I was recently asked by my teenage sons to explain the ‘gender thing’. Wow! What a way to describe the tireless nights and evenings I spend away from them campaigning for gender equality.
It almost sounds like a name of a horror film; perhaps I should ask Steven Spielberg to direct it. Better still, how about the many women from all over the world who have been subjected to varying degrees of trauma, injustice and inequality purely based on their gender?
The 8th of March is International Women’s Day so that is a perfect place to begin.
I started with elaborate language but quickly realised that what they needed was my version of the issue: Gender Equality 101. Roughly, this is what I said to them – mindful of the fact that it was extremely important that I encapsulated the important aspects and avoid popular and misleading generalities. I realised the importance and significance of what I was about to say, knowing fully well that whatever explanation I gave would not be enough and would need further explanation and real examples.
My being a feminist is not some sour tirade where I advocate for every man to be castrated (but I would be lying if I said I have never entertained those thoughts for a select few) but more about advocating for equal opportunities for women in education and employment. It is about defining, establishing and achieving equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women.
Statistics do not lie.
Australia’s population is about 24 million people and of that 50.2% are women. That is the only edge women in Australia hold.
“In Australia, women are highly educated and make up nearly half the workforce,” says Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA). “However, just 27.4 per cent of key management personnel and 15.4 per cent of CEOs are women.”
For every $1 that a male earns in Australia, a woman will earn roughly 81c. The World Economic Forum predicted in 2014 that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. Then, one year later in 2015, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.
The gender diversity gap is more prominent when we consider women in senior management roles. Women Chief Executive Officer’s account for 15.4% and, as of 31 January 2016, the Australian Institute of Company Directors stated that women made up 21.9% of ASX200 boards.
Although women make up 40 per cent of the average company’s workforce, they only represent a third of managers and 26 per cent of senior managers. According to Patricia Milligan, Senior Partner at Mercer, ‘at this pace and rate of change globally, we won’t see any form of gender equality in the workforce till 2050’.
For those wanting to enter the field of politics and make changes, I say: Go For It!
The reality is that 22% of the world’s parliamentarians are woman. Of the 315 Heads of State and Heads of Government, only 22 are female – representing 6.9% of all political leaders in the world.
But the issues don’t affect women just in classrooms and offices; one of the major issues affecting women and girls today is the global epidemic of domestic violence. Every 10 minutes somewhere in the world, an adolescent girl dies as a result of violence.
The Australian Institute of Criminology states that, every week, a woman dies at the hands of a current or former partner. One in three women has experienced physical violence, since the age of 15, and one in five has experienced sexual violence.
On the other hand, the Department of Social Services says that the cost of violence against women and their children to the Australian economy is $13.6 billion. Without the right preventive action, it is calculated to rise to $15.6 billion by 2022 which is 64% of what we spent on the defence budget in 2011.
Yet women from indigenous, immigrant or refugee backgrounds face further intersectional disadvantages due to their language, race, culture, ethnicity and traditional cultural beliefs related to gender stereotyping. Anne Marie Goetz from UNIFEM could not have said it more poignantly when she stated that: ‘Antiquity of prejudice is no justification for its preservation’.
In 2015, Hillary Clinton, stated that “there has never been a better time in history, to be a woman”. We need to continue to advocate for women from all over the world to achieve their full potential and enjoy equal opportunities.
To all my male friends, colleagues and especially my two teenage sons, as you celebrate IWD today and throughout this week, don’t just settle for signing a pledge or attending a breakfast then slowing down. We need you to continue to work for us and with us. We need you to change your behaviours, challenge sexism, and create space in positions of power for women of all races to lead.
“Truly powerful men are those who believe in and work for the empowerment of women,” said UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon.
So men of Australia and beyond, I challenge you to pick up a hammer, a shovel or even a diaper and join the fight. Help ensure your daughters, sisters, mothers, partners, wives and friends have different statistics from the ones today.
Make “the thing” your thing, after all, equality for Women is progress for all!