Speech: ‘Transformation of Women at Work in Asia: An Unfinished Development Agenda’
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Thank you for the warm introduction, Dr Sanghi.
It is a great pleasure to be here today.
My congratulations to the editors, Shukti Dasgupta and Sher Singh Verick, and all contributors on the release of your book.
It is a welcome addition to our understanding of women’s workforce participation in the region – and of the policy responses needed to address the gender gap.
India’s case stands out.
I know it has been the source of much discussion here this afternoon.
Over decades of GDP growth and increasing access to education, women’s workforce participation has declined.
Efforts are needed to ensure women are able to benefit equally from the opportunities created by India’s strong economic growth.
Removing constraints to women’s economic opportunities is critical for global prosperity.
We will not reach our full economic and development potential while half our population remains under-utilised and lacking equal opportunity in work.
India has more to gain than any other country in the world.
Modelling by McKinsey Global Institute in 2015 estimated that closing the gender gap in employment could grow India’s GDP by up to 60 per cent over a decade.
That’s almost 3 trillion US dollars.
Gender diversity makes good business sense. It improves organisational performance. Diverse and inclusive workplaces are linked to increased efficiency, productivity and innovation.
There is significant evidence that female representation on boards and in senior management is associated with better performance – including financial performance.
The case is clear. And publications like this play a vital role in informing the approach of policy-makers and businesses in driving change.
They also help inform Australian thinking about how we can best support countries in the region in tackling these difficult issues.
Something I found particularly striking when reading this book –
Trends and trajectories of women’s labour force participation were different in each country studied.
But so many of the challenges to equal employment are common:
Women’s entry into the workforce is constrained by social norms and a lack of suitable job opportunities.
Women are over-represented in low-wage, insecure and vulnerable jobs. They are more likely to face discrimination in the workplace.
And women do a disproportionate share of unpaid care and household work. Societal pressure to balance these responsibilities places constraints on women entering and remaining in the workforce.
Australia is facing these challenges too.
In 2016 women’s workforce participation rate was 59.3 per cent. For men it was 70.4 per cent.
Women are more likely to be part-time workers in low-paid industries.
We are under-represented in leadership positions.
And there is a persistent gender pay gap.
In response, the Australian Government, like the Government of India, has moved to increase women’s representation on government boards and it has focused on improving parental leave and childcare options.
Australia also has strong legislative and policy frameworks against all types of discrimination.
We have a statutory body, the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which works with employers to promote gender equality.
The agency provides advice and practical tools and collects and publishes data on national performance.
The Government funds programs nationwide to encourage the participation of women and girls in traditionally male-dominated fields such as science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
And our private sector-led Male Champions of Change program is globally-recognised.
It aims to redefine the role men play in taking action to reduce gender inequality.
The Male Champions are a group of influential male leaders who step up beside women to advocate for gender equality.
This includes modelling good practice in their own organisations – collectively, they employ 5 per cent of Australia’s workforce.
The Australian Government is committed to these issues not just at home but globally.
Women’s economic empowerment is a pillar of Australia’s aid program in the Indo-Pacific region.
In fact it is a priority of all our foreign, trade and development policy.
And we are equally focused on eliminating violence against women and girls and enhancing women’s voices in leadership and decision-making.
Achieving gender equality in work will only be possible by advancing gender equality in society more broadly.
Australia is funding a regional trade facilitation program in South Asia, managed by the World Bank.
Activities aim to enhance employment opportunities for women across Bangladesh, Bhutan, India and Nepal – by developing local enterprise and supporting cross-border trade.
For example, one activity is focused on developing tourism circuits in the northeast of the region.
Another works to improve the quality of business and entrepreneurship training delivered to women to broaden their economic opportunities.
In Southeast Asia, we are supporting the establishment of business coalitions for gender equality.
The first of these is being set up in Indonesia.
Participating businesses will commit to addressing their own gender gaps.
And they also commit to influencing others to become better employers of women. This includes advocacy right along their supply chains.
Here in Delhi, the Australian High Commission has supported an NGO to deliver vocational training programs for women in digital literacy, tailoring and mobile phone repair.
The trainees – over 400 of them – attended workshops on financial literacy, entrepreneurship and career counselling – to improve their business management skills and competitiveness.
Australia also works alongside India to progress the global agenda for women’s economic empowerment.
Both our countries have committed to the Sustainable Development Goals.
Goal 5 focuses on gender equality and several others – on reducing poverty, on decent work and economic growth – are inextricably linked.
In IORA – the Indian Ocean Rim Association – women’s economic empowerment is high on the agenda.
Last year Australia was pleased to co-sponsor with India an IORA Ministerial Declaration on Gender Equality and Women’s Economic Empowerment.
As hosts of the G20 in 2014, Australia played a leading role in the establishment of the W20 sub-group.
And we were proud that at Australia’s initiative the membership made a commitment to a 25 per cent reduction in the gender gap for workforce participation by 2025.
Reaching this target would bring 100 million additional women into the workforce.
Cultural norms are ‘sticky’.
The norms that have created and continue to perpetuate the gender gap in workforce participation will take time to change.
But there is much that governments and businesses can do.
And we’re crazy not to.
Aside from it being the right thing to do, the economic case is undisputed.
When I imagine an India with tens of millions more women in the workforce, it is a formidable picture.
In my job I have the frequent pleasure of meeting exceptional Indian women in top leadership positions.
There are many prominent female voices in government and business. They are important role models for young women.
But women are still in the minority – at all levels, and across the economy.
For the sake of growth and development – in India, in Australia, in our region and the world – this needs to change.
Your work takes us a step further in the right direction.
My congratulations once again.