International Women's Day: Why Do We Have It And What Can You Do To #PledgeForParity?

08/03/2016 2:29 AM AEDT | Updated 15/07/2016 12:51 PM AEST
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Australia has already had its first female prime minister and its first female Governor-General. It's about to get its first female AFL league and its female cricket team debatably performs better than the men's. So why is it important for Australians to celebrate International Women's Day?

Well, International Women's Day -- on March 8 -- celebrates the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. So Australia certainly has a lot to celebrate. But the day is also a reminder of how much more needs to be done to achieve gender equality in each nation and around the globe.

Former Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick -- who ended her eight year tenure in the job in September -- spoke to The Huffington Post Australia about how far we've come, how far we have to go and why it is crucial for both sexes to be a part of the conversation now.

What has Australia achieved towards reaching gender equality?

In the last ten years, a paid parental leave scheme has been implemented across the nation; legislation has been introduced giving women and men the right to request flexible work; the sex discrimination act has been strengthened to help protect those facing pregnancy discrimination and sex discrimination in the workplace.

And the number of women on company boards has doubled in the past five years. But for Broderick, the biggest change involves men.

"One of the major shifts that I’ve seen is that we no longer see gender equality as just a women’s issue," Broderick told The Huffington Post Australia.

"We see it as an economic and societal issue and one where men need to step up beside women and be equal partners in change.”

During her time as Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Broderick created the Male Champions of Change -- an organisation uniting men who hold power and influence in Australia to advocate for and improve gender equality.

The group has grown from six men to more than 100.

In late February, one of these champions, CEO and MD of Aurizon Lance Hockridge, implemented a bold paid parental leave scheme incentivising fatherhood and encouraging men to take on parenting responsibilities. Under the scheme, a female employee whose partner takes on full time care of their child within the first year will receive 150 percent of her salary.

Broderick also says businesses are now recognising domestic violence is a workplace issue, too.

"And a lot of that is attributable to the good work of Rosie Batty, who actually allowed us to put the human face on violence against women in the nation," Broderick told HuffPost Australia.

"She spent quite a bit of time with the Male Champions, helping them understand what it was like to try and hold down a job while you were living with extreme violence."

So we've achieved a lot, but where is there still work to be done?

The Westpac International Women's Day Report, released on Monday, revealed women start full time work on wages 12 percent lower than men, and while their average salary peaks at the age of 31, men's salaries continue to rise up until an average age of 39.

And women are paid 17.9 percent less than men, according to the latest data -- so the gender pay gap is still prominent.

Broderick said targets need to be set to address gender pay disparity and policies implemented to ensure employers are auditing men and women's salaries within companies to prevent unconscious bias.

"Much of the overt discrimination has disappeared but what’s left is what I call gender asbestos. It’s that indirect discrimination. It’s the attitudes, the biases, the predjudices that are really built in to the walls, the floors, the ceilings, the structures and behaviours of organisations," Broderick told HuffPost Australia.

"And it is harder to identify, therefore it is harder to combat. So really we need courageous leadership from both men and women but particularly from men if we are to step up on the next evolution to change the culture."

elizabeth broderick

Elizabeth Broderick

While getting more women into leadership positions -- including those in politics -- is important, it's the sharing of housework and unpaid work that needs to be encouraged just as much.

"Because the work that women do in the domestic sphere, whether it’s caring for children or running the household, we can’t be expecting women to do all that and be in paid work," Broderick said.

What can you do today, tomorrow and every day after that?

Australian men should find one thing they can do to support gender equality, and commit to doing this, said Broderick. Fathers can also talk to their sons about the responsibilities they have in helping girls and women, to consequently help the nation and themselves. Male managers can discuss how they can analyse gender inequality within their organisation, and then work to change it.

This year #PledgeForParity encourages just this, as leaders around the world commit to helping achieve gender equality.

"For men, it’s even to listen to women’s stories of inequality and the impact that it’s had on their lives. I think the story telling is really important."

And for women, it's important to recognise "the accomplishments of those women before us," Broderick said.

"I just think there is no way I could have been the Sex Discrimination Commissioner with two young children back in my grandmothers time. What made it possible was that those women went out there and campaigned for change.

"They demanded change and they never gave up. And it’s the countless small steps that they took which allowed me to be a young mother with children and step up into a really senior role."

Broderick also thinks about the world she wants her daughter to grow up in, and how she can help achieve that.

"I learnt something very important from this woman in the UN when I was there last. I talked to her about how she changes the world. She said, 'Look Liz, I do what I can, when I can."

"It’s so true, you don’t have to be extraordinary, you can be an ordinary person like me who just wants to make Australia better. And do what you can, when you can. That’s how you’ll change the world."

So today, tomorrow and every day after, let's do what we can, when we can, and #PledgeForParity.

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