9 March 2018



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May I begin by acknowledging the Kaurna people who are the traditional owners of the lands on which we are meeting this morning, and by paying our respects to their elders past and present.

(acknowledgements omitted)

The UN Secretary-General describes the achievement of gender equality as the unfinished business of our time and one of the greatest challenges of our time.

I could give you many facts and figures about why that remains true. Here in Australia we know we still face a gender pay gap of 15 percent. We know that our daughters are likely to earn less over their lifetimes than their sons, have fewer career opportunities, be more likely to be subject to violence, intimate partner violence and to be subject to sexual harassment.

We also know that there are 130 million girls in this world who don’t attend school. Just pause for a moment and think about that figure – 130 million girls across the world who don’t get to go to school.

So we have a lot to do and. Equality is a work in progress in the world and it’s a work in progress across our society.

And picking up a theme that His Excellency made, I want to briefly talk about responsibility. Because there are few who would believe, or admit to believing, that women are somehow less able or less valuable or less intelligent.

But I’d ask you this: are there enough who are prepared to take responsibility for changing a world in which half the population has fewer opportunities?

And one of the most difficult things to change is of course systemic discrimination, tacit discrimination. What Elizabeth Broderick called ‘gender asbestos’ – attitudes, beliefs and unconscious bias is built into the walls, floors, ceilings, structures and practices of organisations.

We’ve had some extraordinary events in our Parliament in the last week, probably an indication of how pervasive tacit sexism is, because when gender discrimination reflects a mindset, it is harder to ameliorate and harder to eradicate.

But that’s our job. That is our task.

Yet, it is a task that has been difficult for years. We still find locker room mentalities, ‘mansplaining’ and the seemingly impenetrable glass ceiling.

For example, Australian women’s tertiary attainment level is 8 points higher than men’s, but the workforce participation rate of women is more than 10 points lower.

So what are we going to do about it?

First, I think that ‘women helping women’ has to remain a core target of the women’s movement. International Women’s Day has to remain a continuing and powerful reminder that we must enable and empower each other if we are to establish gender equality as the norm rather than simply an aspiration. Women have to support women and women have to work together.

Second, we have to stop behaving as if gender equality is just a women’s issue. We have to engage the agency of men, not only because they retain so much of the power to effect change, but also because men will be as much the beneficiaries of gender equality as will women.

Speaking at the UN in 2014, Elizabeth Broderick, the then-Sex Discrimination Commissioner, put this succinctly.

Minimising gender disparities requires behavioural changes amongst both women and men. It requires us to transform workplace norms and structures that entrench existing gender inequalities, including those that reinforce the male model of work. Without the avid support of men – men who currently dominate the leadership group in most large businesses and control most of the financial and other resources – substantial progress is unlikely.

We have been pretty successful in calling out men whose standards and behaviour are sexist and demeaning. #MeToo is a tribute to the brave women who have joined together and said “enough is actually far too much”.

But it is only one thing to call out unacceptable behaviour. It is altogether another to instill decency and respect. And this is what we must do. It is what we must do for equality and it is what we must do to eradicate the scourge of domestic violence and build a society based on care, compassion, respect, trust and inclusion.

So all of us here this morning have to continue to support each other whilst working together and ensuring that men also are prepared to work for gender equity.

And we have to do this work where we can. We have to do this work in our apartments, in our homes and in our schools, in our hospitals, in our universities, in our professions, in our businesses.

In all the places that we interact with each other we have to work to create a more equal society, because by being here today we remind ourselves that what we want is a world in which our daughters genuinely have the same opportunities as our sons.

So thank you very much for being here and for being part of that.