What does gender equality look like?
A gender equal society is one in which all individuals – regardless of background, disability, sexual orientation, gender identity, or economic means – have access to equal power, resources and opportunities. A gender-equal society fulfils its potential, without restrictions on an individual’s freedom to be who they want to be and do what they want to do. Australians have $8 billion to gain every year if women transitioned from tertiary education at the same rate as men (Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, 2016).
Why is gender equality so important?
Gender equality is the remedy to the gender inequalities that have broad and serious impacts for everyone. Gender inequality is a universal issue and one of the key drivers of violence against women and girls. While the contributors to gendered violence are many and varied, the unequal distribution of power between the genders and an adherence to rigid gender roles are key determinants (VicHealth, 2004).
Costs to society
Gender equality is a human right. Social cohesion relies on equality and increases our overall wellbeing as a community. Unequal societies are associated with higher rates of violence, instability, and anti-social behaviours. As signatory of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women, we must take responsibility for the wider social consequences of gender inequality at all levels of government, as communities, and as individuals.
Gender inequalities contribute to the following economic costs:
- Violence against women is estimated to cost Australians up to $21.7 billion a year, in health costs, expenditure of police resources and loss of productivity (PricewaterhouseCoopers, 2015).
- On the whole, women get paid approximately 87 cents to the dollar. Closing the gap would boost Australia’s GDP by 11 per cent.
- Women are overwhelmingly represented in the unpaid care sector, the estimated value of which is six times larger than the paid care sector (Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, 2016).
- Women are underrepresented in higher level management. Research shows that firms with 30 per cent of women in leadership roles were 15 per cent more profitable (Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, 2016).
Costs to the individual
It is difficult for statistics to reflect the effect that gender inequality has on individuals. By and large, gendered norms push young people towards certain behaviours, ambitions and views about relationships. Gender inequality forces the community to assign higher value to certain kinds of work and lower values to the rest. Although more women than men graduate from tertiary institutions, they receive a lower graduate salary. Further, fifty per cent of mothers experience discrimination during pregnancy, during parental leave, or upon returning to work (Victorian Gender Equality Strategy, 2016).
Australian women are nearly four times as likely as men to experience violence at the hands of a partner, and are five times more likely than men to require medical attention or hospitalisation as a result of intimate partner violence (Our Watch, 2015). Of women over the age of 15 in Australia, one in three has experienced intimate partner violence, one in five has experienced sexual abuse, and one in four has experienced emotional abuse. Such experiences occur across the whole community, but the repercussions are particularly acute for those who are marginalised and vulnerable. The non-fatal consequences of violence against women run deep. Survivors of family violence:
- are at greater risk of chronic mental health issues, including depression, stress disorders, substance abuse, post-traumatic stress disorder, and suicide attempts;
- may suffer behavioural consequences, such as substance abuse;
- are significantly more likely to report poor health and have problems carrying out daily activities (World Health Organisation, 2015); and
- are at an increased risk of poverty and homelessness (UN Women, 2015).
Government-funded homelessness agencies report that in 2014-2015, more than a third of their clients were escaping family violence. The increased availability of such services in Victoria has seen a 15 per cent increase in client numbers each year since 2012 (Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, 2016).
Men are not immune from the negative impacts of gender inequality. Due to the activation of gender stereotypes, men often seek help and support at lower rates than women. This is a likely driver for the higher suicide rates for men.