International Women's Day 2017

In the lead-up to International Women’s Day, United Nations (UN) Women is calling for action to ‘Step It Up for Gender Equality towards a Planet 50-50 by 2030.’ As part of this ongoing initiative 93 UN member states, including Australia, have made commitments to close the gender equality gap. Australia’s commitments, made in 2015, include accelerated support for gender equality in our overseas development program, and new initiatives to reduce domestic and family violence.

The UN theme of International Women’s Day 2017 is ‘Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030’. Around the world, women are paid less than men. In most countries, according to UN Women, women earn between 60 to 70 per cent of men’s wages, a gender pay gap of 30 to 40 per cent. In Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency has calculated the gender pay gap to be 16.2 per cent.

Another example of gender inequality is the continued under-representation of women in parliaments around the world. One of the strategic objectives of the 1995 Beijing Platform for Action was to ‘take measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures and decision-making’. Twenty-two years later, only 23.3 per cent of members of national parliaments are women (as at 1 January 2017). Only the parliaments of two countries—Rwanda and Bolivia—have a majority of women in the lower house. Australia is currently ranked 50th in the world for representation of women in the lower house—behind New Zealand (32nd) and the United Kingdom (47th), but ahead of Canada (62nd) and the United States of America (104th).

In Australia, according to Parliamentary Library figures (as at 20 February 2017) women comprise 33 per cent of the Commonwealth Parliament. When the figures for the Commonwealth Parliament and state and territory parliaments are combined the percentage of women is almost the same, at 32.9 per cent. An important milestone was reached at the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) election on 15 October 2016, when the ACT became the first Australian parliament where the majority of members—52 per cent—are women.

Women in Australia remain under-represented in the ministry and the shadow ministry. The current Liberal-National ministry comprises 33 men and nine women (21.4 per cent). Of those nine women, five are members of Cabinet, one is a member of the outer ministry, and three are Parliamentary Secretaries. The Labor shadow ministry is made up of 27 men and 21 women (43.8 per cent). Of those 21 women, eight are members of the shadow Cabinet, five are members of the outer shadow ministry and eight are shadow Parliamentary Secretaries.

For information about the history of International Women’s Day, please see a previous (2013) Parliamentary Library FlagPost on ‘International Women’s Day’.

For more information about the gender pay gap in Australia, please refer to the following 2016 Parliamentary Library publication: ‘Statistics on wages and gender: a quick quide’.


Flagpost is a blog on current issues of interest to members of the Australian Parliament

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