gender inequality in australia

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Gender inequality is something that appears to have existed since ancient times and which is still evident in Australian society today. Using the term ‘gender inequality’ often equates to women being disadvantaged in comparison to men. As is well known, traditionally, women were often regarded as inferior to men, a practice which is still witnessed in society today, especially in a society such as Australia which is typically patriarchal, with men most likely to dominate the workforce, the household, and the political system.

Gender is the term used to define the biological differences between men and women from their socially fashioned manifestations described as masculine and feminine (Van Krieken et al. 000). For example, men are often assumed to be more aggressive and dominant than women, whilst women are expected to be more caring and passive. It has been argued that these stereotypes perpetuate inequalities that disadvantage women in comparison with men, which has led to much study of gender inequality.

The extent to which gender inequality has been, and still is, evident can be studied by examining the areas of gender in the home, in the workforce, and in politics.

Gender inequality in the family has been a topic for debate for many years. In traditional times it was expected that a woman would remain home and ‘keep the home-fires burning’ whilst the husband had the role of being the breadwinner of the family. It was expected that a woman’s priorities would be her home, her children and her husband’s career (Western 187), as men were still the dominant partner in marriages, and retained a degree of ultimate power and authority in family decision-making, and in the organisation of family activities (Graetz & McAllister 14). Also, when a man and woman were married, any rights the woman possessed as an individual were given to her husband when she became his wife (Western 187). Women were not expected to gain any further education or to show an interest in becoming part of the work force for a living, and if they did, there were very limited options, some of which will be discussed further in this paper.

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In relation to family life today, several of the traditional gender stereotypes remain intact. Many women are still victims of inaccurate gender representations. In the present time, most women are still expected to stay at home and complete household duties and care for children whilst their husbands go to work, and many women still change their surname to that of their husbands when married. Although the situation has improved significantly, women still experience pressure when they make the choice to return to work rather than raising their children full time, and many men still view house duties as the woman’s domain.

The topic of women in the education system has received much documentation, especially since the mid-170s. In Australia, teacher’s organizations and government and education departments began documenting and comparing the access, participation, retention, and educational experiences and outcomes of girls and boys, and found that “to be a girl was an educational disadvantage” (McLeod 001155). These studies also focused on how the experience at school led to post-school inequalities for girls and women as a group. Evidence of such inequalities was found in girls relatively constrained and stereotypical opportunities for work and further study (McLeod 001).

The position of women in the workforce has also made for significant disadvantage for females. Despite the significant progress of the last century in relation to equal rights for women at work, inequality for women in comparison to men in the workforce still exists today. Although not nearly to such an extent as there would have been fifty years ago, Australian women are still relatively disadvantaged in the workforce.

One major cause for concern is that women in the workforce usually earn less than their male counterparts of the same profession. Prior to World War , Australian women earned a mere 54% of the male rate of pay, and by 16 this amount had only risen to 75% (Van Krieken et al. 000). Despite the introduction of the “equal pay for equal work” principle in 16, which became fully operational by 17, 0 years later women, on average, still earn less than men, and there are less women in the workforce in comparison to men(Van Krieken et al. 000, Healey 001). In 181 a woman’s average weekly full time earnings were 76.4% of male earnings, and had only risen to be 81.8% of the male income by 18 (Healey 001), demonstrating that even in relatively recent times women were still earning significantly less than men, despite being employed in the same profession. This can be illustrated by the fact that a female accountant earns only $4,146 per annum, in comparison to a males wage of $61, 68 (Healey 0011), and that a female branch manager earns only $5,87 per annum, whilst men in the same position earn a whopping $8,407 per annum(Healey 0011).

The number of females participating in the workforce has also been a topic for debate. The number of women working has increased from 6% in 166 to 5% in 1 (Van Krieken et al. 000 55). Although the number has increased, it is still relatively small. The unemployment rate is also higher for women than men. More men are employed on a full time basis than women. Healey (0010) states that in 188, .5 percent of men were employed full time and earning at least $1000 a week, whist only 0. percent of women were in the same category. In May 18, the percentage of men in this bracket had increased a great deal to 4.7 percent, where as women only rose to 8. percent (Healey 001).

Women remain concentrated in casual or part time employment, and are underrepresented in management and administrative positions and in trade and related areas of work (McLeod 001). In 1 it was found that women made up 4 percent of the entire work force, however, they only held percent of the top positions (Uren 1), demonstrating that males do indeed still dominate the workforce.

There is also a distinct division in the labour market. The dual labour market theory argues that the labour market is structured to have two sectors primary and secondary. The secondary labour market has low pay, few prospects for career advancement, little trade union protection, poor job security and no fringe benefits (Waters & Crook, 1 47). Not suprisingly then, exploitation of workers is far greater in the secondary sector. Whilst the majority of men are employed in the primary sector, women, especially those of the working class, find they are unable to compete in the primary sector, and are consigned to the secondary sector. Women are usually found to be in the lowest reaches of an occupational structure (Waters & Crook 1), for example, the head of a school is often a male.

A distinction can also be made between the masculinity and femininity of jobs, which is an extension of domestic differences into the occupational structure. For example, in office work there has traditionally been a separation between the masculine managerial domain and the feminine secretarial domain, and there is little, if any, mobility between the two.

A further area in which inequalities between men and women exist is that of politics. It is clear there is a reasonably low level of participation by women in political life. Although numbers of women in parliament are increasing, they are still relatively small. In 180, 6% of local government representatives were women, compared with 10, of which 1% of elected federal parliamentarians were women (Waters & Crook, 1 50). Traditionally it was thought that women were apolitical, however this is far from true. The small numbers of women in parliament is partly due to their duties in the domestic sphere.

Political parties select candidates on the basis of two main qualities their capacity to represent a party branch, and their appeal to voters. Both of these qualities work to disadvantage female candidates, as party branches are dominated by men, and women are often believed to lack voter appeal. The relationship between gender and the state is not only that of participation, but also of the government, the regulation and coordination of individual behaviour (Graetz & McAllister, 1 71). Australian governments have been, and to a point still are, unwilling to interfere with established domestic relations.

Policies relating to gender have changed considerably since the 1th century. Some examples of this are the increased ease of divorce and financial provision of non-wage-earners, and the decriminalisation of contraception and abortion under most circumstances. The main areas of legislation in relation to gender differences have been welfare, income equality (which can ensure equal pay but not equal earnings), and equal opportunity.

There have been many theories offered in order to try explaining why gender differences and inequalities exist and why they continue to prevail.

Liberal feminism is another strain of thought regarding why the oppression of women exists in our society. Liberal feminists believe it is unjust for any inequality to exist between men and women, and they also believe it is possible to maintain a capitalist society such as Australia’s as well as having gender equality. They explain gender inequality in terms of society’s beliefs, culture and attitudes. This form of feminism generally relies on the concept of gender roles � that males and females act out gender roles socially defined according to their sex either masculine or feminine (van Krieken et al., 000). “Socialisation into gender roles produces stereotyped, inflexible expectations of men and women” (van Krieken et al., 000 658). Socialisation agencies reinforce gender role stereotypes in our society, therefore continuing to perpetuate gender inequality. Agencies such as the family, the education system and the media continue to reinforce behaviour that is either typically male or female. Children are born into a world filled with gender stereotypes which influence them from an early age, and which they see as natural. For example, boys are typically dressed in blue and girls in pink, and boys are encouraged to behave in a “masculine” manner as girls are expected to behave in a “feminine” manner. Teachers accept that boys are more boisterous and allow them exceptions for this. All forms of media, including text books often portray common gender representations and display stereotyped images in advertisements such as the mother cooking in the kitchen and the father at work. These kinds of stereotypes all contribute to the attitudes and beliefs of society regarding the role of women and men.

This is one of the few theories which I believe best describes the reasons for the gender inequality witnessed in society and its continuous reproduction. Human behaviour is a product of what we learn from our surroundings and so the gender stereotypes that exist in our culture are what we learn to accept and pass on to the next generation. Looking at evidence from other cultures, it can be proved that masculinity and femininity are socially derived (Van Krieken et al., 000), and therefore we can conclude that beliefs such as males being more aggressive and females more passive, are indeed learned rather than inherited or a natural occurrence.

Although the place of women in society has indeed improved since the rise of the women’s movement in the 160’s and 170’s, much of the inequality between men and women still exists in Australian society today. Although not nearly as prevalent, gender inequality is still evident in family life, the workforce, and the political system. Whilst there are many theories that have been suggested as the explanation for gender inequality, none, to this day, have successfully completed their aim of abolishing the issue. Unless the prevalent views about gender roles in society are challenged and further changed, we face a future of the reproduction of such roles.


Graetz, B., and McAllister, I. (14) Dimensions of Australian Society (nd ed.). South Melbourne McMillan Education.

Van Krieken, R., Smith, P., Habibis, D., McDonald, K., Haralambos, M. and Holmborn, M. (000) Sociology Themes and Perspectives (nd ed.). Frenchs Forest NSW Pearson Education Australia.

Waters, M. and Crook, R. (1) Sociology One Principles of Sociological Analysis for Australians (rd ed.). Melbourne Longman Cheshire.

Western, J. (187) Social Inequality in Australian Society. South Melbourne MacMillan Education.

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1 comments: (+add yours?)

rolekkyle said...

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