Three things DCA CEO Lisa Annese learnt at CSW68

Having worked in the gender equality space for many decades, it was a real honour to attend the United Nations’ 68th Commission for the Status of Women (CSW68) in New York from 11-22 March.

Together with my colleagues, DCA Research Director, Dr Jane O’Leary and DCA Member Education Director, Dr Virginia Mapedzahama, I had the privilege of representing our organisation as part of the Australian mission

I have returned home with three important takeaways.

Workplace gender equality requires a human rights-led approach

Firstly, the gathering was a sobering one indeed. Globally, 10.3% of women live in extreme poverty, about 1 in 3 women worldwide have been subjected to either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence in their lifetime and only 22.8 per cent of politicians heading ministries are women. We heard that violations of reproductive rights and appropriate health care for women and girls are rife, and the impact of caring responsibilities continues to bind women to traditional roles and excludes them from becoming economically empowered

We discovered with immense disappointment that there are more places in the world where women’s rights are regressing than there are places where those same rights are progressing for women and girls.

Within this context, it was clear that the work of DCA, and indeed its member organisations, should remain cognisant of the human rights impact of our work and the core premise of our mission: that people have an inalienable right to both dignity and safety at work and the right to be paid fairly and equitably for their efforts.

Gender equality cannot be achieved by government alone

Secondly, we were able to participate in conversations led by the Australian delegation that focused on our government’s efforts to advance the status of Australian women, much of which is laid out in the recently released Working for Women: A Strategy for Gender Equality.  The 10-year vision is focused on five priority areas: gender-based violence, unpaid and paid care, economic equality and security, health and leadership, representation and decision-making.  While much progress has already been made in Australia, there is still more work to do. While the gender pay gap is shrinking, women in Australia do over nine hours more unpaid care work each week than men, 26% recently experienced sexual harassment at work, almost a third of young women are diagnosed with depression or anxiety and only 9% of CEOs in the ASX300 are women.

The government’s strategy acknowledges that gender equality cannot be achieved by government alone. Indeed, the presence of a large contingent of civil society organisations and individuals at CSW68 working with, alongside and, in many cases, in spite of their government, demonstrates that system-wide effort is required to foster a more gender-equal world. 

DCA recognises its important role as an organisation working to improve the capability of employers in creating more gender-equal and inclusive workplaces.  This includes our critical role in advocating for positive policy reform and continuing thought-leadership through evidence-based research that influences academics, governments, employers, and others who are working on positive change.

DCA’s intersectional approach is world-leading

And thirdly, we were able to obtain global perspectives on the leading practice work that DCA is doing.  DCA proudly participated in running two parallel sessions – one focused on our work and research on culturally and racially marginalised women (CARM) in leadership, together with our partners at SSI and CEW, and the other on centring marginalised voices at work, together with our GIDA partners who offered their global perspectives. 

In particular, our CARM Women in Leadership report shed light on the unique challenges faced by CARM women in organisational settings. DCA used lessons from its work on centring the voices of CARM women to inform a leading practice set of guidelines demonstrating how organisations can centre the voices of any marginalised group. What we discovered was that an intersectional approach to gender equality was rarely applied in other jurisdictions and as a result, women whose lives are marginalised by their race, Indigeneity, disability, LGBTQ status or as a carer, migrant or refugee, experienced compounded exclusion with exacerbated experiences of economic disempowerment.  DCA looks forward to continuing this work and influencing others both here and overseas to ensure that when gender equality is being pursued, women in all their diversity can experience the benefits of progress.

It might be easy to feel disheartened by the sheer scale of work that still needs to be done in Australia and globally to achieve genuine gender equality, but what is heartening is the sheer number of individuals, organisations, coalitions and even governments working to improve the lives of women. At CSW68, thousands of people, including world leaders, government ministers and representatives of civil society have all returned to their home country to continue to work in pursuit of a gender-equal word and that provides me with every reason to remain optimistic about the future.

To learn more about Australia’s unique challenges in achieving gender equality, join DCA CEO Lisa Annese and guest speaker Terese Edwards, CEO of Single Mother Families Australia Inc and member of the Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce, for DCA’s Plan to drive women’s economic equality event on Wednesday 10 April at 2pm.