Despite anti-discrimination on the basis of sex being legislated in the country in 1984, in practice, pay inequality is still present. The gender pay gap, which measures the average difference between the remuneration of men and women, has not changed significantly over the last 20 years. The gap varies across industries, with the financial and insurance services industry having the largest pay gap of 24.4 percent as of 2019. In terms of public opinion on this issue, less than 40 percent of Australians thought it likely that women would be paid the same as men for the same work in 2019.
The country ranked 49th on the economic participation gap, which measured wages, employment, and workforce representation, in the recently released World Economic Forum 2020 Global Gender Index. This placed Australia significantly behind many other countries in the OECD, and the ranking was worse than Australia’s placing in 2018.
Despite struggling with its economic gender imbalance, Australia has been successful in closing the education gap. Gender parity exists for access to numeracy and literacy skills, and recent figures show that women are more likely than men to obtain a bachelor’s degree or above. In 2018, the majority of female university graduates employed full-time were in professional occupations.
The average life expectancy of Australian females born in 2017 was estimated to be 84.6 years - over five years older than for males. In fact, women are more likely to live with a disease compared to dying early from injury or disease. Reproductive and sexual health rights in Australia have advanced over the years, though the benefits have not been experienced uniformly across indigenous and non-indigenous populations. Although the human papilloma virus (HPV) vaccine was introduced in 2007, women living in remote areas or from the lowest socio-economic groups are less likely to have access to screening and treatment. The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander female population has a mortality rate from HPV-related diseases that is four times greater than non-indigenous women.
Abortion is currently legal in all Australian states and territories with varying regulations and requirements; the practice is governed under state law rather than federal law. This comes after parliament passed the Abortion Law Reform Act 2019, decriminalizing abortion in the country’s largest state New South Wales. While not without its share of opponents, many women’s rights advocates hailed the passing of the bill as a step forward for women in the state.
The future for women in Australia looks promising. The National Women’s Health Strategy aims to improve the health and wellbeing of Australian women over the next decade. The focus will be on maternal and infant health, chronic disease, mental illness, and aging. Figures show a higher job creation rate for women compared to men, as well as an increasing labor force participation rate. Even still, it is yet to be seen whether the gender pay gap will be closed in the foreseeable future.