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Data driving change for gender equality

Discrimination Sex Discrimination

The role of gendered data in successful policy implementation

Equality Rights Alliance parallel event
Commission on the Status of Women, 58th Session,
V-Hall, Armenian Convention Centre, 630 2nd Avenue

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Gender inequality is being increasingly recognised, both in Australia and internationally as an important issue that has a profound impact on societies, as well as the individual lives of men and women, from social, economic and health perspectives.

Australia, as with other countries, has seen significant progress in eliminating gender-based inequalities (eg. through public awareness, anti-discrimination laws, pro-active policies and programs etc) but there is still a long way to go before we reach full gender equality.

Gender equality is a fundamental human right. Women make up half the Australian population yet are often not treated equally or given the opportunities to equally participate or equally benefit

Gender inequality is embedded in the attitudes and behaviours as well as in the structural barriers – which if we are to change requires us to address the negative gender stereotypes and the systemic disadvantage women experience.

Therefore it is fundamental to have a rigorous evidence base of prevalence, to enable us to monitor progress over time on what is working and what is not, and identify where the advancements are being made.

Gender Indicators

In August 2011 the ABS released a new product called Gender Indicators, Australia.[1] The product covers six areas of concern:

  • Health
  • Education
  • economic security
  • work and family balance
  • safety and justice
  • democracy, governance and citizenship

The data from gender indicators highlights some of the current areas of gender equality:

  • The gender pay gap - women continue to receive significantly less in average weekly earnings than men. The gender pay gap currently stands at 17.1%.[2]
  • The under-representation of women in leadership positions in both the public and private sector – as of January 2014 17.6% of appointments to ASX200 boards were women. In 2012, women held 9.7% of executive key management personnel positions in the ASX 200.[3]
  • We see that women do not have the same level of retirement savings as men – the average superannuation payouts for women are 57% that of men: $198,000 for men compared to $112,600 for women.[4]
  • Women make up the majority of carers (of children or caring for a family member or friend with disability, chronic illness or frailty due to older age), representing 70% of primary carers and 56% of carers overall.[5]
  • Women who are unpaid carers have considerably lower rates of employment and are more likely to work in part-time and casual jobs. Less than 23% of female primary carers were in full-time employment at any point across the age groups.[6]
  • As women undertake the largest share of unpaid caring work, the undervaluing of unpaid caring work has had a great impact in economic terms on women’s retirement income and savings.
  • Women are more likely to be the subject of domestic violence and sexual assault. 41% of women aged 18 and over have experienced violence in their lifetime. 17% of women have experienced violence from a current or former partner since the age of 15 (compared to 5.3% of men). Women aged 18 years and over (17%) were more likely than men aged 18 years and over (4%) to have experienced sexual assault since the age of 15.[7]
  • 1 in 3 women (33%) have been sexually harassed since the age of 15 compared to fewer than one in ten men (9%). 25% of women experienced sexual harassment in the workplace between 2007 and 2012.[8]
  • Australia is ranked 24th in the Global Gender Gap Index 2013, down from 20th in 2009 and 17th in 2007.[9]

As these statistics demonstrate it is essential to have a rigorous evidence base on the prevalence of discrimination and inequality

The Gender Indicators provide a national picture of gender equality in Australia. They provide a comprehensive picture of the current differences between men and women and how gender equality is changing over time.

The Gender Indicators assist us to evaluate the outcomes of gender focused interventions and policies

The development of the Gender Indicators was commended by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women in 2010.

Best practice

Many of the statistical collection and reporting methods in Australia have been recognised as best practice. For example, the Personal Safety Survey in Australia gathers strong prevalence data violence experienced by women and the latest cycle of data was issued in late 2013.

Similarly, the ABS’ Time Use Survey is considered best practice internationally and I understand is among the more cost-effective surveys. Yet due to funding restrictions, the latest cycle of this survey has been postponed.

Australia’s Workplace Gender Equality Agency is another example of best practice – that similarly collects valuable gender equality data from all companies with 100 or more staff, on the composition of the workforce and governing bodies, equal remuneration, family and caring responsibilities and sex based harassment and discrimination.

Significantly, global best practice demonstrates that such regular and transparent reporting against gender equality indicators is essential to driving changes in companies that will lead to increased participation of women in the workforce.

Capturing the missing data

One of the continuing concerns around gender-disaggregated data is the failure to capture and report on specific areas. For example in Australia, there is very little data collected and reported on violence against Indigenous women, women with disability, migrant and refugee women, lesbian, trans and intersex women, or older women.

When this data isn’t collected it is very difficult to report on the level of disadvantage and inequality specific groups of women may face, without the supporting evidence. It is also very difficult without such data to be able to pinpoint the areas of disadvantage or importantly to measure what progress is made.

For example, in Australia, when we found that data on the prevalence of sexual harassment in workplaces was not being regular collected the Australian Human Rights Commission began collecting national data on the prevalence levels of sexual harassment.

Importantly in 2012, the most recent time we conducted this survey, the survey was extended to also collect data on the prevalence of sexual harassment within the Australian Military. For the Military it was a valuable benchmarking exercise to be able to establish to what extent sexual harassment was within the Military, and specifically in comparison with the general population.

What we found was that the prevalence levels of sexual harassment between the male dominated Military sector, and the general population was comparable:

  • In the last five years 25.9% of women and 10.5% of men in the ADF have experienced sexual harassment in an ADF workplace.[10]
  • This compares to prevalence rates in the National Survey of 21% and 16% of men over the age of 15 years experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the past five years.[11]

However, the intensity of the harassment was greater within the Military and the level of reporting and bystander action was much less.

I do note that where there is a lack of robust statistical data, there can be value in relying on more narrative data such as case studies, and on smaller sets of statistical data.

There is also value in using case studies to demonstrate the nature and consequences of the discrimination or disadvantage experienced by women, which supports the prevalence data.

This is something that we are doing in a National Review on Discrimination related to pregnancy and return to work after parental leave. As part of the Review we are collecting the first national prevalence data in Australia on discrimination related to pregnancy and return to work after parental, leave and importantly we are also including prevalence data on discrimination experienced by men on return to work after parental leave. Which we believe is the first time data of this kind has been collected anywhere in the world.

But in addition to identifying the prevalence, we have also consulted a number of consultations, interviews and received online submissions from individual affected as well as from employers, employer groups and community organisations on the nature and consequences of the discrimination. This assists us to better understand the contributing factors, why certain kinds of discrimination manifest in certain areas, and what are the short and long term impacts both on the individual and the employer. It is very useful for us to supplement the data with the case studies we draw from the consultations.

So for example, we may know there are significant levels of such discrimination from our survey, but it is the experiences of discrimination that we hear about that will supplement the information to better understand it. For example, we have heard from women who say they phoned up to enquire about a job, and the first question they get over the phone is: ‘Are you a woman of child bearing age?’

By having both the prevalence and experiential data we are able to more clearly identify where the systemic, legal and policy issues are and make corresponding recommendations on how to address them. We are currently mid-way through and are aiming to report on the review, along with the recommendation in June 2014.

Data drives change

The key lesson about gendered data for me is that it is rigorous, robust data collection and analysis against key strategic metrics that drives change.

Through analysing the data, organisations are able to identify where the gaps are, and then adjust and target their measures.

Gender reporting is a powerful intelligence tool that assists organisations to establish gender equality measures and generate more productive and higher functioning organisations.

And the value of having gender disaggregated data, further underlines the need to continue producing gender equality data.

We need to remain vigilant in collecting and reporting on the data.

We need to ensure that gender specific data collection and reporting continues to be done and we need to make sure that budget is prioritised for gender data surveys if we are to continue to have robust data that we can rely on to demonstrate the areas of inequality.

No one should doubt that there is benefit both to individual organisations, to governments and to the international community in collecting gender equality data across the spectrum of areas. Such data is essential for policy makers to be aware of where the gender gaps are, to design evidenced based responses and find policy solutions, and to be able to measure the effectiveness of the mechanisms and rate of progress.

Thank you.


[1] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Gender Indicators, Catalogue no. 4125.0.
[2] Australian Bureau of Statistics Average Weekly Full-Time Earnings data, catalogue no. 6302.0.
[3] Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Australian Census of Women in Leadership Summary of key findings (2012). At: http://www.wgea.gov.au/lead/australian-census-women-leadership (viewed 20 November 2013).
[4] R Clare, Developments in the level and distribution of retirement savings, September 2011 (2011), p 10.
[5] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Aging and Carers (2012). At: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/0F299F0FB0C27050CA257C210011ADC6?opendocument (viewed 20 November 2013).
[6] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Disability, Ageing and Carers (2012). At: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/F30E84F7209630DCCA257C21000E5120?opendocument (viewed 20 November 2013).
[7] Australian Bureau of Statistics, Personal Safety Survey 2012 (2013). At: http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Latestproducts/4906.0Main%20Features12012?opendocument&tabname=Summary&prodno=4906.0&issue=2012&num=&view=) (viewed 20 November 2013).
[8] Australian Human Rights Commission, Working without fear: Results of the 2012 sexual harassment national telephone survey (2012). At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/working-without-fear-results-sexual-harassment-national-telephone-survey-2012 (viewed 20 November 2013).
[9] World Economic Forum, The Global Gender Gap Report 2012, (2013). At http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-report-2013/#= (viewed 20 November 2013).
[10] Australian Human Rights Commission, Review into the Treatment of Women in the Australian Defence Force Phase 2 Report (2012), p258. At http://defencereview.humanrights.gov.au/report-review-treatment-women-australian-defence-force (viewed 11 June 2014).
[11] Australian Human Rights Commission, Working without fear: Results of the 2012 sexual harassment national telephone survey (2012). At https://www.humanrights.gov.au/working-without-fear-results-sexual-harassment-national-telephone-survey-2012 (viewed 20 November 2013).

Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner