Gender Equality is a hot topic for me. It’s something I tend to get a bit fired up about which can repel some people. You see, I believe men and women are equal. You probably won’t argue with this statement, but its when you get into the operational aspects of this vision that people start to go a bit iffy on me. I’ll admit, sometimes I go a bit iffy on them for not agreeing with me (I have flaws), but it REALLY hurts when women are not treated as equals today, or are suffering now from not being treated as equals in the past.

I’m pleased to say that the winds of change are blowing in the state of Victoria in Australia. Last week I attended the launch of the Victorian Gender Equality Strategy which was developed through consultation with 1,200 Victorian men and women. The strategy is leading the way for Australia with a number of reforms that are going to improve the lives of all Victorians through economic transformation, changes to legislation and affirmative action for the women who live here.

You may be asking, how are men going to benefit from these changes. Closing Australia’s gender employment gap — including the pay gap and number of women in the paid workforce would boost our GDP by 11 percent. Family violence is costing us $3.4 billion per year, a royal commission found that gender inequality is one of the key drivers behind family violence. You may disagree with setting gender targets such as the appointment of 50 per cent women executives to the Victorian Public Service, or promoting women’s cultural activities, art and media. But its hard to argue with the commercial benefits of gender equality. Our state will be more prosperous as a result of this strategy. In addition to this our women and families will be safer and the brake will be taken off the large number of women who are not currently participating in our workforce as they would like to be.

The Victorian government has budgeted $9 million to women and gender equality initiatives for 2016/2017. I’m pleased to say the lunch part of the launch was a frugal affair (we had to stand for an hour and a half before receiving a meal of finger food). This was far better than 150 delegates sitting down to a three course lunch and a goody bag to rifle through. Bravo Victoria.

I was invited to the launch because I was one of the people who attended a consultation back in September. I was amazed that the finished product could be launched so quickly. Fiona Richardson, Minister for women and for the prevention of family violence has, with her team, developed a robust actionable strategy with tangible measures and clear linkages to our economy.

One of the first stories the Minister shared was about a group of women who banded together to change the male dominated culture of their workplace. When one woman would speak in a meeting. Another woman would repeat what she said, attributing the statement to the woman who made it. 

They called it ‘amplification’ and the purpose of it is two fold. Firstly to ensure that the women in the room are being heard, and secondly to ensure a man in the meeting doesn’t claim her idea as his own. The workplace was the White House, where the voice of women became noticeably louder, demonstrated by President Obama’s growing reliance on the opinion of female staffers. Giving women a louder voice leads to better decisions.

There were many reforms and initiatives that the Minister mentioned. These are the ones that really spoke to me and my experience being a woman and wife/mother/daughter living in Victoria: 

Prevention of family violence, not only crisis management

The State Government is establishing an agency to prevent family violence. In a similar way the Transport Accident Commission (TAC) has impacted road safety and Worksafe has impacted safety in the workplace, this agency will be dedicated to eradicating family violence and safety in the home.  It will receive on-going funding.

In Australia, one in four women have experienced at least one incident of violence by their romantic partner in their lifetime. This agency will focus on prevention of this violence, rather than crisis management which will continue to be an important support mechanism. A long term response will embed the cultural change that is required for us to think differently about family violence as a community and change this statistic for good.

Supporting women entrepreneurs to grow our economy

The minister proudly talked about the contribution of women entrepreneurs to Victoria. In particular she called out those with caring responsibilities that have created their own prosperous future by building a business with one arm around a toddler, and spending more time at home. You can read more about Mumpreneurs (not my word) here

So to enable more of these start ups to bloom, the Victorian government has committed to the first all women trade delegation to China. I love that this is not only a way for women to accelerate the growth of their business into an international market, it’s also about women collaborating to succeed.

Driving gender equality through sport

I’m a big advocate for women in AFL football and am involved in my local junior club to help with the progression of this newly formed competition. I’m passionate about it because I think it’s a symbolic change that is rectifying mistakes of the past. Until recently, girls who loved the game as much as their brothers were forced to quit as they grew into their teenage years. How heartbreaking to be told you can’t play a sport you love just because you are a girl. Now girls can play football from under 8s right through the junior competition, and then continue to play in women's senior teams in local footy clubs or even at AFLW level. 

The Minister has announced one of the reforms as a result of the gender equality strategy will be the design and implementation of gender equality programs in grassroots sporting clubs. Equality for boys and girls, men and women in sport will work towards the cultural change needed at work, at home and in our communities. This one really makes me smile.

Supporting mature age women

Another category identified in this strategy is mature age women living in poverty. Too many women step out of the workforce because they feel they have no choice. 

When I attended my 20 year school reunion (a few years ago now), I discussed the perils of work and childcare with many of my old school friends. We had been privileged to attend an all girls school that prides itself on the academic start it gives it’s students, with a high take up of university places and the presumption of a multitude of career choices. The common story I heard from these women, was that they had chosen to step out of the workforce to care for small children but then felt stuck. They felt unable to work again due to the cost of childcare, and the reduced pay they would have to take as a result of their absence and the need for flexible hours. 

The statistic that one in 3 marriages end in divorce, in Australia, compounds the problem. Many mature age women are left on their own, without savings or much superannuation, and not job ready to be able to support themselves. Poverty amongst mature age women in Victoria is a serious problem.

In response to this, the state government will be addressing the economic dimensions of gender inequality including creating jobs for women, childcare, consideration of strategies and research to address poverty experienced by senior women, single mothers and women in caring professions. They will also be focusing on pay equity to finally break the cycle of the gender pay gap.

My pledge

There is so much in this strategy for me and for every Victorian. The Victorian Government has asked that everyone who believes in the need for gender equality to pledge to support gender equality in this state. So here is my pledge:

“I pledge to amplify the voices of the women around me; to support female small business leaders through my professional expertise and my purchasing power; and to role model gender equality for girls and boys.”

Please make your pledge on social media using the hashtags #VICforWomen or #VICforEquality