Gender equality: Leading the way

Gender equality matters

Gender equality benefits society as a whole. If women are able to participate equally in employment, and have safe, secure, and healthy lives, this has a positive impact on all of society in economic, social and welfare terms.

The social and economic case for gender equality is clear. Women make up one half of the population and deserve equal access to health, education, economic participation, and decision-making power. Ensuring that we adequately use half of our ‘talent pool’ improves economic growth, competitiveness and future-readiness [1]. Not taking action is costly, with research suggesting that failing to address gender inequality costs Australia $195 billion or 13 per cent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) [2].

There are several examples of gender inequality in the Australia and the ACT:

  • ACT women that work full time hours earned, on average, more than $300 less than men each week ($1,209 versus $1536) [3].
  • The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) 2016 scorecard reported the gender pay gap in Australia to be 23.1 per cent, with men earning, on average, $26,853 per year more than women.
  • Women account for 65 per cent of the ACT Public Service, but only 42 per cent of senior executive positions [4].
  • On average, women retire with half as much superannuation as men; one in three have no super at all [5], [6].
  • On average, women in Australia spend more time each day working (paid and unpaid), and more than double the amount of time that men spend each day on unpaid work [7].
  • Women are less likely to have paid leave entitlements in Australia and single mothers are the least likely to have access to paid leave entitlements, with nearly a third lacking access [8].
  • One in three Australian women have experienced physical violence, one in four women have experienced violence by an intimate partner and one in five experience sexual violence [9].

The current policy environment

In 2016, the ACT Government released the ACT Women’s Plan 2016-26 [10]. The Plan is a high level document with five priority areas; health and wellbeing, housing and homelessness, safety, economic security and leadership and domestic violence investment. The plan does not articulate targets, resourcing or actions. Separate action plans are created under the Plan.

In 2016 the ACT Government announced a $21.42 million commitment to ‘Safer Families’ to tackle family violence. Safer Families includes a full-time Coordinator-General for Family Safety and team, strengthening integrated case management, enhanced decision making in child protection, training for staff across sectors on family violence, translation and interpreting services for court, increased funding for Legal Aid, support for immediate expenses for people escaping domestic violence, increased policing support, and increased funding for the Domestic Violence Crisis Service and Canberra Rape Crisis Service.

The Parliamentary Agreement for the 9th Legislative Assembly of the ACT (Parliamentary Agreement) includes a commitment to ‘undertake disability and gender impact analysis as part of the triple bottom line framework, and ensure that all relevant staff are trained in TBL analysis’. Gender analysis is already included as an optional component in the ACT Government’s Triple Bottom Line (TBL) Assessment Framework, contingent on whether “the purpose of the policy is to address poverty or gender issues”[11]. More information is needed on how the Government intends to operationalise its commitment in the Parliamentary Agreement.

The Parliamentary Agreement also makes a commitment to ‘Continue social and emotional learning programs in schools to enhance the skills of children and young people to engage in respectful relationships, including to prevent violence and sexual assault’[12]. This will build on the ACT Government’s 2015-16 Budget commitment of $615,000 for ‘social and emotional learning programs’, amounting to $2,500 per school[13].

Our role in progressing gender equality

YWCA Canberra is part of a global movement working in 101 countries. Together we are working towards to goal of ‘100 million young women and girls transforming power structures to create justice, gender equality and a world without violence and war; leading a sustainable YWCA movement, inclusive of all women’ by 2035’.

We provide professional development opportunities to women and girls across the ACT through a diverse range of leadership programs. In 2015-16, 14 students graduated with a She Leads Diploma of Management, currently 45 students are enrolled across three classes and are expected to graduate in 2016-17. A further 250 people attended our She Leads Conference and 100 college age young women attended our She Leads College Conference.

We also deliver school-based leadership programs for girls in years seven and eight through our Y-Aspire program. In 2015-16 Y-Aspire was delivered to 110 girls in the Belconnen and Tuggeranong regions.

YWCA Canberra also provides Great Ydeas grants of up to $2,000 to women and girls to pursue professional development opportunities, develop pilot projects, kick-start business ideas, or address a need in the community. Seven Great Ydeas grants were awarded in 2016.

We also offer a Board Traineeship Program providing a unique opportunity for young women to gain experience in governance and holding directorships. In addition to the Traineeship Program, our Board has a quota requiring 30 per cent of our Board positions to be held by women age 30 or under.

Policy roadmap for action

Gender equality will not just happen organically. It needs to be driven by strong leadership, legislative and regulatory reform, and appropriate resourcing. The economic and social benefits to the community are too great to overlook this vital social policy reform.

Experience from Australia and overseas demonstrates that institutional location is critical to advancing gender equity, and that the agency or office supporting gender equity needs to be located in the chief coordinating department of government. Recognition of this is expressed in the United Nations Beijing Platform for Action, which recommends that responsibility for driving gender equity should be located at the highest level of government[14].

Maximising the effectiveness of gender-equality agencies or institutions requires:

  • Clearly defined mandates, authority, and mechanisms for key functions;
  • Adequate budget, resources and staff to implement the mandate;
  • Strong political commitment; and
  • Location at highest possible level of government.

Government policy and budgets have a powerful impact on social and economic inequalities in the ACT. Expenditure and revenue measures have different implications for, and impacts upon, women and men. Gender policy analysis and gender budget analysis can reveal these differing impacts and thereby help to improve the effectiveness, efficiency, accountability and transparency of government policy, as well as making significant contributions towards gender equality and the realisation of women’s rights.

Applying a gender analysis to ACT Government policy must be routine, rather than an optional component of broader analysis framework. Undertaking gender analysis must also be adequately resourced and carried out by people with the appropriate skill set.

The Victorian Government has committed to establishing a ‘Gender Equality Act’ as part of its Gender Equality Strategy[15]. The Gender Equality Act will be based on the gender equality legislation in Iceland, which has had a Gender Equality Act in place since the 1970s, and is the highest ranked country on the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. The legislation includes gender equality education from early childhood to tertiary settings, quotas and targets, parental support for work and life and anti-discrimination, violence and sexual harassment strategies.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics trialled blind recruitment practices to address the gender disparity in senior roles. At the time of the trial 21 per cent of ABS senior officers were women. During the recruitment process, they advertised 19 senior roles and concealed names and genders from recruiters. Recruiters were also trained in unconscious bias and the advertisements for the roles also actively promoted flexibility in the work environment. The process resulted in 15 of the 19 positions being filled by women [16].

Policy recommendations

That the ACT Government demonstrates its commitment to gender equality by:

  • Moving the Office for Women from the Community Services Directorate to the Chief Minister’s Department.
  • Appropriately resourcing the Office for Women to enable it to play a coordinating role in supporting all Directorates in working towards gender equality, and in ensuring that all legislation and policy contributes to gender equality.
  • Developing a Gender Equality Act that is based on successful international models and includes tangible quotas and targets.
  • Reinstating the gender budget analysis to ensure that budgetary decisions contribute to gender equality.
  • Introducing blind recruitment practices for ACT Public Services roles, including senior management roles based on the Australian Bureau of Statistics trial of blind hiring.
  • Increasing funding for women’s leadership programs and education programs focused on respectful relationships and addressing harmful gender stereotypes.
  • Holding a Summit on achieving gender equality in the ACT, involving Government representatives, not-for-profit organisations, and a diverse range of women from across the ACT community.

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  1. The case for gender parity, World Economic Forum,
  2. Gender pay gap costs country $195b, says economist, Adele Ferguson, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 March 2013
  3. ACT Women’s Plan, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra 2016,
  4. ACT Women’s Plan, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra 2016,
  5. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), (2013). Retirement and Retirement Intentions, July 2012 to June 2013. Cat No. 6238.0. ABS: Canberra.
  6. Clare, Ross, (2014). An update on the level and distribution of retirement savings. The Association of Superannuation Funds of Australia Limited (ASFA): Sydney.
  7. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), (2015). Average Weekly EarningsMay 2015. Cat. No. 6302.0.
  8. Ibid
  9. Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS). (2013). 2012 Personal Safety Survey, Cat. No. 4906.0, ABS: Canberra.
  10. ACT Women’s Plan 2016-26, Australian Capital Territory, Canberra 2016
  11. Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW), (2015). National Community Mental Health Care Database. Canberra: AIHW.
  12. The Parliamentary Agreement for the 9th Legislative Assembly of the ACT
  13. ACT Budget 2016-17, Safer Families,
  14. United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women, (1995). Global Platform for Action – Beijing. UN: New York.
  15. Women Victoria, What Works,
  16. “Blind recruitment” trial leads to more female employees, SBS, June 2016