Five issues we need to talk about this International Women's Day.

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day. This year’s official UN theme is “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality,” or in its shortened form, “Make it Happen.” But what exactly should we — and our politicians — be making happen first, and how do we go about it?

Here’s a breakdown ofsome of the most pressing issues facing Australian women this year. Here’s hoping that, by next International Women’s Day, we see some serious progress in these areas.

These are just some of the women we admire this International Women’s Day (post continues after video).

1. Tackling violence against women.

You’ve heard the figures: Each week a woman is killed by her partner or someone known to her, and domestic violence is the main cause of homelessness for women and children in Australia. This endemic issue is gaining momentum in the media and in political discourse, but UN Women Australia’s executive officer Julie McKay emphasises that lip service is not enough when it comes to tackling violence against women.

“We each need to contribute to organisations that are investing in supporting women experiencing violence, or working to prevent violence from occurring,” McKay says. “If we are not personally making donations or volunteering our time, then I would say our ‘commitment’ is very limited”.

IWD 2016
Julie McKay of UN Women: “We need to listen to the voices of the women who have experienced violence.” Photo: supplied.

She also highlights the importance of policy-makers paying close attention to the experiences of survivors, and of parents modelling healthy attitudes towards women.

“We need to listen to the voices of the women who have experienced violence and ensure our legislative and policy responses are designed with their needs considered first and foremost,” she tells Mamamia.

“We [also] need to role model to our sons, what healthy relationships and respect for women look like – which starts with the way we speak about women in our families, at work and in public life.”

2. Sharing unpaid caring responsibilities more equally.

If you’ve ever found yourself scrubbing the toilet while your husband finishes a project at work, this statistic won’t surprise you: Women in Australia still do 66 percent of the unpaid care work, according to last year’s Progress of the World’s Women report. Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics also shows that men spend on average 1 hour, 36 minutes per day on domestic activities, compared to a whopping 2 hours, 52 minutes for women per day.

So why do these figures matter? McKay explains that “the more hours women spend on unpaid work, the less likely they are to be able to engage in paid work. This perpetuates a vicious cycle in which “women have less economic security than men, lower lifelong earnings and are more likely to face poverty in retirement.”

In short, women work in paid roles less and step out of the workforce more often — factors that contribute to the 19 per cent gender pay gap in Australia, and lead to women retiring with 47 per cent less super than their male peers.

But if women are to step more equally into the (paid) working world, men need to start stepping into the domestic sphere. That’s why challenging gender roles to allow men to spend more time with family is so important, as Annabel Crabb argues.

Expanding paid parental leave schemes to give men equal access to paid leave in the first year of a child’s life is also crucial, McKay says. “Some private sector organisations have taken a lead here – with Aurizon announcing 26 weeks’ paid leave for male staff who are taking time out to allow their partner to return to work,” she explains.

Here’s hoping more companies start to take the lead this year.

3. Equal representation at work.

Women are still under-represented on boards, with just under one in five board directors being women. Women are also relatively scarce at the executive level in ASX-200 companies, last year’s BlackRock Achieving Gender Diversity in Australia: The Ugly, the Bad and the Good report found.


Equal representation at work is not just a human rights issue. The economy benefits when women enter the formal labour force, and having women on boards “delivers new experiences and cultures to a board, all very relevant to producing the sort of outcomes that shareholders should demand,” as Former Australia Competition and Consumer Commission chief Graeme Samuel has explained.

More women in leadership positions will also help address the gender pay disparity, McKay points out. Win.

4. Availability and cost of child care.

Women’s participation in the workforce is still all too often hampered by the inaccessibility of child care. Put simply, many women struggle to get back to work after having kids because child care centres are “either too full or too expensive,” Jo Briskey from parenting advocacy group The Parenthood explains.

At least 55,000 Australian children have already been turned away from child care centres because of a lack of places, the ABS found last year, and the parents of almost a quarter of a million children say they need more child care than they can currently access.

As if that isn’t alarming enough, the Federal Government expects child care fees to be hiked by 13.8 per cent by July 2017, Yahoo! News reports. And while the Federal government claims these fee hikes will slow when the new childcare package comes into effect in July 2017, opponents claim that many families will be at a disadvantage eve after the proposed changes.

We need affordable, accessible child care — and we need it now.

5. Using the election to our advantage.

Unequal pay, expensive child care, under-representation at the executive level… These reports paint a bleak picture. But each us has the power to help drive change when we vote in the upcoming Federal election.

McKay believes this means supporting a party that, among other things, seeks to ensure women are represented in the leadership ranks of private sector organisations and commits to adequately funding domestic violence services (“raising awareness” of violence is not enough, she emphasises). Or perhaps you have your own priorities when it comes to promoting the rights of women: equal access to reproductive health services, homelessness, tackling violence against women in the Asia-Pacific region and the rights of women asylum seekers are just a few of the other issues facing women in our region today.

Whichever way you swing politically, keep gender equality in mind when you cast your ballot this year- and make it happen.

What have we missed? What do you think Australians need to prioritise this International Women’s Day?