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Women's economic security plan is no safety net

  • 22 November 2018
Just days out from from the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (25 November), the government finally released its women’s economic security statement. Originally scheduled for September, the package built around three pillars — workforce participation, earning potential, and economic independence — totalling $109 million dollars over four years. It is a drop in the ocean compared to what is needed to address the crisis of gender violence and substantial inequality.

The Minister for Women, Kelly O’Dwyer, in her National Press Club speech announcing the statement, spoke of an Australia beyond her imagination as a child, where women were in positions of power — first female prime minister, first female foreign minister, first female governor-general, first female jockey to win the Melbourne Cup. What she glossed over in sharing success stories was the common link — privilege.

This is not to shame the achievements of these trailblazers, but when O’Dwyer celebrated these women without pointing out that all of them are white, we only got half the story. To change the narrative on economic and social gender inequality we have to recognise the disparate experiences of women.

Further investment for the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), an initiative from the first pillar, workforce participation, only goes part of the way to redressing information about the gender pay gap. Streamlining the reporting process for WGEA to allow organisations to voluntarily report on pay is essential in widening the dataset. The changes have the potential to grow participation in the survey from 40 per cent to 75 per cent of Australians and will crucially capture not-for-profits, where a large proportion of women are employed — often on low wages with insecure work.

And while WGEA’s analysis is invaluable, especially the breakdown of the pay gap by states, without including wage differences between white women and women of colour the picture of workplace inequality it paints is lacking. Recent research from the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) found that women from migrant backgrounds and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women were less likely to be employed than white women (11.9 per cent and 14.2 per cent respectively).  

The first pillar also increases flexibility in the Paid Parental Leave system, which is a long overdue amendment, albeit one with a waiting period — it will be implemented for babies born or adopted on or after 1 July 2020. The change allows for