Gender Equality in Australia – A Guide to Gender Equality in 2020

Understanding gender equality in 2020 workplaces requires a broader understanding of gender equality in Australia. Gender inequality in society often informs our experiences and attitudes in the workplace.

This article gives an overview of gender equality, why it is important, Australian laws, and Australian gender equality statistics.

1. What is meant by gender equality?

What is gender equality? It is the equal treatment of all genders. It means all genders will enjoy the same rights, opportunities, responsibilities and protections. Gender equality in Australia affects everybody’s experiences and makes a safer and healthier community.[1]

In a gender equal world, we would see:

  • Equal access to education for girls and boys
  • Equal representation of women in leadership positions in workplaces and politics
  • Recognition of the value of unpaid and domestic work
  • Equal access to the economic resources such as financial services, inheritance and natural resources
  • No discrimination against women and girls
  • No gendered violence.[2]


2. What is the importance of gender equality?

Gender equality is a human right. Almost every human rights treaty includes the prohibition of gender discrimination. [3]

Achieving gender equality has the potential to save many lives of women and girls. Gender inequality can play a significant role in the life expectancy of women and girls. This can be seen in higher death rates during and after natural disasters[4], in the disproportionate gendered effects of climate change[5] and in medical bias.[6]

There is also a strong global case to why gender equality will benefit us all. The UN says gender equality is, ‘essential to achieve peaceful societies, with full human potential and sustainable development.’ Women and girls make up half the population of the world, so they make up half the potential of society. Recognising the value of women and girls’ contributions, skills and work allows us all to progress as a global community.  [7]

Achieving gender equality in Australia will have a significant impact on our economy. Research suggests that it would lead to more jobs and increased GDP. These are two important pieces of our economic strength, which could result in decreased poverty, higher life expectancy and better quality of life.[8]


3. Gender equality laws in Australia

There are specific gender equality laws in Australia to ensure everyone is treated fairly.

Australia signed the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women in 1983. Signing the convention is a commitment to promote gender equality in Australia through policies, laws, organisations, structures and attitudes that work towards the equality of all genders. It outlines the rights that women should have across many aspects of life including political participation, health, education, employment, housing, marriage, family relations and laws.[9] You can read more about the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women here. 

Upon signing the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women, Australia introduced the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, federal legislation that prohibits sex discrimination. Under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, people are protected from discrimination and unfair treatment due to sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status, relationship status, pregnancy or breastfeeding.[10]

The Human Rights Commission is in charge of overseeing this act. If you would like to know more about the work they do or to make a complaint about a breach of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, you can visit their website:

The Workplace Gender Equality Agency oversees the Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012. This legislation replaced the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999. The legislation aims to improve and promote equality for both women and men in the workplace.

The principle objects of the Act are to:

  • promote and improve gender equality in Australia (including equal remuneration between women and men) in employment and in the workplace
  • support employers to remove barriers to the full and equal participation of women in the workforce
  • promote, amongst employers, the elimination of discrimination on the basis of gender in relation to employment matters (including in relation to family and caring responsibilities)
  • foster workplace consultation between employers and employees on issues concerning gender equality in employment and in the workplace
  • improve the productivity and competitiveness of Australian business through the advancement of gender equality in employment and in the workplace.[11]


4. Gender inequality statistics

Gender equality in Australia has improved significantly. But gender inequality still remains. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency also collects data relating to gender equality in the workplace.[12]   The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) gathers gender inequality statistics across six domains of interest: economic security; education; health; work and family balance; safety and justice; and democracy, governance and citizenship. [13] This data illustrates the gender equality issues that still require attention.

Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is 14.0%. At May 2020, women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings across all industries and occupations was $1,558.40 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,812.00.[14] There is still a gap in workforce participation for people with young children. 64% of women with children 5 years old or younger participate, compared with 95% of men. Women are still retiring with significant less superannuation than men. [15]

Women represent 58.4% of students in higher education and out-number men in higher education completion rates but a gender pay gap exists in favour of men across 16 out of 21 fields of study at an undergraduate level, and 16 out of 19 at a postgraduate (coursework) level. In economic terms, lower salaries mean that women receive lower rewards from investing in their tertiary education than men.[16]

The gendered life expectancy gap has improved over the last 40 years but women are still expected to live 4.2 years longer than men. Women are more likely to report experiencing high or very high levels of psychological distress or a mood affective disorder than men. Women are five times more likely to be victims of sexual assault than men are and instances of sexual assault against women are increasing.[17]

These statistics give a brief snapshot of gender equality in Australia outside the workplace and provide insight into where improvements still need to be made.

Find more gender equality statistics in our fact sheets.