Women by numbers: why we’re slipping on equality
The World Economic Forum recently released their 2009 Global Gender Gap Report, and unfortunately Australia has slipped markedly in the ranks over the past couple of years.
The report measures how equally the resources and opportunities of a nation are divided up between genders.
In 2006 Australia was ranked fifteenth. Now we are twentieth out of the 134 countries included in the report. The Nordic countries topped out the list with Iceland coming first, Finland second and Norway and Sweden were third and fourth respectively. New Zealand retained their position in fifth place.
Even though Australia has slipped in ranking, we have made progress in the overall index scores so at least we aren’t going backwards in that regard. Our nation has still achieved a reasonable result, coming in before the US and Canada but Australia is lagging behind poorer countries such as Sri Lanka, Lesotho, South Africa and the Philippines. We did well in education attainment, ranking equal first with several other countries, however there are some areas which have dragged us down and are in need attention.
Australia is doing particularly poorly in political representation. Women make up only 27 per cent of parliament, and only 24 per cent of ministerial positions. To put this in perspective, Afghanistan wasn’t included in the report but 28 per cent of their parliament is made up of women- over the 25 per cent mandated by their constitution.
Australia has achieved equality in literacy, primary education and secondary education and women were more likely to undertake tertiary education. However the gains in education haven’t filtered through to the workforce.
Australia came fiftieth in labour force participation, with only 69 per cent of women in the workforce, versus 82 per cent of men. Women did have the edge on men in professional and technical professions but were poorly represented in managerial, legislation and senior official positions. The wage gap is also fairly significant. Australia ranked sixtieth in wage equality for similar work and men are pulling in over US$10,000 more on average.
Women are also more likely to be unemployed. The unemployment rate for women is 4.77 per cent, whereas for men it is 4.03 per cent.
What can Australia learn from the top five countries?
What they all have in common is a high participation rate of women in politics and most had female heads of state at some point in the past 50 years. All of the top-five also had some form of state funded maternity leave.
In Iceland a woman has governed for 16 out of the last 50 years. Women make up 43 per cent of parliament and 36 per cent of ministerial positions. Iceland still had a large pay gap and of legislators, senior officials and managers women only made up 30 per cent. However women were almost on par with men in labour force participation.
In Finland, in 10 of the last 50 years, a woman has been the nation’s leader, women make up 58 per cent of ministerial positions and 42 per cent of parliament. Labour force participation was close to equal.
In Norway 10 of the past 50 years had a female head of state, 56 per cent of ministerial positions were held by women and 36 per cent of parliament.
Sweden also had fairly equal participation in politics with 48 per cent of ministerial positions held by women and making up 47 per cent of parliament. However, they have not had a female head of state in the past 50 years.
New Zealand has had a female head of state for 11 of the past 50 years and women held 32 per cent of ministerial positions and made up 34 per cent of parliament.
In all of the top five, wage equality is still a way off and the percentage of senior positions held by women hovered around 30 per cent. However women had a longer life expectancy and were more likely to attend tertiary education. State-funded paid maternity leave was a common thread in the most successful countries and perhaps is an integral component to ensuring women’s participation in politics and public life.
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