Gender stereotypes, government initiatives, and other related matters
The second part of the terms of reference asked this committee to
inquire into and report on:
- the role of gender stereotypes in contributing to
cultural conditions which support domestic violence, including, but not limited
to, messages conveyed to children and young people in:
the marketing of toys and other products,
- the role of government
initiatives at every level in addressing the underlying causes of domestic
violence, including the commitments under, or related to, the National Plan to
Reduce Violence against Women and their Children; and
- any other related matters.
This chapter describes the evidence received by the committee that was
responsive to this part of the terms of reference.
The Primary Prevention Framework notes that there are particular stages of
life which present significant opportunities to address the drivers of violence
Experiences in childhood and adolescence have a particularly
strong influence and can impact development and future life paths.
As with the committee's previous inquiry into domestic violence, submissions
expressed support for programs targeted to young people.
The progress of some of these programs is outlined below.
The Second Action Plan of the National Plan states '[s]upporting and
educating young people to build respectful relationships is paramount to
preventing domestic and family violence and sexual assault in the future'.
The Second Action Plan details work being undertaken in this area:
Schools and organisations deliver a range of respectful
relationships programmes in a number of different ways. Under the First Action
Plan, we explored and evaluated the effectiveness of different approaches to
respectful relationship education in school and non-school settings.
Under the Second Action Plan, governments will work together
to develop and test a suite of good practice tools and resources to strengthen
and support the delivery of high quality respectful relationships education in
schools, homes and communities. This will build on findings from the evaluation
of the First Action Plan's national Respectful Relationships programmes.
Specifically, the Second Action plan details the following project:
Our [Watch] is funded by the Victorian Government to
undertake a Respectful Relationships in Schools project across selected areas
in regional and metropolitan Victoria. The project will be evaluated to document
best practice examples to be used across jurisdictions.
Following endorsement of the Australian Curriculum: Health
and Physical Education by Education Ministers at the Standing Council for
School Education and Early Childhood, states and territories can commence
incorporating respectful relationships education into their local curricula and
syllabi, building on work already undertaken by states and territories in this
For the Third Action Plan, Our Watch recommended that there be further
support for schools:
...to embed whole-school approaches to Respectful Relationships
Education and ensure the full benefits of the new Australian Curriculum reach
White Ribbon Australia, established in 2003, is a male-led primary
prevention campaign to end men's violence against women.
White Ribbon Australia runs the 'Breaking the Silence' schools
development program for principals and teachers. Their submission states that the
program supports staff to:
...embed models of respectful relationships in school culture
and classroom activities. These models give students the opportunity to learn
and experience respectful relationships, preventing the perpetration of
violence against women and girls.
White Ribbon reported that since its 'Breaking the Silence Schools'
program commenced in 2009, 203 schools have completed the program, reaching over
The Line (established in 2010 as part of the primary prevention
approach of the First Action Plan), is a national social marketing campaign
aimed at young people aged 12-20 years. The Line encourages young people
to discuss what constitutes reasonable behaviour in relationships in order to
create long term changes to attitudes that can enable violent behaviour.
Our Watch outlined that from July 2014, they have been responsible for
the delivery and management of The Line. In its submission, Our Watch recommended
increased funding for The Line, through to 2018-19:
...in order to support activities that target the different
attitudinal segments of young people identified by current campaign research,
as well as raise broader awareness of The Line and support the COAG campaign.
The National Union of Students (NUS) explained that conventional gender
roles are present in the higher education sector.
The NUS suggested that:
This divide between the areas in which women and men study
does itself not reflect the epidemic of violence against women. However, it
does show that the Higher Education sector is compliant in the societal
perpetuation of gender roles, which underpin gendered violence.
Universities Australia (UA), the peak body representing Australia's 39
universities, indicated that 'the higher education sector is committed to
improving gender equality more broadly'. UA also welcomes further discussion on
how the higher education sector can contribute to the National Plan.
In relation to its workforce, UA is in the process of developing a Strategy
for Women 'as part of the sector's commitment to equity and diversity.' The
strategy will focus on:
...a broad range of gender equity issues within universities,
including addressing the career pipeline for the advancement of academic and
professional women staff, flexible and equitable work, gender pay equity, and
supporting staff with families. The strategy will also encourage action plans
in universities to tackle gender inequity. UA also supports UA Executive Women,
a group that aims to increase participation of senior academic and professional
women in Australian universities through mentoring programs, cross-sectoral
professional development for women, and increasing awareness of the
underrepresentation of women and unconscious bias in the human resources
departments of universities.
The gender pay gap is the difference between women's and men's average
weekly full-time equivalent earnings, expressed as a percentage of men's
earnings. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency has released information showing
that the gender pay gap in Australia is currently 16.2 per cent and has been
between 15 and 19 per cent for the past two decades.
The agency highlighted that the gender pay gap is influenced by:
...a number of interrelated work, family and societal factors,
including stereotypes about the work women and men 'should' do, and the way
women and men 'should' engage in the workforce.
The 2015 Intergenerational Report indicates that for all age groups
(other than those aged 15-19 years) the total workforce participation rate for
men is higher than for women. In 2013-14, 71 per cent of men and 58.6 per cent of
women participated in the labour force.
It noted that Australia's female participation rate is about four percentage points
lower than in New Zealand and Canada.
The Intergenerational Report includes an estimate from the Grattan Institute
that if Australia's female participation rate reached that of Canada, Australia's
GDP would be a permanent $25 billion higher.
Treasury projected that in 2054-2055, the participation rate will be
68.1 per cent for men and 56.8 per cent for women.
The Intergenerational Report states:
Labour force participation rates for females in most age
groups have increased significantly over the past 20 years, and are expected to
continue increasing over the projection period. This is attributed to the
increased levels of educational attainment among women and continued better access
to childcare services and more flexible work arrangements.
The Intergenerational Report also notes the reasons for the increase:
The increase in female participation rates resulted from
increased levels of education, changing social attitudes towards gender roles,
declining fertility rates, better access to childcare services and more
flexible working arrangements.
The Women's Information and Referral Exchange (WIRE) also pointed out
higher education levels for women:
More women than men now go to university. Women make up 55.5%
of the student population but this has not reduced the gender pay gap nor
removed prejudices that still act as barriers for women obtaining and
maintaining decent and secure employment. For women's financial security to be addressed,
Australia needs to lead behavioural change in the workplace and in the home.
However, data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics on labour force
participation shows that:
Part-time work was the most common form of employment for
mothers with children of all ages in Australia.
Women's Health Victoria outlined:
Though workforce participation by women has increased over
time, women do an average of 33.75 hours of household work (including caring
for children as well as domestic activities) compared to 18.3 hours for men.
Australia also has one of the lowest employment rates for mothers in developed
countries at 62%.
WIRE advised that taking time out of the workforce to undertake caring
responsibilities can have a detrimental effect on employment:
Long career breaks impacts a woman's ability to re-enter the
workforce. Often women are forced to return to roles that are part-time, lower
paid, casualised, lack security and offer less opportunities for progression.
The Tasmanian Government also commented that women are more likely than
their male counterparts to have interrupted work patterns which can affect
Particularly following the birth of a child or caring for
family members. The majority of unpaid caring work is undertaken by women...
...and they spend almost three times as many hours each week
looking after children compared to men.
Some submitters, including Women's Health West argued that a lack of
affordable childcare hampers women's ability to re-enter the workforce:
A lack of childcare and the unequal distribution and
availability of affordable childcare further entrenches gender inequalities by
reducing the economic participation of women and subsequently increasing their
dependence on government support and/or their partners.
Childcare and its effects on workforce participation has been the
subject of a number of inquiries, including the Productivity Commission's 2014 inquiry
into childcare and early childhood leaning.
There have also been a number of Senate inquiries into childcare.
The committee will not replicate the work of these inquiries here but urges
those interested to review the reports.
The inability to participate in networking or training activities was
considered a further barrier exacerbating the inability to gain promotional
opportunities for employees with caring responsibilities and/or flexible work
The Australian Government has developed the Balancing the Future: The
Australian Public Service Gender Equality Strategy 2016-2019 (the Gender
Equality Strategy). The Gender Equality Strategy identified that:
[F]emale employees are less likely to have informal
networking opportunities extended to them than their male co-workers—missing
out on the connections and confidence these offer.
Flexible work arrangements are available in most APS
agencies, but are accessed overwhelmingly by women and hardly at all by senior
leaders. Flexible work is seen largely as an accommodation for women, and as
incompatible with working in a leadership role. Workplaces that take a flexible
approach to how, where, and when work is done attract the highest-calibre
employees—and keep them in the long term.
The case for change is clear. Without recognising gender
equality as a business imperative, agencies risk being left behind.
It has been pointed out that structural and cultural obstacles can also hamper
men's ability to take on feminised careers or family responsibilities:
These include entrenched beliefs about the types of roles
that are suitable for flexible work, a belief that flexible work is only for
women with small children, inconsistent implementation by supervisors,
workforce planning issues and the negative stigma attached to flexible work.
WIRE commented on the impact of this perception:
Men are twice as likely as women to be denied flexible hours
at work, making it harder for men to take on unpaid caring role. Men fear that
if they become primary carers or take on flexible work arrangements in order to
care for dependents, they will be seen as not being career focussed.
The Gender Equality Strategy focusses on changing the Australian Public
Service (APS) attitudes towards gender roles:
The APS workforce must reflect contemporary reality— one in
which men, as well as women, have both caring and work responsibilities, and
where everyone is given the same opportunities to develop and to lead.
The APS must set the pace for a contemporary Australian
workforce. APS leaders at all levels must be accountable for driving progress
in their agencies, their divisions, their branches and their teams.
The APS will not achieve gender equality until both women and
men are seen as capable and credible leaders; until both women and men can work
flexibly without risking their career progression; and until outdated
assumptions of 'women's work' and 'men's work' are identified and eradicated.
WIRE pointed out that although caring for dependents is an important role,
it is not one which is usually valued by status or remuneration and it is a 'role
that has typically been thought of as unskilled women's work'.
WIRE explained the implications for employment in this area:
Feminised work is undervalued by society and thus professions
such as childcare are poorly paid. This leaves those in the industry working
hard but struggling to get ahead financially.
However, there is gradual change in this area. In 2012 Fair Work
Australia ruled that 270,000 commonwealth workers in the non-government
community services sector should receive significant pay increases of between
19 and 41 per cent:
The wages umpire had earlier ruled that these workers had
been underpaid partly because the majority of them are women.
Women are underrepresented on boards and in leadership positions across
both the public and private sectors.
On 31 December 2015, women made up 58.7% of the APS population, but only 41.8%
of the Senior Executive Service.
In comparison, in the private sector, Catalyst research found:
...26.7% of board positions at ASX50 companies are taken by
women. While this is more than the overall proportion of female directors of
companies included in the ASX200 (21.9%), ASX300 (20.0%) and All Ordinaries
(16.6%), it nevertheless means that only about one in four ASX50 board
positions are occupied by women.
In 2015 Senators Xenophon, Lambie, Lazarus and Waters sponsored the
Australian Government Boards (Gender Balanced Representation) Bill 2015 (the
bill). The bill sought to implement existing policy regarding the equal
representation of gender on government boards into legislation by requiring
government boards to consist of at least 40 per cent men and at least 40 per
cent women, with the remaining 20 per cent unallocated.
The bill was referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration
Legislation Committee for inquiry and report but the committee recommend that
the Senate not pass the bill.
However, with effect from 1 July 2016, the government has committed to:
...a new gender diversity target of women holding 50 per cent
of Government board positions overall, and women and men each holding at least
40 per cent of positions at the individual board level.
States such as South Australia, Tasmania and Victoria are following the
Commonwealth's lead with a commitment to gender equity in public sector boards
and court appointments.
In addition, the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 requires
non-public sector employers with 100 or more staff to submit a report on gender
equality indicators to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Male champions of change
The Victorian Women's Trust Limited outlined that achieving gender
equality cannot be left to women alone. Proactive action by men's groups is
needed to support women:
...that goes beyond being an 'ally' or a 'feminist' or saying
that 'violence against women is wrong.
In April 2010, the then Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth
Broderick AO met with a group of senior Australian men to form the Male
Champions of change. The organisation was established as:
In most nations, men largely occupy the seats of power.
Relying exclusively on women to lead change on gender equality is therefore
illogical. We need decent, powerful men to step up beside women to create a
more gender equal world.
The Male Champions of Change strategy is about male leaders
advocating for and acting to advance gender equality.
This inquiry did not receive detailed information on this area, however,
the committee notes that on 17 August 2015, the Senate referred an inquiry into
the economic security for women in retirement to the Senate Economics
References Committee. The committee's report was tabled on 29 April 2016 and
covers relevant issues such as narrowing the gender pay gap, women's working
experience and superannuation. The committee encourages those interested in
this area review this detailed report.
A number of submissions contemplated the significance of the
Play Unlimited, in its submission noted the important influence of toys
on early development, including the formulation of ideas of gender norms and
Toys are among the earliest and most influential technologies
with which children come into contact. As such, they transmit to children, in concert
with other cultural apparatus, particular views of gender relations, examples
of appropriate behaviour, and character models. They can also be a windows
[sic] to broader phenomena extending beyond the toy-box.
Dr Kaye Quek, RMIT University, reported on the academic evidence
demonstrating a significant link between the promotion of traditional gender
roles and stereotypes and attitudes conducive to male violence against women.
Dr Quek further explained:
To the extent that some toys convey to children that
dominance and aggression are 'natural' to boys, and submissiveness and
domesticity are the appropriate behaviour of girls, they uphold cultural
conditions that facilitate the lesser treatment of women, enacted through behaviour
such as domestic violence.
Dr Quek, acknowledged that addressing the problem of gender stereotyping
in the toy industry will not, in itself solve the issue of male violence
The Illawarra Forum argued that current marketing strategies promote
boys and girls adopting roles where females are subservient and males dominant.
The Australian Toy Association (ATA) outlined how toy manufacturers and
retailers are becoming more gender inclusive in their advertising in an effort to
respond to community concerns regarding toys and gender:
Toys "R" Us has opted to remove labels denoting
gender in its catalogue and website, and Myer, Target and Big W have removed
online options to shop by gender, instead listing toys by their function and
The toy industry's steps have been recognised by organisations such as
the Australian Women Against Violence Alliance (AWAVA):
The industry should be praised for taking steps to respond to
changing sentiment that supports gender equality.
A number of submitters were concerned about how gender roles and
stereotypes can be reinforced and sustained through popular culture and media,
such as through:
the sexualisation of women and girls;
the depiction of gender stereotypes that reinforce the power disparities
between men and women
(such as that of the male breadwinner);
the prevalence of glorified and gendered violence.
Junction Australia and the Southern Domestic Violence Service Inc, in a
joint submission to the committee, put forward the view that despite the
existence of the Australian Communication and Media Advisory Council and the
Advertising Standards Bureau:
...very little is being done to counteract the continued
stereotyping and objectification of women in Australian media and
The Australian Council on Children and the Media also highlighted that
Australia's National Classification Scheme for media 'does not include any
classifiable elements relating to gender stereotypes and objectification'.
Under Our Watch, as an initiative under the National Plan, a National
Media Engagement Project (NME Project) has commenced which:
...is engaging media to increase quality reporting of violence against
women and their children and building awareness of the impacts of gender
stereotyping and inequality.
The NME Project is being funded by the Commonwealth Department of Social
Services and it has four components:
Media capacity training for both future and practicing
journalists: Our Watch is working with the Journalism Education and Research
Association of Australia to develop training curriculum material for both
university journalism students, and practicing journalists. The aim is to
support a shift in newsroom cultures and practices around reporting on violence
Website portal with resources: A website portal, developed with
the Women's Centre for Health Matters provides media with a range of tools for
reporting. The site includes guides on how to approach the issue of violence
against women, key facts, terminology, ethical reporting considerations and additional
A National Survivor's Media Advocacy Program: Our Watch is
working with VicHealth and Women's Health East to develop a training package to
help survivors of domestic violence to be more effective media advocates.
A National Awards Scheme to recognise and encourage accurate
reporting of violence against women: Our Watch launched a national awards
scheme in 2015 to recognise and reward good reporting.
The four initiatives will be supported and informed by a national
framework for engaging the media in the prevention of violence against women.
AWAVA acknowledged the challenges journalists face when reporting on
violence against women as well as improvements already made and supported initiatives
in this area including those detailed above:
Initiatives such as the Working with News and Social Media
to Prevent Violence Against Women and their Children: A strategic framework for
Victoria (2015) and those under the National Media Engagement (NME)
Project, particularly the Our Watch Awards (built on the EVAs Media Awards and
funded by VicHealth through Domestic Violence Victoria) have made positive
steps to engage media to increase quality reporting of VAW and their children,
raise awareness of the impacts of gender stereotyping and inequality and build
an understanding of the links between sexism, gender inequality, community
attitudes and this violence.
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