Pillar 3: Participation and empowerment
Improving gender equality is fundamental to improving outcomes for women, which benefits everyone. Challenging gendered norms, roles and expectations is fundamental to driving changes to discriminatory attitudes and beliefs. From leadership in formal decision-making to leadership in the community, more women are being seen and heard. Focus communities are grounded in the strengths that their diverse backgrounds, life stages and cultures offer, yet barriers remain to achieving equality for all women and girls. Women have been affected by COVID-19 and other environmental shocks and are still working hard at keeping families and communities together.
Theme 1: Challenging gendered norms, roles, and expectations
While there have been advancements in gender equality in Australia and NSW, women still experience discrimination and inequality across many areas of their lives.124
Some of the key drivers and contributing factors that underpin unequal outcomes for women include:
- rigid gender roles and stereotypes that reinforce differences between men and women
- men’s control of decision-making and limits to women’s independence in public life, the workplace and relationships
- condoning or acceptance of sexism, sexual harassment and violence against women
- relationships between men that are disrespectful towards women, and structural issues, such as laws and policies that deliberately or inadvertently embed biases that lead to inequality.
By working with the Commonwealth to develop a national gender equality strategy, we will address drivers of gender inequality across Australian society. The introduction of women’s action plans for NSW public sector agencies under the Women’s Opportunity Statement will help drive change within our policies, programs, laws and practice.
‘We need to use new approaches to challenge those attitudes about women, but also about men. Get men into baking, don’t focus on getting women into mechanics.’ Young woman in Sydney
Substantial state, national and international research has shown strong and consistent associations between gender inequality, and violence against women.125 Examining the ways in which gender relations are structured and the social context of gender inequality is key to understanding the underlying conditions that produce violence against women.126
Policies, laws and changes at the individual, organisational and societal level that promote gender equality make an important contribution to the prevention of violence against women. Some of these include:
- reforming legal, policy and institutional systems and practices that condone violence against women or reduce men’s accountability for their violence
- using policy, regulatory and legislative mechanisms, and processes to equalise access to power and decision-making between women and men within organisations and institutions
- school-based programs that challenge gender stereotypes and work with boys and men to challenge norms about sexual entitlement, sexual dominance and hypersexuality
- increasing awareness and understanding of gender inequality
- engaging men and boys in violence prevention and gender equality initiatives, encouraging them to challenge restrictive and rigid gender roles and identities for both men and women
- promoting gender equality across all domains of women’s and girls’ lives and continuing to address the specific drivers of violence, which are both needed to prevent violence.
Our commitment to implement the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Children 2022–2032, the NSW Domestic and Family Violence Plan 2022–2027 and the NSW Sexual Violence Plan 2022–2027 provides an opportunity to address the gendered drivers of violence against women.
Gender equality and men
Gender equality would not only remove barriers for women, but also free men and boys from the constraints of what are traditionally perceived as masculine behaviours, which lead to poor health, poor relationships and men’s experiences of violence.
Gender equality would improve men’s ability to play an active role in parenting and other interests through work flexibility. Evidence shows links between rigid gender norms for men and poorer health outcomes. Working with men and boys to address rigid gender norms and harmful forms of masculinity also has the potential to improve mental health outcomes, physical health and help-seeking behaviours, and reduce the incidence of violence by men.
Men’s violence harms women as well as other men. Data shows the majority of victims of violence (whether male or female) report the perpetrator as male.127
Theme 2: Leaders in community and work
There have been clear gains in the representation of women in public leadership and decision-making positions. Women now hold 1 in 3 seats in the NSW Parliament and make up 42% of all senior executives in the NSW Public Service, a 5% increase since 2017.128 129
Similarly, there have been significant gains in women’s representation on boards. As of August 2022, 34.3% of directors in ASX 300 companies are women, an increase from 29.6% in October 2020.130 131 Although women are more likely to hold leadership roles in female-dominated industries, they are still under-represented generally.132 Increasing the representation of women on boards has a direct impact on outcomes for businesses and women. Having more women on boards is linked to increases in women in leadership, reducing the pay gap and improving business performance.133
Despite the significant gains in women’s representation on boards, more progress is needed in women's representation as board chairs and CEOs. According to WGEA data, in 2020–21, 19.4% of CEOs and 17.6% of chairs were women.134 There are many industries where the representation of women lags behind that of men, such as higher education (in which 29% of lecturers, senior lecturers or higher positions are women); law firms (in which 33% of principals are women); and arts, film and media, where men are more likely to be in full-time roles (64%).135 136 137
Greater representation of women on boards and in key leadership roles is better for business:
- An increase of 10 percentage points in female representation on boards leads to a 6% increase in the likelihood of the company outperforming its sector.138
- Women in business can offer different insights into the needs of customers, stakeholders, the community and shareholders, benefiting all.
A recent KPMG, Diversity Council Australia and WGEA report on the gender pay gap highlights that nationally, the average management gap – the difference between the proportion of employees who are women and the proportion of management who are women – is 7%, which is mostly unchanged from 2017. In part, this may be due to a drop in the proportion of women being promoted during the COVID-19 pandemic period.139
The management gap persists across industries where women are under-represented and industries where women are over-represented, including education and training, which has a majority-women workforce, but a 17% management gap.140
‘[I want to see] more women in more decision-making positions. There’s a lot of pressure on a smaller number of women so they have to be exceptional.’ Woman veteran, Sydney
Promoting positive and diverse images of women, and increasing the visibility of women from focus communities is important. Diverse representation of women will support young girls to build a more positive self-image, to recognise their importance in the community and to realise their potential in all aspects of life.
There is a compelling case for a shift in how women leaders are represented in society. Through the media and other communications, expanded definitions of leadership could broaden community expectations of, and support for, women leaders.
‘Mainstream schools should have better understanding of people with disability. We should get more people with disabilities to talk at schools, especially women.’ Young woman with intellectual disability, Sydney
We need greater representation of women from diverse communities – including Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls – who are in leadership roles, whether in the community, in workplaces or in the media.
Women and girls with disability and their representatives have highlighted the invisibility of women with disability in the community. This can diminish community understanding of, and engagement with, women and girls with disability and affect whether they feel accepted in the community.
Older women, particularly in regional areas, want to see more women in leadership, achieved through merit-based pathways. By contrast, younger women and girls repeatedly highlight that men in power may not recognise talented young women, because they don’t look like them.
Theme 3: Uplifting focus communities
Women’s lives and experiences are shaped by many factors including where they live; whether they have a disability; and their age, culture and ethnicity, sexuality and gender. These layered identities and the many dimensions of women's lives provide a deep connection to their communities and cultures.
Genuinely uplifting women from diverse communities requires meaningful engagement, improving their visibility and representation in all aspects of the community, and including and advocating for them in decision-making.
Active consultation that reaches out to women and girls in these communities, in the spaces where they feel safe and in ways that enable them to raise their concerns, is vital.
To ensure action to deliver gender equality improves outcomes for all women, the experiences of all women must be recognised. The drivers of inequality for women with layered identities, including geography, racism, ageism and discrimination, are often entrenched in policy, services, social norms and practices. Poorer outcomes for women from diverse backgrounds across different domains, including physical and mental health and employment, illustrate their experiences of compounded disadvantage. Women from CALD backgrounds often experience more barriers to accessing opportunities and have less representation in leadership.141
Women’s diverse cultures and identities support the wellbeing and positive development of both themselves and their communities. The Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices): Securing Our Rights, Securing Our Future report brought together Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s voices, celebrating their strengths and their connections to Country, culture and communities. Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s and girls’ connection to their culture is fundamental to their wellbeing and improvements in social, economic and ecological outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and communities.142
‘For First Nations women, economic prosperity starts with strength in culture. If we don’t have culture, we don’t have anything. Culture is family, it’s connection to Country and community.’ Aboriginal woman, regional NSW
By contrast, isolation from communities and cultures can lead to poorer outcomes for women. LGBTIQA+ women who are also Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander, and LGBTIQA+ women who are from CALD communities, are more likely to feel a lack of connection or recognition within both the LGBTIQA+ communities and communities of their racial or cultural backgrounds. They are also more likely to report barriers in healthcare settings, where cultural safety can impact their access to services and supports. Greater mental health support along with visibility and representation of women with layered identities would help build resilience.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls are from a range of cultural, social, geographic and economic backgrounds. Many are leaders in their families and communities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women’s lives have been affected by dispossession and intergenerational trauma. This, combined with socio-economic factors, barriers to accessing services, and racism in the community and workforce, mean Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience poorer outcomes across health, education, financial security, safety and housing – highlighting a profound systemic problem.
Prioritising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women includes ensuring they can lead on gender equality. Wiyi Yani U Thangani outlines a framework for structural change to deliver meaningful action on gender inequality.
In NSW, carers provide essential care, support and assistance to people with disability, mental illness, drug and/or alcohol dependency, chronic conditions and terminal illness, as well as older and frail people. Both women and men provide care, but of the more than 854,000 carers in NSW, almost 60% are women.143 The gender imbalance is even more pronounced among carers who are caring for both older people and children – 95% of these carers are women.144
LGBTIQA+ women and girls
Celebrating community and healthy relationships is a source of strength for many people in the LGBTIQA+ community. Strong community networks and relationships, and increasing community awareness of LGBTIQA+ issues are leading to better physical and mental health outcomes for the LGBTIQA+ community.
However, LGBTIQA+ women and girls are among the most disadvantaged women in NSW, particularly where they have layered identities, including being Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander, an older woman, a regionally based woman or a women from a CALD, migrant or refugee background.
Trans women are particularly marginalised. Two in 5 young trans women in Australia have attempted suicide and more than 90% report suicidal ideation.145 They experience poorer mental health, higher rates of unemployment and homelessness, low levels of financial security and high rates of sexual harassment. Research demonstrates that access to gender-affirming care improves mental health outcomes among trans people.146
Older women face ageism in addition to other barriers. These women are often invisible and undervalued in the community and at work. They have fewer opportunities and due to the gender pay gap, are more likely than men to be on low incomes as they age.
Social connections are critical, particularly for women with intersecting identities, and are associated with living longer.147 For older women from CALD backgrounds, connecting with women from their community can have a positive impact on their wellbeing.
Older women’s invisibility can affect their safety at home and in the community – for example, when violence against women in aged care is not adequately prevented or responded to, and women are denied appropriate reproductive health care in aged care settings.
Women and girls experiencing socio-economic disadvantage
Socio-economic disadvantage is one of the social determinants of health and wellbeing. A woman’s financial security, ability to progress with education, and access to opportunities and support all impact her health and wellbeing. Women who experience socio-economic disadvantage are more likely to be in insecure housing and to experience social isolation.148
For women in focus communities, the impacts of socio-economic disadvantage are multiplied as they face increased barriers to accessing services and opportunities.
Women and girls from culturally and linguistically diverse communities
Women from CALD communities represent a large proportion of the NSW community. In the 2021 Census, almost a third of the population in NSW were born overseas, with a steady increase in the number of languages (other than English) spoken across households.149
As with all discussions of focus communities, it is important to recognise that women from CALD communities have diverse standpoints shaped by their individual identities and experiences. These include their cultures, unique experiences and personalities, socio-economic backgrounds, preferred languages, settlement journey, current or historic trauma and religious backgrounds.
Women from CALD backgrounds, including migrants and those with refugee experiences, can face a range of challenges, such as navigating cultural expectations, racism and discrimination, lower workforce participation and a lack of culturally safe services.150 Certain cohorts of women from CALD communities face compounded barriers, including women on temporary visas, who are at greater risk of violence, financial insecurity and dependence on their partners.151
Women and girls in contact with the criminal justice system
Women and girls who come in contact with the criminal justice system are usually highly disadvantaged. They are more likely to have experienced violence and abuse, mental health issues and high rates of substance use.152
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are over-represented in the criminal justice system, comprising 32% of women in prison in 2019.153
Gender-responsive models that are tailored to the underlying causes of women’s offending and divert them from prison or re-offending have shown potential in reducing the number of women being incarcerated.
Women and girls living in regional, rural, remote and cross-border areas
Regional, rural and remote women are the backbone of their communities, keeping them connected. Their resilience supports communities to work through natural disasters and invest in growth opportunities.
More-limited access to services, including health care, and reproductive and sexual health services, means women in the regions often work harder to get the support they need. Costs associated with travel and accommodation to access health services can be a significant barrier for women in regional, rural and remote areas. Travelling to access perinatal services and to give birth causes additional stress and can be disruptive. Women living in cross-border environments face specific challenges, such as referral to and accessibility of services across state borders.
Isolation and limited access to communication services makes it harder for women in the regions to connect and take up new opportunities. However, through new pathways to leadership and expanding skills and networks, women are leading development in the regions.
Ensuring regional women have access to social and physical infrastructure and critical health services will create opportunities for more women in the regions to connect and succeed.
Women and girls with disability
As with other focus communities, women and girls with disability are incredibly diverse, with a variety of interests, talents and skills. Women with disability say they want people to better understand disability and they want to be respected and treated with dignity. Their priorities are the same as those of other women in NSW: safety from violence, good health care, the ability to work, and improved visibility in the community and in leadership.
However, there are greater barriers for women with disability to achieve these priorities. For example:
- They are less likely to be in paid employment and when they are in employment, they are paid less.154
- Women with intellectual disability are more than twice as likely to die from preventable causes.155
- Women with disability are over-represented in the criminal justice system.156
Women veterans and families of veterans
Women now make up 21% of Australian Defence Force members and reservists, although only 13% of veterans are women. The experience of being in the military can be isolating for women, as they find it difficult to connect with other people with similar experiences in the community.157 Historically, many veterans’ services have focused on male veterans, and such services may be unwelcoming to women.
Despite being highly skilled and resilient, 33% of surveyed spouses and partners of serving and ex-serving defence force members reported experiencing problems associated with their mental health.158
Experiences of disadvantage are often magnified for young women and can have a long-term impact on their wellbeing, particularly when they are part of another focus community. Young women are more likely to experience violence and sexual harassment. Girls who experience harassment early in their life are more likely to avoid walking or travelling alone, have ongoing distrust of men, and have ongoing anxiety and depression.159
Access to appropriate and affordable sexual health services, support and education, including contraception and abortion, is critical for all young women, but particularly women experiencing socioeconomic
Lack of equal opportunities for young women and girls have led many to hold back on their ambition. Those who have had negative experiences in workplaces dominated by men may seek to avoid similar experiences in the future because of the impact on their health and wellbeing.
Theme 4: Rebuilding connections, engaging with community
Women are now re-establishing social and community connections as we emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic and associated restrictions. The challenges of re-joining community activities in a time of uncertainty have led to calls for a roadmap back to normality.
Women with disability highlighted how COVID-19 disrupted their ability to engage in the community and access peer supports and other programs. Leadership programs and peer support meetings at the time of the consultation (May to June 2022) had still not returned to face-to-face format.
On the whole, women are largely engaging in social and cultural activities at the same rates as before the pandemic, including going to restaurants, attending social events and taking public transport. However, other areas of women’s lives have been impacted, with almost double the number of women now working from home.160
Overall, women have called for a plan for rebuilding their communities, particularly a common and scientifically safe approach to bring people back together regularly to re-establish social connections.
‘I feel like we have forgotten how to come back together as a community, and we need a roadmap back to normality.’ Central Tablelands woman
‘Celebrating community connection is a strength in the LGBTIQA+ community, and is fundamental to community health, healthy relationships and mental health.’ LGBTIQA+ forum participant
We heard from older women that isolation is an increasing challenge, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic. Women over 55 years old told us that the number-one negative impact of COVID-19 was the loss of connections to family, followed by poorer social connections. We know that older people in NSW are vulnerable to increased loneliness and social isolation due to a decline in social networks and cultural engagement.161
Participating in the creative arts provides positive outcomes for both the health and wellbeing of women. In NSW, the active participation rate of women over 65 years old in the creative arts is 37.6%, compared to 20.7% of men, highlighting the significance of the role of creative arts in the lives of older women.
The NSW Health and The Arts Framework recognises that experiencing, making and performing in the creative arts can bring people together in a way that fosters social inclusion, community participation, and intergenerational and cultural exchange.
Similarly, the NSW Creative Ageing Framework identifies the benefits of creative ageing programs in tackling loneliness, isolation and health issues for older people.
There is scope to increase participation and employment in these programs as the population of older people grows. This will bring significant benefits and opportunities for older people, our communities and the economy.
Physical activity, exercise and sport all support health, wellbeing and mental health. However, there are many different barriers to women and girls participating in sports and exercise, including not feeling comfortable exercising in public and fear of judgment.
AusPlay data indicates that women and girls are more likely to be involved in physical activity than men and boys, but significantly less likely to be involved in sporting clubs.162
COVID-19 impacted women’s participation in exercise and sport, although 68% of women who were participating in exercise and sport pre-COVID-19 had returned to community sport by early 2022.163
The NSW Government encourages primary and secondary students, including young women and girls, to stay active through the Live Life Well @ School and Healthy Eating Active Living programs. The Share Our Space program is another NSW Government initiative aimed at increasing physical activity, by providing the community with access to additional recreation spaces in NSW schools, including playgrounds, ovals and sports courts. NSW Government investment under the Stronger Country Community Fund promotes participation in sport for regional women and girls.
‘For women’s sport to be successful and sustainable we need to fundamentally rethink, through a gender lens, the way that sport is delivered, coached, marketed, led, sponsored and consumed.’ Her Sport, Her Way
The 2021 Census data shows that women in NSW across all ages are 20% more likely to volunteer than men, with women aged 35 to 44 being 30% more likely to volunteer.
However, the 2021 Census showed volunteering was down 24% from 2016. While women across NSW have resumed many of their social activities, volunteering commitments have been slower to recover.
Women experienced more domestic labour and childcare responsibilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. The mental load of the past several years and ongoing responsibilities may have reduced their capacity and commitment to volunteering.
Our commitment for participation and empowerment
- Continue to deliver the annual NSW Women of the Year Awards to recognise and celebrate the outstanding contribution made by women across NSW to industry, communities and society.
- Continue to deliver the annual Women’s Week program to celebrate the diverse contributions of women from all walks of life, through a program of activities that promote gender equality.
- Continue the annual investment in the NSW Women’s Week Grants program to support organisations to deliver an event or activity that meets the objectives of NSW Women’s Week.
- Continue the annual investment in the Investing in Women program to support organisations to develop and implement projects that advance the role, status and contribution of women and girls in our communities.
- Maintain and expand the NSW Gender Equality Dashboard to make valuable data more easily accessible to researchers, policy advisors, decision-makers and the community.
- Explore the evidence regarding the benefits of applying a gendered approach to prevention, preparedness, response and recovery from disasters and emergencies.
- Continue implementing the Election of Women to Local Government Action Plan to increase the proportion of women elected to local councils.
- Continue to drive towards the target of women occupying 50% of senior executive positions in the NSW Public Service by 2025.
- Promote women in STEM disciplines through the Distance and Rural Technologies and other programs by the NSW Department of Education.
- Maintain and expand the suite of Women NSW toolkits that brings together a range of trusted online resources to help women find reliable information regarding career and life stages.
- Continue support for community programs that focus on building self-confidence and job readiness for migrant and refugee women, to boost participation and empowerment.
- Implement the NSW Disability Inclusion Plan and review the implementation of disability inclusion action plans by all NSW Government agencies and local councils.
- Implement the NSW Carers Strategy: Caring in NSW 2020–2030 to improve support for carers, the majority of whom are women.
- Continue providing grants for sports organisations to support women, including a focus on diversity and inclusion.
- Extend support for the Rural Women’s Network to provide information and services, build and maintain networks and strengthen rural communities.
- Continue to implement the NSW Creative Ageing Framework and the NSW Health and The Arts Framework to support women’s participation in the arts so they maintain social connection and wellbeing.
- Continue to educate children and young people on respectful and positive relationships, in line with the new and strengthened Kindergarten to Year 10 Personal Development, Health and Physical Education syllabus.
- Enhance funding for facilities for women at sports grounds, such as toilets, change rooms and improved lighting.
- Extend the successful Daughters and Dads Active and Empowered program to help fathers support the wellbeing and activity of their daughters.
- Continue Live Life Well @ School Program to promote healthy eating and physical activity among primary school students.
- Continue the Healthy Eating Active Living program to promote daily movement and support good health.
- Continue to implement the Share Our Space program to provide access to recreation spaces in schools for local communities.
- Drive towards the target of women to occupy 50% of all board positions of state entities (state-owned corporations and public financial corporations).
- Foster the representation of women on the boards of sports organisations, as a target in its own right and as a pathway to board positions in other organisations (government entities, private companies).
- Partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and establish a taskforce to provide expert advice on the implementation of the reforms set out in the Women’s Opportunity Statement.
- Implement the LGBTQI+ Health Strategy 2022–2027 to achieve the health outcomes that matter to people of diverse sexualities and genders, and intersex people.164
- Support the community to manage mental health issues arising from the COVID-19 pandemic through a comprehensive package to support mental health.
- Implement programs that foster leadership in younger women and create pathways to leadership positions in public and private organisations.
- Advocate for meaningful engagement with focus communities across all relevant areas of government, including in policy development and program design and implementation.
- Engage the government and community to build opportunities for women in focus communities to be leaders and to promote positive representations of women in these communities.
- Consider the next iteration of a strategy to increase women's and girls' participation in sport following Her Sport Her Way.
- Develop Keep Girls in Sport, a program focused on encouraging girls to be physically active through sport from adolescence into adulthood.
- Encourage community sports organisations to ensure all sports are inclusive and safe.