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gender equality: australia still has a long way to go

While throughout the second half of the 20th century, the Australian government implemented many policies and legislative reforms that improved the position of women, the Global Gender Gap Index 2013 indicates that Australian women are still far from achieving equality with men. The Global Gender Gap Index determines gender equality by measuring the gaps between men and women’s status in the areas of health, education, economics and politics. While men and women in Australia are relatively equal in their educational participation and achievement, Australia is still a long way from achieving gender equality in the areas of health, economics and politics.

Out of the 136 countries analysed, The Global Gender Gap Report ranks Australia at just 24th on the gender gap index. It sits just below the United States at 23rd, and has moved down the scale significantly since 2006, when it ranked 15th on the global scale. Not only does the Index show that Australia is lagging way behind other western countries in its achievement of gender equality, but the fact that the gender gap has widened since 2006 suggests that it has been left off the Australian government’s agenda in recent times.

According to the Gender Gap Index 2013, ‘Governments have an important role to play in creating the right policy framework for improving women’s access and opportunities’ and narrowing the gap between men and women. While Australia implemented many gender equality focused legislations throughout the 1970s and 1980s, which improved the status of women and its gender equality ranking, it has lacked significantly compared to other western countries in more recent times, particularly the Nordic countries, which have been proactive in implementing policies habituated towards the barriers facing women.

According to the Index, Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, in that order, are the closest to achieving gender equality. With the aid of progressive governments, these countries have managed to close over 80% of the gap between men and women on all four of the gender equality measures. Although no country has achieved complete equality between men and women, the progression of the Nordic states leaves Australia with much to show. While Australia globally ranks first for gender equality in education, it ranks a miserable 69th for health and survival and 43rd for political empowerment.

Much of this inequality can be related to the country’s policy frameworks and lack of governmental activism for the promotion of gender equality. In the area of health, for example, countries’ gender equality ranking is often positively correlative with the policies they have in place to combat factors such as violence, disease and malnutrition, which most affect women’s health. In Australia the relativity of policy is evident when considering the distribution of health funds. The proportion of the government’s budget dictated to health is large, but the majority of these funds goes into hospitals, health technology and support for acute care. While this is undoubtedly important, the funding of hospitals does little to tackle the cause of disease and illness, and the problems within social infrastructures that most disadvantage women.

In addition to health, the lack of legislation to promote gender equality in Australia is evident in Australia’s poor ranking in the Gender Gap Index 2013 for political empowerment. According to the report, political empowerment is measured by the ratio of females with seats in parliament over men, the ratio of females in ministerial roles over men and the number of years a female has been head of state during the past 50 years. While some women in Australia have reached top positions in politics, including Julia Gillard who held the role as Prime Minister between 2010 and 2013, the inclusion of women in Australian politics overall has been low in the last 50 years.

This lack of inclusion is largely evident in the current Liberal government’s ministry. Despite there being many women competent for the positions, Prime Minister Tony Abbott promoted just one female, Julie Bishop, to his government’s ministry. While the low representation of women in politics has often been argued to be a result of their lack of “merit” or qualifications, this argument is rendered inaccurate when considering women and men have equal qualifications and educational credentials in Australia.

It is much more likely that Australia’s low representation of women in politics is due to a lack of policy to address the issue. Unlike Australia, countries like Iceland and Finland, with a relatively equal representation of males and females in politics, have legislation in place that require their governments to include a certain percentage of both genders in their political assemblies. While in Australia there is no lack of women who are qualified for politics, the lack of legislation requiring gender equality in Australian politics has resulted in a trend where women are often denied access to the top positions. And while there seems to be a pervasive rhetoric that Australian men and women are equal, the Global Gender Gap Index 2013 suggests that our country still has a long way to go.

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