5th East Asia Gender Equality Ministerial Meeting

Plenary III: The elimination of Gender Discrimination in Employment

Address by Penny Williams, Australia's Global Ambassador for Women, E&OE

Beijing

15-16 May 2013

Your Excellency Madame Chair

Honourable Ministers

Distinguished delegates

One of the enormous challenges of our time is to grow our economies and ensure shared prosperity for all people.

When it comes to this challenge, no person should be overlooked, and certainly not because they are female.

There is a growing body of evidence that proves bringing more women into the workforce spurs innovation, increases productivity, and grows economies. Families have more money to spend. Businesses expand their consumer base and increase their profits. When women participate more fully in their economies, everyone benefits.

Conversely, across the world, economies are suffering because of women's limited access to employment opportunities.

The World Bank’s 2012 World Development report on Gender Equality concluded that the misallocation of women’s skills and talents comes at a rising economic cost. Eliminating barriers that discriminate against women could increase productivity by 25 per cent in some countries.

Gains were made in women’s economic empowerment, from the 1990s to 2007, but in the face of a troubled global financial environment and with stagnating growth rates, these gains have been significantly eroded.

According to the 2012 ILO report on Women’s Employment Trends, the Global Financial Crisis had a tremendous negative impact on women’s employment opportunities, plunging an estimated 22 million women into unemployment.

In times of emergency, the most vulnerable are the most affected and invariably women are among the most vulnerable.

Domestic initiatives

The Australian economy has been able to, largely, weather the global financial crisis. Our government has prioritised the promotion of women’s equal participation in the workforce to build on this strong economic performance and maintain sustainable economic growth.

In 2012, the Australian Government delivered a new and improved gender equality reporting framework as part of the Workplace Gender Equality Act reforms.

The objects of the amended Act are:

Under the Act, large private sector employers will be required to report against a range of gender equality indicators, including in relation to, for example, remuneration and measures to support workers with family responsibilities.

Another important piece of Australian legislation, the Fair Work Act, has recently resulted in an historic pay equity decision. Social and Community sector workers – the majority of whom are women – are benefiting from substantial pay rises based on a finding by Fair Work Australia in 2012 that their work had been undervalued on gender grounds.

A further significant initiative was Australia’s introduction of a national Paid Parental Leave scheme in 2011.  The scheme encourages women’s continued participation in the economy by providing up to 18 weeks’ pay to eligible primary carers (usually mothers) and up to two weeks’ pay to eligible dads or partners caring for a child born or adopted. 

A comprehensive review of the scheme commenced in January 2013 to measure the scheme’s impact on: child and maternal health; women’s workplace participation and the promotion of gender equality.

Preliminary findings show that 95 per cent of working women now have access to paid parental leave. This is in contrast to only 50 percent before the scheme was introduced.

Despite these various measures, Australian women still only earn 82.4 per cent of what Australian men earn1. Their workplace participation is 59.0 per cent compared to 71.7 per cent for men2. Data shows that women perform much more unpaid work3, such as childcare, and have lower superannuation balances for retirement4 5, and are much more likely to be reliant on an age pension6.

So our efforts to secure women’s equal employment participation must continue.

International engagement

Madame Chair,

In conclusion, I wanted to make a brief reference to the importance of the APEC Women and Economy Summits.

Australia has actively participated in these summits since they were established two years ago. They provide an invaluable opportunity for economies to work at a regional level on initiatives to economically empower women. We thank Indonesia, in advance, for hosting the 2013 meeting.

Guaranteeing equal opportunities for women and men is not just the right thing to do, it’s smart economics7.  The economic arguments are as strong as the moral imperative: we simply cannot afford to ignore the potential of half our populations.

Thank you.