Women are still angry – even as the public sector shows the way forward

By Sue Williamson

Tuesday March 8, 2022

Why should women be happy with the current state of gender equality in Australia? (fizkes/Adobe)

The old stereotype that feminists are angry is being realised at the moment. Will women ever be happy?

Well, no, not with the current state of gender equality in Australia. Recent data shows that the gender pay gap sits at 22.8%, men are twice as likely to be in the highest income brackets than are women, women make up only 20% of CEOs, and more than 50% of women have been sexually harassed.

Last year’s Global Gender Gap report ranked Australia 50 out of 156 countries on gender equality, a decline from being ranked 15th in 2006. While this year’s figures are not yet available, Australian women may have gone further backwards. The pandemic disproportionately affected women, increasing gender inequality as women lost jobs, received less government assistance than men, and took on more of the domestic and caring load.

Last year we saw an outpouring of women’s anger, culminating in the March for Justice. Since then, the Australian government has taken some actions to improve gender equality. As reported this week, the government has increased funding for domestic and family violence prevention, educational campaigns about consent and changing men’s behaviour.

While essential, these initiatives do not go far enough and women are still angry. This week a coalition of women leaders came together to call on the Australian government to do more. To fix the gender pay gap, to ensure women are safe at home and at work, to provide accessible early childhood education and care, expand paid parental leave, introduce 10 days’ paid domestic violence leave and implement the National Plan for First Nations Women and Girls.

This coalition is also calling on the government to implement a key reform of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ Respect@Work report. The recommendation to include a positive duty in the Sex Discrimination Act would require employers to proactively take action to prevent sex discrimination and sexual harassment.

Government intervention on all these areas is welcome. Organisations have their part to play too, of course. Over the last few months, the APS has progressed several important initiatives to progress gender equality, namely:

  • The APS Gender Equality Stratetgy was released late last year, and focuses on progressing gender equality through leadership and accountability, making workplaces more respectful, shifting gender stereotypes, increasing flexible working arrangements, including usage by men.
  • Review of the Maternity Leave Act (Commonwealth Employees) Act 1973. This is long overdue, as the current legislation is outdated and reinforces traditional gender roles. This review provides an opportunity for paid parental leave to be expanded in the APS, as my colleagues and I have recommended.
  • Increased scrutiny of non-disclosure agreements – agency heads are now required to consult with or report to the APS Commissioner before entering into an agreement with an employee that includes a non-disclosure provision. Non-disclosure provisions prevent those who have experienced sexual harassment from talking about the abuse. Removing the non-disclosure provisions was an important recommendation in the Respect@Work report.
  • Reporting to the Workplace Gender Equality Agencyalso as a result of the Respect@Work report, APS agencies will report progress on gender equality to WGEA. This is also important, as monitoring, evaluating and reporting are essential to see what’s worked, and which areas need further attention.  

While the Australian government is taking some actions to progress gender equality, we can see that the APS is leading the way in this area. In an election year, a comprehensive policy to progress gender equality in Australian society, and across all industry sectors may see all sectors become employers of choice for women.


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