Rethinking the Australian model of promoting gender equality

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Introduction Australia has come a long way towards achieving gender equality since Ansett’s General Manager, Reg Grundy, refused to allow Deborah Wardley to train as a pilot for Ansett because, as Grundy wrote in a letter to the Women’s Electoral Lobby, Ansett was ‘concerned with the provision of the safest and most efficient air service possible [and so] we feel that an all male pilot crew is safer than one in which the sexes are mixed’. Today, no trade or profession is closed to women. Australia has female Chief Executive Officers, Directors, Vice Chancellors, and in the last five years, we have elected the first female Prime Minister and Premier and appointed the first female Governor-General. Even Australia’s richest person is a woman. Blatant expressions of discrimination or prejudice, such as Grundy’s, are far less prevalent today, yet gender discrimination persists and systemic discrimination still prevents women from achieving equality, particularly in the workplace, which is the area that receives the bulk of discrimination complaints. The gender pay gap is 17.5 per cent. It is higher in industries such as the health care and social assistance sector. Only 15.8 per cent of board positions in the ASX200 are held by women, 25 per cent of ASX200 companies do not have a woman on their board and the new Prime Minister included only one woman as a member of federal cabinet, alongside eighteen men. The law’s response is to address sex discrimination on a case-by-case basis. Antidiscrimination laws enable women to lodge a complaint about an instance of sex discrimination at a statutory equal opportunity commission that will facilitate the resolution of the complaint. If this fails, the woman can litigate. The reasoning behind this approach is the expectation that the resolution of each individual complaint will have what Thornton termed a ‘positive ripple effect and deter other potential discriminators’. While the ripples were strong enough to eradicate overt discrimination and open up opportunities to women, the seas have calmed and gender equality has yet to be achieved. A large part of the problem is the system’s focus on the individual - it relies on the individual for enforcement, and most claims are settled with an agreement that affects only the individual. A limited form of based affirmative action legislation targets gender inequality in the workplace.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Public Law of Gender
Subtitle of host publicationFrom the Local to the Global
EditorsKim Rubenstein, Katharine G. Young
Place of PublicationCambridge UK
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9781316481493
ISBN (Print)9781107138575
Publication statusPublished - 2016
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

NameConnecting International Law with Public Law
PublisherCambridge University Press

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