Australia’s political leaders have been taken to task over their apparent blind spot when it comes to the role of women in the economy.
Victoria’s leading organisation for women’s health, equality and violence prevention says gender equality is going backwards in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis.
Gender Equity Victoria chief executive Tanja Kovac says Australia is falling further behind New Zealand, Nordic countries and parts of Asia when measuring participation in paid work, due to treasurers being “unable to see the impact of their policies on the everyday working lives of women”, Guardian Australia reports.
Women’s unemployment in Victoria remains significantly higher than men’s (8.1 per cent versus 5.9 per cent), and women over 55 are experiencing the fastest rate of homelessness in Australia – and that was before COVID-19 decimated their job opportunities and superannuation raids slimmed meagre savings.
Worse news is expected when the JobSeeker bonus ends in March, as women over the age of 45 were the group most likely to be relying on JobSeeker before the pandemic, according to a September 2020 paper by the federal government’s Parliamentary Budget Office.
Ms Kovac says the federal government’s lack of action is the result of “gender ignorance”.
The postponed October Federal Budget was criticised for lacking a plan to get women back to work, after allocating $40 per female worker, or $8 a year, until 2025 to tackle women’s economic security – just one-third of 1 per cent of the entire Budget. And the Coalition stated that no gender analysis had been done.
But last July, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg did encourage a baby boom to kickstart the economy.
“It is a naive, almost gender ignorant statement to say that the economic problems in Australia are resolved through birthing, but we’ve heard it before,” Ms Kovac told Guardian Australia. “A similar statement was made by treasurer Peter Costello a decade ago.
“The IMF is saying that to grow economies you need to address gender inequality, which means you can’t birth your way out of problems if, as a consequence, you have a whole lot of women unable to work because they have disproportionate caring responsibilities or face a lack of flexibility in the workforce.”
Regardless, demographer Dr Liz Allen says many would-be parents would have put off their plans to create or expand families in 2020.
“Being stuck at home with a partner doesn’t meet the necessary ingredients for increased fertility rates,” the population statistics expert told AAP. “More sex is insufficient for a baby boom to occur.
“People have lost their jobs and lost access to things like parenting leave. This all has a psychological impact on people and their feelings of insecurity and hope for the future.”
Dr Allen also agreed that a lack of will from leaders was holding women back.
“Federal treasurers in Australia have realised the importance of more women in the workplace, but no earnest investments have been made to make workplaces or society in general more equal,” Dr Allen told Guardian Australia.
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