Tuesday, 04 December 2018 10:47

National survey: Attitudes to equality and women have improved – but there is still a way to go

A national survey on attitudes towards gender equality and violence against women shows the urgent need to strengthen Victoria’s gender equality laws and continue the Commission’s landmark reviews into sex discrimination and sexual harassment in Australian workplaces, alongside our wide-ranging work on gender equality.

The results from the National Community Attitudes towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS), released today, show that Australians’ attitudes to violence against women and gender equality are improving generally. Most Australians agree that both men and women can play a range of roles regardless of their gender, and only 14 per cent believe men make better political leaders than women.

Despite this, the results also reveal some disturbing trends. Even though women continue to earn less on average than men in every industry and occupational category in Australia (according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency), 40% think women exaggerate how unequally they are treated.

"Many of the attitudes described in the survey are out of step with the evidence – and with women’s experiences,” says Kristen Hilton, Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner.

"Shifting harmful attitudes about women and equality relies on government, business, institutions and the community working together, and strong laws such as Victoria’s Gender Equality Bill are a vital and timely way to shape positive community attitudes.”

The Commission’s submission on the Gender Equality Bill exposure draft recommended that the Bill include a robust definition of gender and set minimum standards that public entities must address in their Gender Equality Action Plans. It also emphasised the importance of aligning the new law with existing legislation, including Victoria's Equal Opportunity Act 2010 and the Workplace Equality Act 2012 (Cth).

The Commission supports the appointment of an independent body such as the Commission to oversee the implementation of the new law, and the development of tailored education, consultancy and guidance materials to help public entities comply.

One idea that emerges strongly in the NCAS results is the important role that men play in shaping attitudes towards women and equality. Attitudes to gender equality and understanding of violence against women are the strongest predictors of attitudinal support for violence, and violence-supportive attitudes are more common in male-dominated occupations and among people with mainly male friends.

Further, while the majority of Australians said they would be bothered by seeing a woman being verbally abused (98 per cent) or sexist jokes (76 per cent), not all of them would take action.

"The persistence of negative attitudes towards women and equality in some workplaces shows it’s critical that the Commission continue its landmark reviews into sex discrimination and sexual harassment in key workplaces and industries,” says Commissioner Hilton.

"Our reviews, such as the one we are conducting into Victoria Police, seek to identify the systemic causes of discrimination and harassment, and to build the foundations for enduring change.”

The NCAS was first conducted in 1995, and in 2017 it surveyed 17,500 Australians. It was conducted by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety (ANROWS) in collaboration with RMIT University, the Social Research Centre, the University of Melbourne, UNSW and VicHealth.

Read the full NCAS report

Read the Commission’s submission on the Gender Equality Bill exposure draft

Find out more about the Commission’s Independent Review into sex discrimination and sexual harassment, including predatory behaviour, in Victoria Police

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