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History of Women and Finance

From Strides to Leaps: A Timeline of Women and Finance in Australia

International Women's Day is a time to celebrate the achievements and advancements of women around the world. Australian women have a rich history of pushing boundaries and advocating for their rights in the pursuit for financial equality. This timeline highlights the key milestones in the history of women and finance in Australia covering topics such as pay, loans, credit, employment, and superannuation.

Early 20th Century: The Foundation of Change

1919The battle for financial equality began early, with the minimum wage for women set at 54% of the male minimum wage. This decision, based on the assumption that all working women were single and without dependents, ignored the financial needs of widows and other women supporting families.

1920

The Interwar Period: Initial Steps Towards Equality

1938The Westpac Bank took a pioneering step by establishing the Women's Fidelity Guarantee and Provident Fund for employees, marking one of the first superannuation funds for women in the banking sector. This was a significant departure from the male-only retirement funds that had been in place since 1879.

World War II: Accelerating Change

1939The Second World War catalyzed change, with more women joining the workforce to fill roles vacated by men serving overseas. The temporary suspension of the Marriage Bar during the war allowed married women to work, although they were paid significantly less than men.

1943

Women lobbied the Australian government for better pay, leading to the creation of the Women's Employment Board. This effort secured women 75% of the male wage for performing the same job, a significant victory for gender pay equality.

Post-War Period: A Step Backwards

1945The end of World War II marked the return of men from overseas service. Unfortunately, this led to many women leaving the workforce due to the re-establishment of the Marriage Bar. Consequently, many women had to return to lower-paying jobs as they were no longer performing the same roles as men.

1971In early 1971, following a campaign by women's liberation activists, the Bank of New South Wales (now Westpac) became the first bank to grant loans to women without requiring a male guarantor. This change marked a significant shift in women's financial independence and access to credit.

1972

A major victory came in 1972 when the Australian Conciliation and Arbitration Commission (ACAC) granted women equal pay for work of equal value. This landmark decision was a crucial step towards gender equality in the workplace.

1974 Single mothers were granted financial assistance and a form of the pension, now known as the single parenting payment, was established. This meant that women could keep their children rather than give them up for adoption, "the most significant innovation in social security for a generation". Previously this only existed for widows.

Continued Progress and New Challenges

1984

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 made it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their gender, marital status, or pregnancy, impacting employment and financial decisions.

1992

The introduction of the Superannuation Guarantee provided women with increased access to retirement savings, although disparities in superannuation persist due to career breaks and part-time work.

21st Century Advances and Ongoing Disparities

2009

Australia introduced a Paid Parental Leave Scheme in 2009, providing eligible working parents with financial support during the early stages of parenthood. This policy aimed to improve the financial well-being of working mothers and promote gender equality in the workforce.

2012

The Workplace Gender Equality Act 2012 required employers to report on gender equality indicators, including pay equity, aiming to improve transparency and accountability.

2020As of the early 2020s, women in Australia still face a gender pay gap, reported at approximately 13.4% for full-time employees. Superannuation disparities continue, with women retiring with significantly less superannuation than men, partly due to lower lifetime earnings and career breaks for caregiving.

Ongoing efforts

Initiatives like the Women's Economic Security Statement aim to improve women's financial security, focusing on areas like workforce participation, earning potential, and access to high-quality, affordable childcare.

From Local Strides to Global Leaps: Australia's Journey with the UN to Empower Women Financially

As we weave through the timeline of women's financial empowerment in Australia, it's vital to zoom out and see how Australia has danced in step with the United Nations' global rhythm. This partnership aims to amplify the UN Women's International Women's Day 2024 theme "Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress," which examines the pathways to greater economic inclusion for women and girls everywhere.

CEDAW: A Promise to Protect

1983Ratifying CEDAW wasn't just a formal gesture for Australia; it was a pledge to protect and promote women's rights, translating international norms into national action. This commitment has fuelled reforms ensuring women's economic and financial rights are not just supported but sustained.

The Beijing Spirit: Elevating Economic Empowerment

1995

The echoes of the Beijing Declaration resonated with Australia's ethos, inspiring policies that propel women into decision-making roles and economic independence. This isn't just about counting women in; it's about making every woman's role count.

The Global Blueprint: Millennium to Sustainable Goals

2000-2015

When the world set its sights on the Millennium Development Goals, Australia didn't just sign up; it stepped up. Focusing on the Asia-Pacific backyard, Australia helped women and girls access education and economic opportunities, believing that every woman counts.

2015With the baton passed to the Sustainable Development Goals, Australia laced its policies with a commitment to not just count women in but to champion their cause. Goal 5 isn't just a number; it's a narrative Australia is actively shaping, focusing on slashing the gender pay gap and boosting women's financial freedom.

Women's Empowerment Principles: A Compass for Companies

Ongoing

Australia's businesses aren't just operating in the economy; they're shaping an equitable ecosystem. By embracing the Women's Empowerment Principles, companies are crafting spaces where women's contributions are not just included but integral.

Australia's Global Handshake: Making Every Woman Count

Australia's journey from local strides to global leaps underscores a commitment to weaving women's economic inclusion into the fabric of global progress. By aligning with UN Women, Australia is not just counting women in but ensuring they lead, learn, and thrive. This partnership is about painting a world where every woman and girl can carve her path to financial freedom and empowerment.

Through foreign aid, policy reforms, and corporate commitments, Australia i.ing economies—we're changing the world.

So, as we mark another International Women's Day, let's celebrate the strides made and the journey ahead. Let's count every woman in, invest in her future, and together, accelerate the progress towards a more inclusive and equitable world.

For more information about International Women's Day 2024, including Australia's Headline presentation from RBA Governor Michele Bullock, visit iwd.net.au.

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