What is gender equality?
Ending all discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, it’s crucial for a sustainable future.United Nations Development Program
Gender equality is the idea that women, men and all other people and genders deserve the same opportunities, rights and responsibilities in all areas of life. Gender equality can also mean that men and women can be treated differently – not as one homogenous group where the end goal is for women to be treated exactly the same as men.
Most obviously, women want equal pay, equal access to opportunities, and the freedom to make decisions and choices that work for us as individuals. But areas where we might want to be treated differently to men include things like medical treatment, or in designing safety equipment.
Since we’re not all the same, what we need and want is not the same. Treating people fairly and providing opportunities that suit them as individuals is what we refer to as equity.
It’s also important to look at gender equality through an intersectional lens – acknowledging the different treatment of women of color, those with disabilities, LGBTQI+ people and anyone whose circumstances move them further from the center of power – in western society typically held by straight, white, middle-aged, cis-gendered men. As those things overlap, people face additional barriers.
- Why is gender equality important?
- Gender inequality for men
- Gender equality statistics
- What are the main areas of gender inequality?
- Is gender inequality still an issue?
- What causes gender inequality?
- What are the effects of gender inequality?
- How gender equality shapes our lives
- What are the solutions to gender inequality?
- The history of gender inequality
- Gender equality by country
- Gender equality by industry
- Gender equality comparisons
- Benefits of gender equality
- Resources to learn more about gender equality
Lots of research exists to show the commercial and financial benefits of gender equality in the workplace. The short version is companies that employ more women in leadership positions earn more money and have increased innovation. This is often what convinces companies and Boards to place a focus on gender diversity within their business – it’s part of their fiduciary duty.
But the importance of gender equality extends beyond whether companies will make more money. Some of those reasons include:
Access to education
Women account for 2/3 of the global illiterate population.
Access to healthcare
It takes an average of 7 years and five doctors for a woman in developed countries to be diagnosed with endometriosis, and a large part of that delay is attributed to the symptoms being dismissed and women sent away.
Equal distribution of the domestic load
The unpaid labor of women was estimated by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency to be worth 50.6% of GDP, or $650bn. That’s a lot of free labor that women are doing! That needs to be redistributed in the home.
Reducing violence and saving lives
Domestic and family violence is overwhelmingly perpetrated by men on women and children, with 83% of perpetrators being male. Increased equality will reduce domestic abuse.
Men are impacted by gender inequality as well. The patriarchal structures that we live within expect certain behaviors from men.
Some of the stereotypes that impact men in relation to gender equality are:
- They must be the ‘provider’ and main income-earner
- Feeling pressure to be confident and macho
- Being expected to be physically and mentally strong
- They must not show emotion
- It can be harder for them to get workplace flexibility or parental leave
- Men are more likely to drink too much, take unhealthy risks and engage in violence
- They are less likely to seek professional help or talk about their problems with friends or family
- Men are more likely to commit suicide than women
So, while we often speak about gender inequality through the lens of women being disadvantaged, men are impacted by inequality as well.
When it comes to gender equality statistics there are lots of different things you can consider – health, workforce participation, education, domestic and caring duties, impacts of conflict and climate change, and so much more.
As our mission here at WORK180 is to help every woman find a workplace where she can thrive, we’re focusing on stats around work, pay and parenting.
- Women make up 38% of full-time employees in Australia
- They are 67% of the part-time labor force
- 61% of women participate in the workforce (compared to 71% of men)
- Women spend 64.4% of their average weekly working time on unpaid care work compared to 36.1% for men
The wage gap
- The full-time gender wage gap is 13.4% (women get paid less than men)
- The pay gap for non-public sector organizations with 100 or more employees is 20.1% including base and bonuses
- The median undergraduate starting salaries for women are 2.5% less than for men. This gap widens to 13.0% for postgraduate
- Superannuation balances for women at retirement (aged 60-64) are 21.6% lower than those for men
Women in leadership
- 14.6% of chair positions are women
- 28.1% of company directors are women
- 18.3% of CEOs are women
- 32.5% of key management personnel are women
- 30.2% of boards and governing bodies have no female directors. By contrast, only 0.4% had no male directors
All the above statistics were sourced from the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.
Gender inequality is a far-reaching issue, so narrowing it down to the main areas is tricky. We’ve spoken above about the pay gap, workforce participation and the lack of women in leadership, as well as some of the impacts of gender inequality on men.
In addition to those, some things to consider when it comes to gender inequality are:
- Domestic and family violence is an issue that overwhelmingly affects women and children, with 1 in 5 women experiencing intimate partner violence since the age of 15
- 1 in 2 women experience sexual harassment in their lifetime
- 1 in 2 mothers report workplace discrimination as a result of their pregnancy, parental leave or return to work program
- Women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing demographic of homeless people, due in part to the superannuation gender gap
In the 2021 World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index, Australia reported its worst ever result, falling 26 places and coming in at 50th out of 156 countries.
The index measures four categories:
- Economic participation and opportunity
- Educational attainment
- Health and survival
- Political empowerment
All of the above points impact the state of gender inequality in a country.
Gender inequality is absolutely still an issue, both locally in Australia and globally.
Although there are more women than ever in the labor market, there are still large inequalities, with women systematically denied the same work rights as men. Sexual violence and exploitation, the unequal division of unpaid care and domestic work, and discrimination in public office all remain huge barriers. Climate change and disasters continue to have a disproportionate effect on women and children, as do conflict and migration.
We saw the impacts of COVID on working women have been greater than the impacts felt by men. More women have and are leaving the workforce and taking on more of the unpaid domestic workload that increased as a result of COVID.
With a gender pay gap, staggering gendered violence statistics, recent issues coming out of Parliament and not adequately addressed, and more, it’s clear that gender inequality is an issue that needs continued focus.
There are various causes of gender inequality that depend a bit on the region you are talking about.
Some of those causes are:
Uneven access to education.
Around the world, women have less access to education than men. Two-thirds of the world’s illiterate people are women.
Lack of employment equality.
Only 6 countries in the world give women the same legal work rights as men.
In many societies, there’s an inherent belief that men are better equipped to handle certain jobs. Women make up the bulk of employees in caring professions, which are typically paid less than traditionally-male-dominated professions. Women also take on the primary responsibility for unpaid labor, so even as they participate in the paid workforce, they have extra work that never gets recognized financially.
Lack of legal protections
A World Bank study found over one billion women don’t have legal protection against domestic violence, which has a significant impact on women’s ability to thrive and live in freedom. A lack of protection against harassment in the workplace, at school and in public can mean women need to make decisions that limit their personal and professional goals.
Lack of political representation
Of all national parliaments at the beginning of 2020, only 25.6% of seats were filled by women. Around the world, 26 Heads of State were women. In Australia there has recently been a lot of noise about the bullying and harassment of women in Parliament, creating a barrier for women to participate in politics.
Racism impacts the jobs women of color are able to get, how they are paid, and how they are viewed by legal and healthcare systems. There remains a pay gap between white women and women of colour, continuing a legacy of discrimination and contributing to gender inequality.
Whilst less tangible, the overall mindset of a society has a significant impact on gender inequality. Beliefs about gender run deep and even though progress can be made through laws and structural changes, there’s often a pushback following times of major change.
What are the forms of gender inequality?
A lot of facets of gender inequality can be considered through the lens of access. So, some of the forms of gender equality relate to:
- Access to healthcare
- Access to education
- Access to safety (i.e. Harassment-free workplaces, freedom from domestic violence)
- Access to jobs with equality opportunity and equal pay
- Access to political positions
- Access to economic freedom
- Access to freedom of expression
Access needs to be provided in a way that takes individual and gender-specific requirements into account. Equity is not about providing women the exact same access as men, but rather providing them access that gives a fair outcome. For example, healthcare differences were mentioned earlier as an example where equity can actually encourage different treatment of men and women.
In short, all the things that lead to a life where you can thrive, live in safety and be healthy and happy can be considered through the lens of gender equality. Wherever women do not have equitable access, there is gender inequality.
Gender inequality affects everyone – even men. Stereotypes about how women and men, girls and boys should behave begin in childhood and follow us through to adulthood. Not everyone experiences inequality the same way. It is worse for people who face more than one type of discrimination – this is what we have referred to as intersectionality earlier in this article.
Unchallenged cultures of male dominance lead to the subordination and even exclusion of many women, and also many men who do not conform to stereotypical forms of masculinity. This effectively sidelines more than half of the world’s talent, experience and knowledge, leaving our societies operating at under 50 per cent capacity.
Economically, gender inequality in developed countries leads to reduced economic performance.
Gender inequality in the workplace
In the workplace, we know there is a gender pay gap and a dearth of women in leadership positions. Currently only 18% of CEOs are women. This inequality means that we are not accessing the full diversity of thought available to us, and 50% of the workforce is effectively being sidelined.
This has consequences financially for companies – there is clear research showing the link between financial performance and women in leadership – and for individuals – as women have less access to fully participate in the workforce.
Additionally, harassment and bullying impacts women and minority groups – including men who don’t fit stereotypical characteristics – the most. This directly impacts quality of life and people’s ability to enjoy and thrive in the workplace.
Gender inequality in sports
In the 2019 women’s soccer world cup final, stands erupted with the chant, ‘equal pay! Equal pay!’. In Sydney in April 2021, a female surfer won her competition and called out organisers for providing women a prize less than half the value of the male prize winner despite the World Surf League committing to close the gender prize pay gap.
Women’s sports are routinely underpaid, with many professional athletes having to also hold down jobs to support themselves financially, while their male counterparts are paid enough as athletes to focus on their sport full time.
Additionally, forty percent of all sports participants are female, yet women’s sports receive only 4% of all sport media coverage and female athletes are much more likely than male athletes to be portrayed in sexually provocative poses.
Gender inequality in education
Girls’ education strengthens economies and reduces inequality. It contributes to more stable, resilient societies that give all individuals – including boys and men – the opportunity to fulfil their potential.Unicef
Globally, women make up two-thirds of the illiterate population. Girls have less access to education and have on average less years of schooling than boys.
Despite the increase in women with tertiary education, female-dominated industries are lower-paid, there are less women in leadership positions, and there is a gender pay gap within industries.
Gender inequality and health
“For millennia, medicine has functioned on the assumption that male bodies can represent humanity as a whole. As a result, we have a huge historical data gap when it comes to female bodies… Women are dying, and the medical world is complicit.”Caroline Criado-Pérez, Invisible Women: Data Bias in a World Designed for Men
In her book, Invisible Woman, Caroline Criado-Pérez drew out medicine’s focus on treating all people as though they are men, despite the obvious differences between male and female bodies. Additionally, women are more likely to be gaslit around their symptoms, with women more likely to be told nothing is wrong and it’s all in their head.
On top of the assumption that all bodies need the treatment that male bodies require, girls and women have less access to quality medical care around the world. In developed countries, this trend is not as severe but still exists.
Gender inequality and household work
Annabel Crabb wrote The Wife drought in 2012 and found that women were doing significantly more household and care work than their partners. Research by Samantha Sutherland, sponsored by WORK180, found that in 2021 69% of women still do more domestic and caring work than their partners. A decade on and not much has changed at all.
The division of household work is uneven in the majority of heterosexual couples, with women taking on the lion’s share of home and caring labor. As the Boomer generation ages, there are more people in what’s known as the sandwich generation – when they have caring responsibilities for young children as well as aging parents. This is likely to exacerbate the uneven distribution of unpaid domestic and caring labor.
Studies consistently show that women do more of the domestic labour than men. This impacts their ability to participate fully in paid employment, and indicates a lack of involvement by men with the family and home.
The issues of gender inequity are far reaching and varied, so the solution to gender inequality is not simple. However, addressing access and representation in a number of areas will all help shift us closer to gender inequality solutions.
Provide girls with access to education.
Girls are more likely than boys to never receive an education. Several specific forms of discrimination that only affect girls, including forced marriages at a young age, gender-based violence in school settings and certain cultural or religious norms that restrict girls’ access to education. Better-educated women tend to be healthier, participate more in formal labor markets, earn higher incomes and marry at a later age.
Give women platforms to be in power and achieve economic success.
Through having an equal presence of women in politics and leadership positions, the interests and values of females are better represented. This makes it more possible for women to achieve economic, career and personal success.
End violence and sexual assault against women.
One in four Australian women experience domestic abuse. Many women seeking shelter via homelessness services are driven there by domestic and family violence. Globally, 137 women are killed every day by a family member or intimate partner.
Speak out against misogynistic behavior and comments…
Speaking up, calling out misogynistic comments and behaviors, and refusing to buy into outdated, stereotypical attitudes all work together to shift cultural norms.
Share household chores and childcare equally.
We’ve spoken already about the disparity in domestic labor between men and women. Addressing this is down to individuals. In their own home, men have a responsibility to share the domestic load, and women have a right to speak up and demand an equitable partnership. Systemically, workplaces allowing part time and flexible work for men starts to enable the conversation at home to change.
Is gender equality achievable?
The World Economic Forum’s 2021 Global Gender Gap Report estimates that it will take an average of 135.6 years for women and men to reach parity on a range of factors worldwide – 36 years longer than estimated in the 2020 report. The report considers four indicators: economic opportunity, political power, education and health.
Although there has been an improvement in some areas, higher economic hurdles, declining political participation, and workplace challenges continued and were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. In Australia, we received our lowest-ever score, indicating we are further away from gender equity than ever before.
However, this is not a reason to lose hope. There are many advocacy, political, not for profit and commercial groups, alongside individuals, who are pushing for change. Whilst the COVID-19 pandemic has set gender equity back, it has also created a unique moment in time where peoples’ needs and desires are changing – and the world is changing too.
As individuals, we can keep striving for gender equity within our own relationships, families, workplaces and lives. As a company, WORK180 will continue to drive gender equity in workplaces by promoting opportunities and policies that benefit women and other under-represented groups.
In Western cultures, the movement towards gender equality began with the suffrage movement in the late-19th century, when women fought for the right to vote and hold elected office. This period also heralded changes to women’s property rights, particularly in relation to their marital status.
Australia granted women the right to vote in 1902 – but only European women. Indigenous Australians were only granted the right to vote in 1962. This delay highlights the impact of race on the fight for equality for women. Non-white women have and continue to be more disenfranchised.
Within the institution of marriage, women could only hold their own property after the late-1800’s Prior to that all property transferred to their husband, and the woman and any children were also considered his property. It was only in 1981 that martial rape was criminalised.
As voting, marriage and property rights were made more equitable, gender inequality extended to less formal areas such as education, healthcare, parenting and unpaid labour, as well as inequality within workplaces.
At WORK180 we are working hard to drive gender equality in workplaces, making them more accessible to and supportive of women. Many companies, individuals and advocacy groups continue to push for gender equity in all areas.
The gender equality movement
The first recorded attempt to organise a national women’s rights movement in the US happened in July 1848. About 300 people – mainly women – attended the convention to outline a direction for the women’s rights movement.
The women outlined economic and educational inequities, restrictive laws on marriage and property rights, and social and cultural norms that prevented women from enjoying “all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.”
Similar movements took place in other developed countries – women fighting for the right to vote, the right to own property, for rights within marriage.
In current day, the gender equality movement is about getting women and girls around the world equal access to men.
The history of gender inequality in the workplace
In Australia, the Workplace Gender Equality Act was introduced in 2012. The legislation aims to improve and promote equality for both women and men in the workplace.
The principle objectives are to:
- Promote and improve gender equality in Australian workplaces
- Improve equal pay for all genders
- Remove barriers to women in fully participating in the workforce
- Eliminate gender-based discrimination in relation to employment matters
- To make family and caring responsibilities more equitable
- Improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australian business through the advancement of gender equality
The Act goes a long way to shaping acceptable behaviours. It also supports workplaces in becoming more equitable.
There is still work to be done to make workplaces fully equitable. Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 13.4%. Women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings across all industries and occupations was $1,562 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,804.
For people with young children there is still a workforce participation gap. 64% of women with children 5 years old or younger work, compared with 95% of men.
Famous gender equality quotes
There are many notable and inspiring quotes about gender equality.
“Women belong in all places where decisions are being made. It shouldn’t be that women are the exception.”Ruth Bader Ginsburg
“Achieving gender equality requires the engagement of women and men, girls and boys. It is everyone’s responsibility.”Ban Ki-moon
“When women do better, economies do better.”Christine Lagarde
“I am not free while any woman is unfree, even when her shackles are very different from my own.”Audre Lorde
“Women’s rights is not only an abstraction, a cause; it is also a personal affair. It is not only about us; it is also about me and you. Just the two of us.”Toni Morrison
“I raise up my voice—not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard… We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.”Malala Yousafzai
“Some people ask: “Why the word feminist? Why not just say you are a believer in human rights, or something like that?” Because that would be dishonest. Feminism is, of course, part of human rights in general—but to choose to use the vague expression human rights is to deny the specific and particular problem of gender. It would be a way of pretending that it was not women who have, for centuries, been excluded. It would be a way of denying that the problem of gender targets women.”Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
The World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report benchmarks changes in gender-based gaps among four key dimensions and tracks progress towards closing these gaps over time.
In 2021, they reported on 156 countries globally. The four dimensions are:
- Economic Participation and Opportunity
- Educational Attainment
- Health and Survival
- Political Empowerment
In 2021, the global ‘average distance completed to parity’ is at 68%, which is a step back compared to 2020. It will now take 135.6 years to close the gender gap worldwide.
Iceland, who have closed 89.2% of their gender index gap, were ranked first in the world for the tenth year in a row. The rest of the highest ranking ten countries are Norway, New Zealand, Sweden, Namibia, Rwanda, Lithuania, Ireland and Switzerland.
Australia got its worst-ever ranking, at 50th. The UK is at 23rd and the USA is at 30th.
Gender equality paradox
The gender equality paradox is the idea that women’s participation in STEM actually decreases in countries with better gender equality on other measures.
For example, in 2018, 18% of computer science degrees in America were awarded to women, whereas in Algeria (who were ranked 136/156 total countries on the WEF Global Gender Gap Index), 41% of computer science degrees were attained by women.
A study seeking to determine why this paradox is arising says it could have to do with the fact that women in countries with higher gender inequality are simply seeking the clearest possible path to financial freedom. And typically, that path leads through STEM professions.
It is possible that the gender STEM gap occurs not because girls can’t do science, but because they have other alternatives. When they live in nations, there is more financial freedom to pursue those alternatives.
Gender equality based on industry has a number of considerations:
- Ease of entry into the profession
- Gender equality at senior position
- An industry-pay gap, that occurs in female-dominated industries
- Representation of men in female-dominated industries and women in male-dominated industries
Some of the findings in research into industry representation are:
- Health Care, Social Assistance, Education and Training industries are increasingly dominated by women
- Many male-dominated industries have seen an improvement in female representation
- There has been a decrease in percentage of women in Construction and Transport, Information Media and Telecommunications and Financial and Insurance Services
In male-dominated industries, only 6% of CEOs are women, whereas in female-dominated industries 37% of CEOs are women.
We have mainly been using the term gender equality throughout this article. This segment explains the difference between gender equality and gender equity. We also look at the intersection of the fight for gender equality and feminism.
Gender equality and gender equity
There is a subtle difference between gender equality and gender equity, and that relates to the fairest outcome.
‘Gender equality’ means equal outcomes for women, men and gender-diverse people. The word outcomes highlights that it’s not just about treating everyone the same as each other. ‘Gender equity’ is the process to achieve gender equality.
Gender equity recognizes that women and gender-diverse people may need different support or opportunities. Historical and social disadvantages mean that men, women and gender diverse people don’t have the same starting point. If we just treat everyone the same with no consideration for cultural challenges, then we may not reach a fair outcome.
A crucial aspect of reaching gender equality is empowering women and gender-diverse people, with a focus on identifying and addressing power imbalances and giving women more autonomy to manage their own lives. Gender equality does not mean that men and women become the same; only that access to opportunities is neither dependent on, nor constrained by, their gender.
Gender equality and feminism
Many movements towards gender equality started from feminist movement. The suffragettes, seeking voting rights for women, are also referred to as first wave feminism.
Second-wave feminism was a move towards social – not just political – equality for women. It is when women started to understand the systemic sexism that taught women that their place was in the home. The world did not allow for women to exercise their creative and intellectual faculties.
Second-wave feminists managed to win some major legislative victories, with The Equal Pay Act and court cases that gave married and unmarried women the right to use birth control, the right to educational equality, and the right to reproductive freedom.
Early third-wave activism focused on fighting workplace sexual harassment and increasing the number of women in positions of power. The third wave sought to redefine what it meant to be a feminist, and is also when intersectionality flourished as a concept.
Intersectionality is the idea that people experience “layers of oppression”. For example, race and class can be layered on top of gender. Black women (as an example) face more discrimination that white women.
We are now in what is considered to be the fourth wave of feminism, which seeks greater gender equality by focusing on gendered norms and marginalization of women in society.
If we consider gender equality to be the ability for men, women and other genders to have equal access to healthcare, education, opportunities and self-determination, then the feminist movements over time have been critical in securing advancements in all of these areas.
There are many benefits of gender equality. Some of them are:
Gender equality reduces violence against women and girls
The main drivers of violence against women are condoning it, limits to women’s independence, rigid gender-roles and aggressive male behavior patterns. All of these measures are improved with increased gender equality.
Gender equality is good for the economy
Significant research exists on the commercial benefits of gender-diverse workforces. Gender equality also increases innovation and productivity.
Gender equality is a human right
Under the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, they seek to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
Gender equality makes our communities safer and healthier
When stereotypical behaviors are no longer expected of men and women, then everyone is free to behave more empathetically. Unequal societies have higher rates of anti-social behavior and violence, while countries with greater gender equality have citizens who are healthier with better wellbeing.
Gender equality gives everyone equal opportunities
Access to opportunities is a key objective of gender equality. When everyone has access to opportunities it is easier for individuals, society and economies to thrive.
Gender equality is good for men
Gender equality provides men more freedom in self-expression, including their chosen career field. It enables men to access parental leave and participate in family life without discrimination. With gender equality, men don’t face as much pressure to fit a stereotype.
How WORK180 promotes gender equality
WORK180 are on a mission to create workplaces where every woman can thrive. We are passionate about promoting gender equity, and about women and other genders receiving the same opportunities as men.
We pre-screen every employer on our jobs board to see where they stand on pay equity, flexible working, paid parental leave, equal opportunities and a range of other criteria. We also take into account diversity initiatives focusing on age, ability, ethnicity and sexual orientation.
People are often surprised to learn that less than 50% of companies that apply to be on our jobs board are approved – because we hold firm on our standards and they need to meet our minimum standards for policies and behaviors.
Through our work, employers changed one policy every three weeks last year. This led to more parental care benefits, better flexibility and more opportunities – for women and for men.
All company information and benefits are transparent on our site, enabling candidates to compare the things that are important to them. We are passionate about empowering women to find workplaces that support them in all aspects of their life.
At the same time, we drive real systemic change through our Endorsed Employers. These companies have some of the most generous benefits in the country, with a real focus on families, women, and other underrepresented groups.
If you want to learn more about gender equality, head to WORK180’s blog to read more!
Other useful resources are:
- The Geena Davis Institute, a research-based organization working to improve gender balance, reduce stereotypes, and create diverse female characters in entertainment.
- Herspective Feminist on Instagram, Evelyn is a Harvard-educated oppression scholar, who talks in everyday terms about feminism, intersection, and bringing men into the conversation.
- A Mighty Girl offers recommendations and lists of books, toys, and movies aimed at raising smart, confident, and courageous girls.
- LeanIn.org, based on the book Lean In, and founded by Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, encourages women to pursue their ambitions and to change the conversation from what they can’t do to what they can do.
- UNICEF talk about the global impacts of gender inequality, and will help expand thinking beyond developed countries.