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The equality wrap

04 April 2012

For the past few weeks – triggered no doubt by the growing interest in celebrating International Women’s Day on March 8 – Ruby’s been inundated with a flood of gender equality and diversity reports, issues papers, initiatives, surveys, studies, media articles, awards and awareness campaigns. One thing led to another (as it does when you’re online) and we decided it would be interesting to put together a summary of what we found browsing around for 10 minutes. 

According to the UK’s Independent on Sunday: “The global gender gap defies simple solutions. Eighty-five per cent of countries have improved conditions for women over the past six years, according to the World Economic Forum, but in economic and political terms there is still a long way to go.”

We know inequality between men and women persists and that as basic human right all people deserve to be treated equally, so The Independent on Sunday’s exploration of the best places to be a woman today (http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/politics/revealed-the-best-and-worst-places-to-be-a-woman-7534794.html) was an inspired twist on the negative tack such pieces usually take.

Of course, we realize that in reporting the places in the world that are the best for women, using information from the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap 2011 Report (http://reports.weforum.org/global-gender-gap-2011/), The Independent gets to name the worst places as well. Still, the piece at least provides 20 positive drops in an ocean of bad news.

Some of its good news includes: Iceland “has the greatest equality between men and women, taking into account politics, education, employment and health indicators.” New Zealand comes in 6th (a one place drop from 2010) and Australia was 23rd out of a possible 135 countries under review. The worst place to be a woman is Yemen. 

Greece is in deep trouble financially but when it comes to women having babies, it rates as “the world’s safest place to give birth, with a one in 31,800 risk of dying in childbirth.”

On the more worrying life and death end of the spectrum, Trustlaw (http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/), a London based news and information site dealing with anti-corruption and women’s rights run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, runs and analyses polls on all sorts of topics around women and their peculiarly unequal predicament. The Foundation also links up lawyers and causes, facilitating pro bono work for women in need. In a poll Trustlaw carried out in 2011, it found the most dangerous place to be a woman was Afghanistan.

According to Trustlaw: “the poll asked 213 … experts to name their top most dangerous countries for women, then choose countries following key categories of risk: health threats, sexual violence, non-sexual violence, harmful practices rooted in culture, tradition and/or religion, lack of access to economic resources and human trafficking. The answers provided to all of these questions were used in our ranking system. Our ‘top five’ most fairly represents the overall view of the experts polled: Afghanistan, Congo and Pakistan are the world’s most dangerous countries for women due to a barrage of threats ranging from violence and rape to dismal healthcare and “honour killngs”. India and Somalia ranked fourth and fifth, respectively, in the global perceptions survey.”

This March, Trustlaw reported on a chart in The Economist showing how women between the ages of 15 and 49 years in developing countries including Jordan, Ethiopia, Congo, India, Indonesia and Turkey view wife beating. If a woman goes out without telling her husband, neglects the children, argues with her husband, refuses sex: “Ninety percent of women in Jordan thought it would be okay for a husband to hit his wife under such circumstances.” 

The Economist chart is based on data collected by UNICEF (http://www.childinfo.org/attitudes_challenge_progress.html) from “household surveys from 81 countries on women’s attitudes towards wife beating and also on men’s attitudes where available”.

Australia may be able to gloat about its ‘enlightened’ attitudes and its position when it comes to certain gender gap points but our appalling record in business and corporations at management and board level leaves us no room to stay complacent when it comes to equality and diversity issues. 

The business case for diversity gets stronger and stronger every day: increasing the say and play of women is just the tip of the iceberg.

In March, Diversity Council Australia released: “Tartan skirts and old school ties: The boys club/girls club in Australian boardrooms”.

The issues paper noted that Australian Institute of Company Directors statistics show women comprised 13.8% of company directors on ASX 200 boards, as at 31 January 2012, up from 8.3% on 1 January 2010.

Still not fantastic when we look at our education levels for women in Australia and the fact that somewhere along the line (around about the middle manager level and the middle of their careers and when they often decide to have families) women are just not getting the support they need to keep moving up the ranks. 

The paper goes onto ask the more taxing question: are Australian boards still fishing for members from the same pool? It appears that the ‘Golden Skirts’ phenomenon, which is happening in Norway and the US, might be happening here:

“While the ASX 500 currently has 235 women holding 307 positions on boards, 20% (i.e. 48) of these women serve on two or more boards, including two who serve on five boards, four who serve on four boards, ten who serve on three and 32 who serve on two boards. Such a pattern is not unique to women, though certainly it is more notable. The highest number of boards a woman sits on is 5, compared to 6 for men and 46 women sit on between 2 and 4 boards, compared to 310 men. However as a percentage, this equates to 20% of women directors sitting on between two and four boards compared to just over 12% of men.

“A tendency to rely on an existing small pool of board candidates runs the risk of limiting the degree of diversity within gender diversity that can be generated.”

As for questions of age, culture, etc, the DCA paper highlights some major diversity concerns that must be tackled sooner rather than later.

A report by AHRI (Australian Human Resources Institute, http://www.ahri.com.au/MMSDocuments/profdevelopment/research/research_papers/mature_age_workforce_participation_final.pdf) on mature age workforce participation, for example, provides further food for thought on the subject of age diversity.

AHRI National President Peter Wilson notes that: “The findings [of the survey and report] reveal a mixed bag of data that includes half the sample of 1212 AHRI members reporting that the departure of older workers has caused loss of key knowledge and skills over the past year, and eight out of ten saying they would like to see steps taken to retain older workers. At the same time more than a third of respondents believe their organisation is biased against the employment of older workers.”

On a lighter but no less significant note, we also stumbled upon Scottish singer Annie Lennox’s We Are Equals online site: a partnership of more than 30 UK charities and arts organisations, http://www.weareequals.org/, which gets people to debate, discuss and get involved in making a difference around gender equality.

On the site is a guide to getting intellectual about inequality. It asks people to think about all sorts of issues, such as: is being a woman in a war zone more risky than being a soldier? Are boys really better educated than girls? Why are women still dying having babies? Why are women performing 66% of the world’s work, producing 50% of the world’s food, earning 10% of the world’s income and yet only own 1% of the world’s property?

Finally, there are the issues around corruption in countries. Corruption perpetuates inequality for everyone at every level but is especially hard on the economically and socially disadvantaged. (Ah, yes, that would probably be women again.)

Transparency International’s 2011 Corruption Perceptions Index scored 183 countries and territories from 0 (highly corrupt) to 10 (very clean) based on perceived levels of public sector corruption. 

Results show: Two thirds of ranked countries score less than 5. New Zealand ranks first as the best. Somalia and North Korea (included in the index for the first time) rank the worst. Australia was ranked 8th. In the 2010 findings of the Global Corruption Barometer, which captures the experiences and views of more than 91,500 people in 86 countries and territories, “six out of 10 people believe corruption has increased over the past three years”.

Australian respondents believe their political parties are corrupt, and 2% of respondents said they had paid a petty bribe to get around some sort of official problem.

Corruption, it has been noted by experts, makes people lose faith and when that goes you can often say goodbye to efforts at making a difference.

Luckily, our perception of corruption in Australia is still low enough not to turn heads away yet. We’re continuing to make a difference. 

Take the Australian virtual Centre for Leadership for Women, which this year established the SWECO Award to recognise male and female individuals and groups who have developed a sustainable initiative to empower women in a community or organisation in Australia.  They had some cracker nominees and winners in their inaugural awards http://www.leadershipforwomen.com.au/default.htm

Our Mary Reibey Grant winner through the Westpac Foundation, and Woman@Work profile for April, Catherine Keenan is another fantastic example of someone wanting to make a difference and doing it. Cath is the co-founder and Executive Director of the Sydney Story Factory, a not-for-profit creative writing centre for children aged 7 to 17 to attend for free for help to write stories of all kinds. The $50,000 grant from the Westpac Foundation will help fund the organisation’s after-school program targeting disadvantaged children, especially those from indigenous and migrant families.

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