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35 countries are better than Australia at paying women fairly.

Rwanda.

South Africa. Latvia. Ecuador. Cuba. Argentina. Namibia. Bolivia. Nicaragua.

These are just some of the 35 nations that rank higher than Australia when it comes to paying women.

The list also includes Norway, Iceland, Sweden, Denmark, the countries we know are star performers when it comes to treating men and women as equal citizens.

Each year the World Economic Forum publishes a gender gap report that looks at four things: education, political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, and health and survival.

In a nutshell it asks:

Are women as well educated as men?

Do they have the same opportunities and pay at work?

Are their voices equally represented in politics?

Do they enjoy the same access to healthcare as men?

For ten years the WEF has looked at these four criteria in over 100 countries and ranked them accordingly.

The overall gap has closed by  4% in the past decade, with the economic gap closing by just 3%. It’s taken 10 years for women, on average, to earn what men were earning ten years ago.

At this pace of change it will take another 118 years for men and women to be equal. That means 2133 is going to be our year. (I won’t get the ice out to chill any champagne just yet.)

In 2006 Australia came in 15th place and we’ve moved backwards every year since. Between 2014 and 2015 Australia has slipped from position 24 to position 36. It’s a slip we need to talk about.

It is driven by a decrease in how women fare at work: in 2015 shouldn’t a nation like Australia be progressing, not regressing, in the way women engage in the workforce?

Since 2006, Australia has led the world in educating women. We are rockstarsin this realm and are ranked number 1 out of 145 countries because of it. But it makes the fact we rank 54th in the world for women’s workforce participation even more curious.

Given there is no discrepancy in the way men and women are educated, why is it, that when it comes to work, men and women are so far apart?

Australia is also creeping backwards because other countries are doing more to close the gap. If there’s one key take away from the WEF report it’s this: apathy isn’t going to move the dial for women.

None of the countries in the top 10 got there by accident. Each of them got there because, at some point, they made the call to close the gap between men and women.

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On the 24th of October in 1975, 90% of women in Iceland went on strike. For one day they refused to work, cook or look after children. Their collective objective was equality. The next year, laws that mandated equal pay were passed, five years later Iceland elected its first female President and for the past decade it’s been close to being the most gender equal country in the world.

Norway, Denmark, Finland and Sweden are nations that have socially engineered equality. By offering generous paid parental leave, requiring parental leave be taken by fathers and providing adequate childcare the Nordic countries have achieved near-parity in workforce participation. They have made it possible for parents to combine work and family, which means they have more women in leadership roles.

The catalyst for change in Rwanda was far more sinister. In 1994 the genocide that left more than 800,000 Tutsis dead and between 250,000 and 500,000 women raped, and in the rebuilding since then women’s rights have progressed dramatically.  The post-genocide constitution enshrined that women hold at least 30% of seats in parliament and today 64% of Rwandan parliamentarians are women – the highest proportion of any parliament in the world.

So what can Australia do to improve our standing?

For a start, we can recognise that it’s not just a moral imperative, it’s economically responsible to pay women and men equally, because inequality is hugely expensive. Which is why in November last year the finance ministers of the G20 resolved to take action to close the gap between men and women.

Second we need to take note of the change that is required, and recognise that wishful thinking isn’t going to deliver us meaningful progress.

Having just two women in Federal cabinet and a disengaged minister for women for nearly two years, hardly advanced the cause here in Australia. In real terms in Australian business and politics, the progression of women is slow.

In practical terms we need to change policies, employment practices and cultural attitudes to better facilitate women working. We need to offer affordable childcare and adequate paid parental leave, eradicate pregnancy discrimination and tackle the various legal and tax implications that inadvertently punish women.

But for any of that to have any effect, we need to say, Australia ranking 36th in the world in the global gender gap report is unacceptable. We need to say that 2133 is too long to wait. We need to recognise we have a problem. Only when we do that will women be able to expect to be paid as much as men..

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