2021, so far, has seen Brittany Higgins, Chanel Contos, Grace Tame, the government’s response to Respect@Work, Kelly Wilkinson, Jarryd Hayne’s rape conviction and the Women’s Budget Statement, all thrust gender equity into mainstream Australian culture and conversations.  While there are some positive developments and courageous stories within these high-profile events, most contain some level of personal trauma and even tragedy.

So, how are you feeling?

This question was asked recently at the AGEC webinar when Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins joined to discuss the recommendations arising from the Australian Human Rights Commission’s inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces – the Respect@Work report.

Webinar attendees were asked to input how they were feeling, and I froze!   It was a rare moment in a busy working day to stop and personally reflect on the many significant developments for women and for gender equality in Australia.  I found myself asking what brought us to this collective moment of reflection.  Was it the number of ‘high profile’ matters in such a short period? The incredible courage of Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins?

Was it the meticulously presented evidence and recommendations that Kate Jenkins was providing us? Or the deeply disturbing behaviour and conduct of some who call Parliament House – the supposed centre of Australia’s ideals and values – their workplace.  Or, even worse, was it the seemingly endless, horrific, and tragic reports of Family and Domestic Violence, each one representing more devastation and loss of life for people, children and their families?

All I can offer up in summary is my belief that the Covid-19 pandemic has revealed what the absence of gender equality means in Australia.

The ‘March4Justice’ on March 15 organised by Janine Hendry, Georgie Dent, Kim Rubenstein and Trish Bergin was a landmark moment for gender equality and women’s safety in Australia.  AGEC was invited by the organisers to support the march and endorse the letter sent to the Prime Minister. AGEC did so on your behalf as your representative.

The marches held across Australia went further than the battle cry put out by Janine on twitter: “4000 women – that’s what it will take to circle Parliament House on March 15 and make it clear to government that we have had enough”.

The Government’s response to the marches and the associated public demands, the systemic, cultural, and structural blockages to gender equality continue to rage in the media and public discourse. This was recently heightened due to the Women’s Budget Statement released on 11 May.

Amid all this I wish to reflect on two areas where I think the absence of gender equity hit hard for Australians.

Firstly, Australia needs to better recognise that gender equality is a fundamental human right.  While we have been rightly patting ourselves on the back for our nation’s management of the pandemic and our economy being ‘world leading’ and ‘the envy of the world’, Australia has slipped a further six places to now be placed 50 on the World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Index.

When I first started monitoring this index in 2011, I was mortified that Australia was 23rd and behind countries like South Africa and the US. This list is growing; we are now behind 49 countries including Mexico and Moldovia.

My take is that Australians feel we are pretty lucky to live here, that we are not radical (a little progressive even), and we like to punch above our weight in competition with the world.  We also like to hear from experts and value facts.  Well, here is one clear fact for Australia – on a fundamental human right, we are performing badly and going backwards.

With the Tokyo Olympics upon us, can you imagine if Australia ranked 50th on the medal tally? We ranked 9th at Rio in 2016 and it was Australia’s worst performance since Barcelona Olympics in 1992! The headlines of doom and disaster ensued.

It is time we in Australia treated our national performance on gender equity as seriously as we do our sporting achievements.

Secondly, to borrow from Prime Minister Scott Morrison – gender equity “saves lives and livelihoods”.  One woman dies in Australia every week due to Domestic and Family Violence. We are 20 weeks into the year and 20 women are dead, leaving countless children, family members and loved ones with their lives destroyed.

This is simply not good enough and must be a top priority for all levels of government and all corners of our society to address.

On livelihoods, I note KPMG reported in 2018’s Ending workforce discrimination against women that halving the gap between male and female workforce participation rates would increase Australia’s GDP by $60 billion over the next 20 years.  What that provides is a clear and massive economic argument for gender equity in Australian industries and individual workplaces – a particular passion of mine.

The Covid-19 pandemic has hit Australian businesses and workers hard. Female dominated industries were the most deeply affected. And, while most seem to be recovering better than expected, there remains massive untold impacts of hardship, economic security, unpaid work, caring responsibilities and more.

In short, as our nation emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic better than most, there is simply no better time to lift Australia’s global performance on gender equity, close the gap in gender workforce participation rates and reap the economic and societal benefits that will flow as a result.

These are key considerations – alongside many more – for AGEC’s three main working group initiatives established in late 2020: 2000@2022 Women in Government; Safety & Respect@Work; and the National Primary Education STEM Program ‘Bright Future STEM’.

I also encourage you to check out AGEC’s Manifesto, if you haven’t already, as it covers the key areas for focus and action of gender equality in Australia: https://www.agec.org.au/our-manifesto/

Please get in touch if you would like to get involved, sponsor, donate or think your organisation should be a member. We would love to hear from you.

May 2021 Tara Diamond 
AGEC Board Member, Operations Director of Australia’s Resources and Energy Group and leader of AWRA, Australian Women in Resources Alliance