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Opinion: Women’s Economic Opportunities Review needs to address intersectionality and barriers to entrepreneurship

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Women's Economic Opportunities

As many would agree, a review of Women’s Economic Opportunities is well overdue. We welcome the review and commend the NSW Govt for taking a proactive approach to improving economic opportunities for women in Australia.

However, we need to make sure this isn’t a ‘tick the box’ exercise. For the review to be truly meaningful, it needs to take into account the wide spectrum of women that are living in Australia so that they can all benefit, not just a small few, and think beyond providing jobs, but towards empowering women to create their own futures. 

First of all, the terms of reference as it stands don’t take into consideration intersectionalities. Not all women face the same barriers, some women are disproportionately affected by certain barriers – from race to socioeconomic circumstances. The data collection method should be improved to measure the extent to which intersectionalities play a role in limiting women’s opportunities for economic empowerment and entrepreneurship.

This will enable the government to identify where additional support might be needed to increase economic inclusion for women that face specific intersectionalities, for example, women in rural communities, those who speak English as a second language or women with disabilities.

Secondly, the best way to empower women to gain financial freedom is to encourage measures that promote a culture of women in entrepreneurship. This can only change through a reduction of biases that are ingrained in our societal structures. Still to this day, a lack of women’s representation in the economic sector fuels a cycle of marginalisation and underrepresentation, preventing women from developing and growing their social capital, accessing opportunities for upward social mobility and to be in positions that serve to inspire and mentor future generations of women.

We need to look at the problem through a gendered lens that acknowledges women and men enter and experience entrepreneurship very differently and there needs to be more policies and industry awareness of different intersectionalities that contribute to constraints in entrepreneurship.

We must also address the perpetuation of existing wage disparities and unequal earnings for women in self-employment. This requires a deep understanding of the barriers involved and we’d welcome consultation with women’s networks and community groups working on the ground to address these issues. 

If the review solely looks at economic participation (ie. employment only), it runs the risk of leading to numbers and quotas. Whereas using an economic empowerment framework leads to equity and equality of opportunity and can lead to exploring the services and changes needed to facilitate that empowerment.

For example, daycare alone is not the solution to women’s underemployment and the gender pay gap. We want equity in opportunities so that when services are designed, they can take into consideration a wide range of needs. Of course, we know that government, in their aim to cater to as many as possible, will need to keep it narrow and this is precisely where the challenge is because not everyone fits into the same group or category.

That’s why empowerment is much broader than participation and forces policy-makers and service providers to look at it in a different way.

Women’s Economic Opportunities Review can do so much more than simply providing a wage for women, we need to better understand the barriers to entrepreneurship for women and focus our attention on breaking these down at a broader societal level. 

Related article: Opinion: It’s time to accelerate women’s equality and end exploitation.

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