Giving voice to the voiceless – supporting women everywhere – A Pledge for Parity on International Women’s Day

March 8, 2016 Featured, Abt JTA

International Women's Day (1)

By Karen Harmon AM, General Manager Australia and the Pacific and Senior Cross Cutting Policy Advisor 

“The women at the negotiating table made a difference, especially by promoting language on the important provisions of meaningful and inclusive participation … It is time for women to be empowered. To know that their voices count- and that they count.” (Jasmin Nario-Galace, Co-Convenor, Women Engaged in Action on United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325, Philippines)

Gender parity is linked to economic prosperity. The evidence shows that: women are the largest emerging market in the world, when there is more equality there is higher GDP and more productivity, when there is better gender balance on boards, there is better share price and financial performance and where there are more women political leaders there is more prosperity.

The Global Gender Gap Index measures how well economies are leveraging their female talent pool, based on economic, educational, health-based and political indicators. While the world has made progress, overall significant inequalities remain, particularly in our region.

Most women in our region experience inequality, whether in a remote village in the highlands of Papua New Guinea toiling in their gardens, scrubbing clothes in a puddle of dirty water along an estero (small streams) in the squalor of the slums in Manila, cleaning fish under a coconut tree on a tiny Marshallese island, passing items through a scanner at the checkout of a supermarket in suburban Melbourne or finalising a financial deal in Pitt Street Sydney.


In PNG, marriage is confirmed by bride price where it is custom for the prospective husband’s family to make the payment to the bride’s family. Historically this social contract cemented the “marriage” relationship through a symbolic exchange of pigs, shells and, food and sometimes cash, which built strong clan ties.  In more recent times the bride price has escalated and cash is the dominant form of exchange and material goods, such as 4 wheel drive vehicles are part of the bride price. Bride price may strengthen clan ties, but it also establishes a power dynamic where the bride becomes a chattel of the husband’s family, an immediate power differential underscoring the inequality of women in the transaction in marriage. Much is reported in the press around the increase in brutal intimate partner violence in PNG and the severity of that violence. Cultural mores and traditions which define the gender roles in many parts of PNG, condone violence within the family unit.


To be a poor Filipina living in the makeshift “homes” of shanty settlements on the outskirts of Manilla means living in abject poverty alongside the stinking waste filled esteros  eaking out a living by any means possible. Often it is through sex work, organised begging or thieving, commonly orchestrated by a male member of the family. Fertility is high and health is poor. Family violence is rife and injury and illness commonplace events. The Filipino custom of the women preparing meals and serving the men first, then elders and children and finally themselves (if there is any food left) contributes significantly to their poor state of health. Poverty, frustration and illicit drugs fuel violence against women who are unable to physically or psychologically defend themselves.


For Marshallese women, the demise of the matrilineal system and a decline of women’s social and cultural authority as a result of social disruption, poverty and poor educational opportunity has led to an increase in inequality. Men have been preferenced in education and in the formal economy. This has happened in less than five decades. Since colonial times women have been relegated to voiceless chattels responsible for the care of children and the preparation of meagre meals in everyday life. Once again, fertility is high and poor health rife. Women have no political representation.


Gender inequality is not confined to developing countries of the Pacific. In Australia, women experience inequality in both their personal lives and professional lives.  The full-time average weekly ordinary earnings for women are 17.3% less than for men (ABS).  According to the Australian Institute of Company Directors, corporately, women hold only 14.2% of chair positions, 23.6% of directorships, as well as represent 15.4% of CEOs and 27.4% of key management personnel in the reporting organisations. One-quarter (25.1%) of reporting organisations have no key management personnel who are women.

…”The ideal worker in many workplaces still tends to be that of a man, who is available for work 24/7, unencumbered by any care responsibilities. This limits the opportunities for many women to participate equally in the workplace”. (Elizabeth Broderick, Sex Discrimination Commissioner 2013). Australia is very much divided along gender lines. Women are paid less for the work they do, they do more unpaid work and are over represented in volunteerism, are grossly underrepresented on the boards of our largest companies, and are more likely to be victims of sexual harassment in the work place.

Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety found that 1 in 5 Australian women had experienced sexual violence. 1 in 6 Australian women had experienced physical or sexual violence from a current or former partner. 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner. 1 in 3 Australian women had experienced physical violence.

The pervasive nature of violence against women globally, the lack of political representation in the majority of countries (in the Pacific only 3% of women are represented in high public office) and the poverty and violence experienced by women is deplorable. In many instances this represents grave violations of human rights – Women’s Rights are Human Rights.

As we celebrate yet another International Women’s Day, I urge you to make a “Pledge for Parity”. An internal Pledge campaign shows your commitment to gender parity and helps people understand how everyone can play a role in accelerating gender parity faster.