Gender inequality, power and privilege


Gender inequality is where women and men do not have equal social status, power, resources or opportunities, and their voices, ideas and work are not valued equally by society.

Gender inequality is a key driver of violence against women.

In order to understand how best to address inequality, we must look at how power and privilege play a role in perpetuating inequality and, in particular, how some groups benefit over others.

Gender inequality in Australia

Gender inequality has historical roots in laws and policies formally constraining the rights and opportunities of women. Before the twentieth century, most women were not permitted to vote, run for political office or sit in parliaments, own land, sit on juries, be judges or enter various other professions. The privileges men were afforded allowed them to have power over women.

While we have made some progress toward improving gender equality, the long history of viewing women as ‘less than’ men has been embedded in our systems and structures, attitudes and behaviours. Gender inequality continues to exist in Australia.

  • Though Australia ranks number one in the world for women’s educational attainment, we rank 49th for women’s economic participation and opportunity.¹
  • Women spend nearly two thirds of their average weekly working time on unpaid care work, compared to just over one third for men. This means women do an average two hours and 19 minutes more unpaid care work than men, per day.²
  • Currently, Australia’s national gender pay gap is around 14 per cent. At November 2020, women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings, across all industries and occupations, was $1,562.00, compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,804.20.³
  • There is yet to be a representative number of women reach the highest echelons of business and politics in Australia. Women make up 35% of federal parliamentarians and only 14 CEOs of Australia’s top 200 ASX-listed companies are women.⁴
  • Gender inequality affects young people, too: young men receive eight times more attention in the classroom than young women and young women are less likely than young men to take part in organised sport.⁵

Working towards gender equality requires us to consider how men have, traditionally, been afforded power and privilege, and how they continue to experience the legacies of this, today.

      Some men have more power and privilege than others

      Not all men have the same power and privilege in society and not all women experience discrimination in the same ways. Laws, policies, systems and structures are unequal in how they operate, so that other aspects of people’s identities, such as their sexuality, ethnicity or cultural background, disability status or class, impact their experiences of power, privilege and discrimination.

      The majority of men in our federal parliament, as well as the majority of men who are in leadership roles in Australia’s top 200 ASX-listed companies, for example, are of Anglo-Celtic background. ⁶ Equally, many women experience more discrimination as a result of the interplay of racism and sexism than that experienced by women from an Anglo-Celtic background. For example, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are much more likely than non-Indigenous women to be sentenced to prison for the same offences. ⁷

      Why do we need to consider other forms of inequality, alongside gender inequality?

      Focusing only on gender in our efforts to address inequality can mean that only the most privileged women benefit, and women with less privilege are overlooked. For example, while white women achieved the right to vote in federal elections in Australia in 1902, this right did not extend to all women. Aboriginal women did not get the right to vote until 1962.

      To properly address what drives violence against women for all women in Australia, we must consider how gender inequality might intersect with other forms of inequality — including inequality on the basis of ethnicity, ability and class — and how this these can affect the violence women experience.

      To properly address what drives violence against women for all women in Australia, we must consider how gender inequality might intersect with other forms of inequality—including inequality on the basis of ethnicity, ability and class—and how this these can affect the violence women experience.

      How can we support young people to promote gender equality?

      Like all of us, young people can be supported to reflect upon how their own power and privilege, as well as the discrimination they face, impacts their own lives and the lives of others. Encouraging young people to reflect on power and privilege can be a starting point for challenging the social norms, practices and structures that drive violence against women.

      We can support young people to challenge gender inequality by:

      • defining power and privilege
      • providing examples that deepen their understanding of how privilege and power work in different systems guiding them to reflect on their own power and privilege
      • drawing attention to the circumstances in which men may be afforded power and privilege in ways that women are not and
      • helping them to understand the importance of power and privilege as they relate to gender inequality.


      ¹ World Economic Forum (2019) Global Gender Gap Report 2020. Geneva: World Economic Forum.

      ² Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2016) Unpaid care work and the labour market. Sydney: Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

      ³ Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2020) Australia's Gender Pay Gap Statistics 2021. Sydney: Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

      ⁴ Chief Executive Women (2019) ASX200 Senior Executive Census 2019. Sydney: Chief Executive Women.

      ⁵ Department of Premier and Cabinet (2016) Safe and strong: A Victorian Gender Equality Strategy. Melbourne: Department of Premier and Cabinet. Accessed 26 October 2020.

      ⁶ Australian Human Rights Commission (2016) Leading for Change: A blueprint for cultural diversity and inclusive leadership. Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission.

      ⁷ Commissioner June Oscar, May 2018, Imprisonment rates of Indigenous women a national shame, Sydney: Australian Human Rights Commission. Accessed 26 October 2020.

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