In the recent Global Gender Gap Report released by the World Economic Forum (W.E.F.) Australia, along with New Zealand, were highlighted as “leaders in closing the gender gap”. Based on the W.E.F’s benchmarking tool, the Gender Gap Index (G.G.I.), Australia achieved a rank of 15, out of 115 countries, and a score of 0.716 (1=equality). Perhaps unsurprisingly the Report has prompted considerable debate in Australia as to the status of women and, in particular, their economic well-being. Whilst many women have benefited from access to education and health, persistent barriers continue to hinder women’s economic opportunities and political empowerment within the Australian context. At a time when other countries are integrating gender into the policy development process and adopting programs to monitor women’s labour market outcomes Australia appears to be moving in the opposite direction.
When compared to the 1970s and 1980s it is apparent that the climate within which gender equality is pursued today has significantly chilled. In the words of Maddison and Partridge “whereas Australia was once a leader in the global struggle for gender equality [ ...] in recent years Australia has resiled from this commitment and many of the achievements of an earlier period have now been undone.” Other prominent feminist commentators such as Barbara Pocock (2003 and 2006) and Anne Summers (2003) have similarly noted recent adverse shifts in women’s labour market outcomes and a diminution over the last decade or so of the gender equity agenda by Australian governments.
Given these tensions, the W.E.F’s high praise of Australia requires closer analysis. In doing this, the paper takes as its focus the ‘Economic Participation and Opportunity Index’, a sub-Index of the G.G.I., which measures women and men’s labour market participation, remuneration, and advancement, identifying gaps and convergences.