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Tony Abbott: Do you really want to fix this joint? Start here

/ Oct 25, 2013 15:06PM / Print / ()

Tony Abbott: Do you really want to fix this joint? Start her...

A day doesn't pass where I don't feel grateful for having a job I love. This is partly because my first career didn't work out so well but it's also because I genuinely love working on this platform. Before I joined Women's Agenda I was an avid reader of the site; the content resonated with me in the way, I hope, it does with you.

Our agenda for content is two-fold: we want to provide you with useful and practical information that will help you at work. (In saying this, however, we recognise that getting ahead at work is only part of the picture which is why we also write about current affairs, families, relationships, finance, fashion and beauty. Single-dimensional women, we are not). But over and above that, we are committed to advocating and agitating for gender equality because it is inextricably linked with women's ability to succeed in the way they want and live the lives they want.

And ordinarily I enjoy it whole-heartedly but this week my gratitude for being in this job has waned slightly. Because this week, in particular, it has been shockingly apparent to me just how far we have not come.

On Monday I was shocked to see the UN Women advertising campaign. To learn that, among other things, 'Women should be disciplined' and 'Women shouldn't have rights' are so commonly searched for that Google auto-completes the sentence for you. I was shocked to learn that 'Women should be slaves' isn't just a common search term but a search that generates real information about how you can find yourself a female sex slave. And this isn't spin. These searches are as real as the people who type them into their browsers.

I was shocked, admittedly only mildly, watching the ABC's Q&A on Monday night and hearing Barnaby Joyce explain that cabinet truly is comprised on merit alone. I was slightly more surprised when a senior woman at a finance function made the same point to the accomplished guest speaker who had just succinctly and eloquently disproved that.

I was shocked to learn that so much of the conversation around sexual assault and rape is still framed around the role victims play in that crime. I wasn't shocked so much as disheartened by the fact that so much of the conversation is vicious and hateful.

I was shocked that the Treasurer, Joe Hockey, would say, in regards to his government's finance committee audit, that he is 'fixing the joint'. That he would almost gleefully recall the provocative language Alan Jones used when declaring women like Julia Gillard were 'destroying the joint'.

The connection between these small things might not be immediately apparent to you. It's not particularly logical, but they are linked by the undercurrent of subversive attitudes towards women.

And with that as the backdrop to my week, the latest Global Gender Report, from the World Economic Forum that gauges the gender gap in each country around the world was the straw that broke this camel's back.

The report takes the resources and situation of each country into account before ranking them in relative terms. It is the most comprehensive study of its kind and proves as conclusively as the UN Women advertising campaign that equal treatment eludes women.

Australia now ranks 24th in the world, which is an improvement of one place on last year, in the gender-based disparities that women face. Before you consider celebrating that consider this:

In 2006 when the first Global Gender Report was produced we ranked 15th but we've steadily slipped down the list. We still rank first in the world for educating women; we educate more women at higher levels than any other country in the world. And yet we cannot keep them in the workplace. As EY recently described it that's an extraordinarily poor return on an expensive investment. If that baffles you be assured it is not inexplicable. It is explained, perfectly, by the fact we have a major workforce participation issue. Unless and until we recognise that we will continue to slip further and further away from other nations.

There's been plenty of talk lately about the need to boost productivity and about how we can shift Australia's source of income away from resources alone. One of the answers is right in front of us. It is to use the educated and talented females that we have. The productivity potential in increasing women's participation in the work force sits at $13 billion a year. And yet as the World Economic Forum shows we aren't doing anything about that.

The executive director of UN Women in Australia Julie McKay says it reflects the fact other countries are performing better that we are in progressing gender diversity.

"We're lagging behind particularly in the Nordic countries that are working much faster," McKay told Women's Agenda. "In all of those countries there are either quotas or specific targets for women in business and/or parliament. Other countries are absolutely doing more than we are but also Australia hasn't invested in it."

As far as I'm concerned there are two things that are more shocking than the results. First, our lowest ranking in the global report is in the relative health and survival of women compared to men -- in that regard we rank 69th in the world. That is disgraceful for a country with our riches and is almost wholly reflective of our complacency around the welfare of Indigenous women, women with disabilities and women in remote areas.

"It's unacceptable and we all have an obligation to change that," McKay says.

What is just as unacceptable is that I am willing to wager we will not hear anything, from anyone, in the Australian government on this report. For all the posturing about the importance of women and childcare affordability and paid parental leave during the election campaign, we have not heard a single thing from the government on its commitment to women or any of these issues. The only thing our Minister for Women has said is that Australian women aren't discriminated against. (And there was also that matter of cabinet.) Prime Minister Abbott, I tender to you the WEF's Global Gender Gap report and I eagerly await your response. Read it, if for no other reason than the fact there's $13 billion in the balance. That ought to help you fix this joint.



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