organizations also have their role to play, of course. Over the past few months, APS has advanced several important initiatives to advance gender equality, including:

  • The APS Gender Equality Strategy was released late last year and focuses on advancing gender equality through leadership and accountability, making workplaces more respectful, changing gender stereotypes, increasing flexible working arrangements, including use by men.
  • Revision of the Maternity Leave (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1973. This is long overdue, as current legislation is outdated and reinforces traditional gender roles. This review offers the opportunity to extend paid parental leave in APS, as my colleagues and I have recommended.
  • Increased scrutiny of non-disclosure agreements – Agency heads are now required to consult or report to the APS commissioner before entering into an agreement with an employee that includes a non-disclosure provision. Non-disclosure provisions prevent people who have been sexually harassed from talking about the abuse. The removal of non-disclosure provisions was an important recommendation of the [email protected] report.
  • Attached to the Agency for professional equality between women and menalso following the [email protected] report, APS agencies will report progress on gender equality to the WGEA. This is also important, as monitoring, evaluation and reporting are key to seeing what worked and what areas need attention.

As the Australian Government takes steps to advance gender equality, we can see that APS is leading the way in this area. In an election year, a comprehensive policy to advance gender equality in Australian society and across all industry sectors could see all sectors become employers of choice for women.


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