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Future of gender equality in Australia bleak without focused investment, report shows

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Gender equality

Gender equality in Australia took a big hit as the impact of the Summer 2019/2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic have been more severe on women and girls than their male counterparts, a report showed.

Commissioned by Australians Investing in Women (AIIW), Gender-wise Investing: A Springboard for Australia’s Recovery highlights that crucial investment focus is needed on employment and relevant skills-matching, domestic violence services, accessible mental health care, and homelessness support.

CEO of Australians Investing in Women, Julie Reilly, says Australia is now at serious risk of going backwards in gender equality.

“We were already lagging, and this research confirms that the impacts of the past year have been felt most severely by Australian women,” she said.

Australia’s fragile progress on gender equity has recently slowed or slid backwards. The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index now ranks the nation at the 50th spot behind countries including New Zealand, Rwanda, Nicaragua and the Philippines. In 2006, Australia ranked 14th.

“We know women are more vulnerable to economic crisis because they typically earn less, have lower savings and often work in less secure roles and industries. This report confirms that women have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic,” Reilly said.

“And, we know it is even harder for women in vulnerable cohorts, including women with a disability, Indigenous women, women from migrant, refugee and culturally diverse backgrounds, women from the LGBTIQ community, and women from geographically remote regions of Australia,” she said.

Key Findings

According to the report, younger women increasingly experienced job losses, potentially leading to long-term “scarring effects” from unemployment during the formative years of their career. The upshot is these women may not reach their true earning potential over their lifetime.

Throughout Victoria’s extended lockdowns, 67% of women took responsibility for home-schooling their children, and 60,000 fewer women over the age of 25 were enrolled in university in May 2020 compared to the same time in 2019.

By December 2020, 25% of women were experiencing high or very high levels of psychological stress, compared to 16% of men, indicating a greater need for accessible, quality mental health care particularly for front line staff such as nurses, teachers and childcare workers.

Meanwhile, Australia saw a 9% annual increase in domestic violence reports, with Queensland seeing a 20% rise in court orders pertaining to domestic violence incidents in 2020. Older women are among the fastest growing cohort seeking housing assistance, with domestic and family violence being the most common reason that women seek homelessness services.

Invest in gender equality

Australians Investing in Women urged the nations’ leaders, including corporate leaders and philanthropists, to recognise that making investments into women’s economic independence is essential for Australia’s future prosperity.

“We need to factor in the very specific experiences of women and girls in responding to the economic crisis we find ourselves in. If not, we will inadvertently widen gender gaps in economic outcomes and exacerbate gender inequality. Applying a gender lens to policy and investment – whether philanthropic, commercial, or by government – is vital,” Reilly said.

“Women were behind when the pandemic began, and have been hit harder by many of its economic and social impacts. If we take a gender-neutral approach to recovery, women will not only remain behind, they will fall further behind. This will not be a one-year impact, but a decade-long drag on opportunities for women,” she said.

Gender-wise Investing: A Springboard for Australia’s Recovery was enabled through the generous support of the Erdi Foundation and the Besen Family Foundation.

Cover of Gender-wise investing_A Springboard for Australia's Recovery_April 2021

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