Gender equality far from reality in Aust

Belinda Tasker
(Australian Associated Press)

The catchcry for this year’s International Women’s Day is Be Bold For Change, but it seems Australians haven’t been bold enough in striving for gender equality.

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins has uncovered widespread evidence of everyday sexism based on interviews with 1000 Australians.

They’ve confided their “unheard stories” of women being refused access to work sites because there wasn’t a “suitable” toilet and being made redundant during parental leave as they no longer “fit” the look their employer wants.

“Although there has been some progress in some areas, overwhelmingly I heard gender equality has not been achieved,” Ms Jenkins wrote in a report based on her findings, titled A Conversation About Gender Equality.

Toys targeted at young boys and girls separately, pop culture, pornography, computer games and social media all sent out “confusing and unhelpful messages” for young people about gender equality, the report said.

In terms of the workplace, while some progress was being made towards gender equality, issues including unequal pay, flexible work and lack of diversity remain big challenges.

More than 1000 early childhood workers across the country chose International Women’s Day to protest over their pay rates.

At $20 an hour, they say their pay rates are an “insult” because they are half the national average.

Their union United Voice estimates 97 per cent of workers in long daycare centres are women, making qualified educators among the lowest paid professionals in Australia.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Master Builders Australia’s new boss Danita Wawn wants more women to join the relatively highly paid but male-dominated building and construction industry.

Just 10 per cent of building and construction roles are filled by women and Ms Wawn hopes to lift that number to 25 per cent in a decade.

Having more women workers in relatively highly-paid building and construction jobs could help narrow the general 16 per cent gender pay gap, she says.

“I think if we doubled the number of women in the industry we would see higher pay rates simply because you are in an industry that has higher pay.”

Engineers Australia is also keen to attract more women into the profession, with 12 per cent of jobs in that sector filled by females.

The industry body warns Australia faces a looming shortage of engineers unless more schoolgirls are encouraged to study STEM subjects and pursue an engineering career.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull focussed on the achievements of women in the Australian Defence Force, praising its push to attract more female recruits.

While debate rages about paid work, women are busy carrying out nearly three quarters of all unpaid work in Australia.

Accounting house PwC estimates women do three quarters of unpaid childcare, two thirds of domestic work, nearly 70 per cent of caring for adults and more than half of volunteering.

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