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Community Connections

Breaking the barriers to gender equality

Gender equality in Australia isn’t where it should be. Even though Australia has one of the best anti-discrimination legislative frameworks in the world, we continue to face a range of challenges when it comes to ensuring the equal treatment and representation of women and men.

With a low ranking of 35 in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Report, it can be hard to know where to begin when it comes to improving gender equality in Australia. However, a team of researchers from the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation and the University of Canberra believe that our approach must be guided by a deeper understanding of the attitudes to gender equality.

Based on a survey of more than 2,000 Australians, their landmark research project From Girls to Men: Social Attitudes to Gender Equality in Australia takes a comprehensive look at how Australians view inequality between men and women.

Dr Pia Rowe, 50/50 by 2030 Foundation Research Associate and Editor of the Foundation’s gender equality blog, Broad Agenda, said that the report aims to fuel the national conversation around gender equality in Australia.

"There wasn’t really anything covering the attitudes of Australians before this research, and that was a big problem for us. As we know, despite continuous progress, we haven’t yet been able to close the gender gaps across the board," Pia said.

"We previously made assumptions that people support gender equality. Although 88% of Australians do believe that gender equality is an issue here, people tend to expect that situations will correct themselves, but we know from the data that didn’t happen."

Male millennial perceptions of gender equality

According to Pia, one of the biggest surprises that emerged from the data were in the attitudinal differences across generations.

The fact that nearly half of all the male respondents believe they are being left behind when it comes to gender equality is one of the most alarming findings for us.

Their research also showed a significant correlation between millennial men who play online games for an above average length of time and normative attitudes to gender roles, such as the belief that men are better suited to leadership.

"The purpose of this research was to find out what’s happening, and then next year we start qualitative research with focus groups where we’ll ask why it’s happening and tease out those individual narratives," Pia explained.

"We’ve highlighted an interesting problem and that’s the perceived exclusion of men in these conversations. We need to think of meaningful ways to change those perceptions and engage men in this debate."

Bringing a passion for gender equality to research

For Pia, a big part of being involved in this research – and the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation more broadly – is the opportunity to see tangible outcomes produced from their findings.

"We want to have a practical impact, so it’s not just another talk fest. I think we’ve had enough of those and that’s why we’re doing this research," she said.

"The stars really aligned for me in this role. My PhD research was actually on combining feminist studies with political science and going beyond that traditional paradigm for political research.

"In the 90s, many of us believed that we’d already achieved gender equality … but I later realised how many structural barriers still exist for women’s participation," she added.

"It got me really fired up and that’s where this passion kind of started."

Stage two of the Foundation’s research will commence next year. You can follow the research on their website here: http://www.5050foundation.edu.au/gender-equality-attitudes/

Words by Alyssia Tennant

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