Australia’s Gender Gap Index ranking falls…again. But there is a silver lining.

by Christina Hobbs

The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Index landed like a thud this month — with Australia’s Gender Gap Index dropping to 50th position, six places lower than 2020 and down from 24th position in 2014. 

The one silver lining to our dismal global ranking, is that it shows that for a wealthy nation like Australia, it really isn’t that hard for the Government to start making improvements. 

Our (under)performance, after all, now ranks us between Georgia, coming in at 49th, and Suriname, the smallest country in South America, ranked 51st. 

It’s no accident that Australia’s global ranking has been tumbling. 

Over the past thirty years, while other wealthy, and not-so wealthy, nations have been reforming policy and investing real dollars to drive gender equality, it seems successive Australian Governments have instead been channeling the passion, rage, time and skills of an under resourced women’s sector into a series of never ending parliamentary inquiries, summits, reviews and eternal requests for ‘more evidence’.

The problem, of course, is not a lack of understanding about what needs to be done, or how to do it, but rather the political will to actually prioritise progress on women’s leadership, safety and economic equality. 

Now in 2021, women and our supporters are coming together in a big way to tell the Government that we’ve had enough of the diversion tactics -that we want actual results. 

The good news for the Government is that after so many years of policy inaction, there are now so many sensible options to choose from when it comes to making change. So much of the work has already been done.

This month, for example, a parliamentary inquiry into the prevention of violence against women and children handed down 88 recommendations with bipartisan support. The recommendations are just waiting to be implemented, but like so many inquiries before it, there’s no guarantee.

In March, the Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Family Law System published a major report on ways to reform the overstretched, beleaguered legal system that has been linked to some many cases of women and children falling through the cracks. The recommendations in that report appear to already be gathering dust.  

Then of course there’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ landmark report on workplace sexual harassment, Respect@Work, with more than 55 recommendations — that have sat idle on Morrison’s desk for over 12 months.

I recently joined academic and former Australian of the year Fiona Stanley on a panel discussion about women’s workforce participation, and gained an insider’s understanding of just how frustrating it has been to be on the front lines of all this inaction. Stanley reminded the audience that she and her colleagues have been presenting the economic and social evidence base for free Early Childhood Education to the Government for over 30 years. A policy that presents such an economic win-win for our nation that it could contribute to a $60 billion boost to our economy while also playing an enormous role in supporting women back into work; it’s continual exclusion from federal policy and funding beggars belief.

Australia doesn’t need bold new ideas. There’s no need for further summits or reviews. When it comes to issues as diverse as reducing gender based violence to improving women’s workforce participation, the most obvious answers are already waiting, desperately, just to be implemented.  

While the Government mulls its options for how to respond to the recent wave of women’s outrage, it is also preparing the 2021/22 budget due to be released in May. 

Last year the Treasurer and the Prime Minister were heavily criticised by economists and women’s organisations alike for producing a ‘blue collar’ budget for a ‘pink’ recession – and ignoring investment in female dominated industries that could have driven economic growth. Will they make the same mistake this year? 

We’ll soon discover whether the Government has really been listening. Either way, only real action, and real dollars invested will prevent Australia from sinking further behind.  

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