What Issues Affect Australia's Quest for Gender Equality?

What issues primarily affect Australian women? What is at stake when we talk about discrepancies between women and men in this country? And why is it necessary to defend how relevant feminism is in Australia?

As a nation, Australia’s struggle to strike the right balance in terms of gender equality has been a long one. However, the country has progressed considerably from being one of the first countries (in 1901) to offer women suffrage and implementing the 1984 Sex Discrimination Act to the more recent (2010) establishment of the Paid Paternal Leave Act. Still, there is a lot that needs doing.

However, very often, Australians find themselves defending the fact that certain inequalities even exist. Some people ask if Australia even needs one or more movements to promote feminism. Perhaps this reflects the number of people who are not aware of the issues that affect modern Australian women.  

To reduce gender inequality for Australian women, it is crucial to increase awareness of the issues women face. The 2010 Gender Equality Blueprint (a HEROC published document) finds that considerable inequalities still prevail in modern Australian society even though it would seem the country’s women have the same opportunities as their male counterparts. This is especially apparent upon examination of the statistics during the course of a person’s life. 

Understanding the bigger issues is essential, particularly among those who seem to believe in the notion that equality must have been achieved, even on a small scale, when there does not appear to be any societal inequalities between women and men.

The world is thought to have reached the 7 billion mark in terms of people back in 2011, with Australia being home to 22.5 million of these. Given these numbers, it should not be assumed that the number you know (even if it is more or less a few thousand) broadly demonstrates the situation in a particular country. It is very important to understand what societal issues affect Australian women because change can only be effectively introduced by genuinely understanding these issues.   

Gender inequality is examined in the World Economic Forum's Global Gender Gap Report, and it is done on the basis of economic opportunity and participation, individual health and mortality rates, educational achievement, and empowerment on the political stage.

It will probably concern some to discover that, out of 134 of the world’s countries, the World Gender Gap report puts Australia in 23rd place. This means Australia has dropped down three places since the publication of the last report and six from the report before that.    

To continue to make steady progress in addressing gender inequality is important since it is in everyone’s best interest. A lot of sources will say that those countries that use both genders in the workplace develop more quickly and successfully. A clear link is seen between development and women participating in workplaces.  

While Australia can be very proud that it has entirely bridged the gender equality gap in terms of education, there is still room for improvement when it comes to wage discrepancies and the number of women in political life.

Several areas where inequality still exists need to be tackled, as outlined below:

First Inequality: Larger numbers of women in part-time and less-skilled work

Most women in Australian workplaces have lower paid and less skilled jobs. Additionally, they are likely to work part-time instead of full-time and are often employed in precarious sectors. 

One is very likely to find more Australian women than Australian men in lower-level jobs with the former often being in work for shorter time periods. This leaves women more open to poverty, not getting as much superannuation, and being less well off than men upon retirement.

Second Inequality: Less pay and promotion for women

Australian men are more likely to be promoted and to occupy leadership or higher-up positions than women. Only 2% of women chair ASX200 companies and only just over 8% are board directors.

Furthermore, the Equal Opportunity Women in the Workplace Agency (EOWWA) reported 50% pay differences between the genders at CEO level, which leaves no doubt there is considerable discrepancy in gender pay.

Additionally, the 2011 World Economic Forum report indicated a 0.72, pay gap, meaning it is not unusual for Australian men to earn 30% more than their female counterparts.

This pay gap is especially worrying given that women account for around 85% of one-parent families, but on average are earning considerably less than male colleagues. The Australian finance and insurance industries are the worst since women only earn 40% of the salaries that men in these industries earn.  

Third Inequality: Australian women are poorly represented in government

The Australian government has a gross under representation of women. According to the World Gender Report and out of 134 countries, Australia occupies the 39th position in terms of the number of women in Government. This implies men lead women by 80% to 20% in terms of participation in political life.  

As well as being poorly represented in the political arena, those women who do work in Australian government are often treated negatively by male counterparts. In one reported instance, a female finance minister was subject to meowing sounds at Parliament’s question time. This is simply one symptom of the discriminative attitudes that exist towards Australian women in government.

Fourth Inequality: The greater share of childrearing and housework is undertaken by women

In Australian society, there is an unfair division of household chores with women bearing the brunt. In an ABS study on the way Australian people spend time, women were found to devote three times more time than men caring for children. This study additionally found that women undertake close to twice the amount of work in households with children than their male partners do.

In Australian society, both partners are expected to work, often because of a social expectation rather than economic necessity. The result is that Australian women struggle to manage their ‘traditional’ housewife and mother roles, while taking on more household duties than their partners, and in addition to their contribution in the workplace.  

Because of these inequalities, a lot of Australian women face the common and unfortunate dilemma of juggling guilty feelings with the other stress factors that accompany managing time at home with work. This is one of the unfair consequences of on-going gender inequality.

Fifth Inequality: Women are frequently sexualized and viewed as the weaker gender

The way women are depicted in the mass media often presents them as the weaker gender, relentlessly portraying them as sexual objects and commodifying them.  

How women are sexualized in society is a matter of great concern. This sexualization includes crude female-inspired jokes and images of semi-clad women posing in vulnerable positions. In one case, a well-known fashion supremo published an ad for leggings aimed at teenage customers. The ad featured a girl posing shirtless with sexual connotations. 

The commodifying of women coupled with the notion that ‘sex is a good selling point’ means we are constantly bombarded with images portraying women in degrading positions that consign them to mere sexual objects.

The sexualization of women begins early, with young girls being taught the importance of beauty very early in life. This subtly creates societal perceptions that women belong in domesticated and sexualized positions.  

Although there is a great deal to give cause for concern in the field of gender equality in modern-day Australia, the people of this great country are still motivated to strive for more equality, irrespective of how small or large each achievement is.

It is important that people continue to raise the standards. They should not need an incentive such as economic or financial development or the benefits generally linked to equality to continue looking for ways to actively address the issues that women face. Each person can aspire, to a large or small extent, to close the gender inequality gap in their everyday lives for the greater good of all. 

Individuals can achieve this by becoming more familiar with the types of inequalities that women are affected by in society as a whole, e.g., those highlighted by the World Gender Report and HEROC. It is only in understanding what exactly the inequalities are, and by improving awareness, that we can countenance these issues and change them effectively.

By taking the initiative, people can collectively work to reduce inequality between the genders. For example, we can all encourage others to improve their attitudes to women i.e. by not encouraging stereotyping or portraying women as only being able to manage the private world of childcare and housework.

Individuals can instead work to create a culture that seeks equality in every aspect of daily life. It should never be the case that the natural role of raising children should confine a woman to a lifetime of household work.

In raising awareness about the precise issues that surround gender inequality, and by helping one another to rectify any imbalances, every person will be better placed to decide how to balance their lives in an environment that involves equal contribution and participation.

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