Across the world, women continue to earn less than men and do the majority of unpaid work. An Oxfam report on Monday finds that gender equality is far from a reality, in rich and poor countries alike. One of the most alarming figures is that, at the current rate of progress, it will be 75 years before women are paid equally to men.
This year, Australia has a unique opportunity, as the host of the G20 in November, to help change this course – to push the G20 to make good on its promises to support inclusive growth and employment that will benefit women as well as men. In particular, Australia has the opportunity to lead on specific measures to address women’s full participation in the workforce.
G20 nations are developing individual growth strategies to achieve an agreed 2 per cent increase in global economic growth. The glaringly obvious opportunity would be to focus on strategies to close the gap in women’s workforce participation, yet, oddly, this is not widely discussed. It is estimated that if men’s and women’s employment rates were equal, the US’s gross domestic product would increase by 9 per cent, the eurozone’s by 13 per cent and Japan’s by 16 per cent.
One example of an investment that has driven growth is Quebec’s low-cost childcare program, which has resulted in the relative poverty of single-mother families falling by 14 per cent and their after-tax income shooting up by 81 per cent.
While the program costs roughly 0.7 per cent of GDP, it has increased female employment rates with an estimated additional 70,000 mothers in jobs, resulting in a 1.7 per cent increase in GDP. This example demonstrates how investment in closing the participation gap between men and women can drive growth – which benefits everyone.
At present, it would be fair to say that most of the policies of the G20 have tended to be gender-blind. Decisions are being made mostly by men, with little concern for their impact on women. For example, the G20’s fiscal consolidation and austerity policies have resulted in cuts to the public sector.
While this may have achieved desired savings, it did not consider the impact that cuts to the public service would have on women, who are the majority of users for public services. The cuts also had ramifications for women’s employment, given the public sector has made significant progress towards equal employment of men and women. Regardless of the merit of the public sector cuts, there needs to be a gendered impact analysis of these policies before they are put in place.
If Australia can influence an outcome of the G20 so that it effectively considers the different needs and experiences of men and women, we would be leading one of the most significant and necessary shifts in global economic decision-making in history. While the ball is in our court, Australia needs to ensure the G20 continues to advocate for strong, sustainable and balanced growth that is inclusive and considers the specific needs of women. These include the redistribution of unpaid care work within households and opportunities to share that work more equally, as well as the need for social protection and a regulatory and legal environment that protects women’s rights.
This week in Sydney, influential business leaders from G20 countries are coming together with the aim of influencing the G20 agenda. At their two-day B20 summit, women will be few and far between – with only two speakers, three MCs and no women task force leaders participating. Is it really so hard to understand that for laws, policies and attitudes to reflect and respond to the needs and realities of our societies, women must also be in the inner sanctum?
We are calling for the B20 and the G20 to treat gender equality as a priority. The G20 needs to prioritise policies that reduce the burden of unpaid care work and support initiatives that overcome the systemic barriers to women’s workforce participation. Steps must also be taken to ensure that women are represented at the highest levels of decision-making.
At this rate, even our children may not experience a world where women are valued equally to men – but this course is not inevitable.
In 2012, G20 leaders committed to breaking down the barriers that stand in the way of women’s full economic and social participation in their countries. Let this be the year when we start doing just that.
Julie McKay is the Executive Director of the National Committee for UN Women
Dr Helen Szoke is the Chief Executive of Oxfam Australia