MAV Opinion Editorial - Significant step towards gender equality

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Victoria took a significant step forward in achieving gender equality with the Gender Equality Act 2020 coming into effect last week – the first of its kind in any jurisdiction in Australia.

Under this state-wide legislation, more than 300 public sector organisations – which includes local government – must put in place actions that will make a difference to improving gender equality outcomes for the lives of all Victorians. It is significant legislation.

Since the Gender Equality Bill was introduced into the Victorian Parliament in 2019, the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector has been established with Dr Niki Vincent appointed as Commissioner. We’ve appreciated her work with councils over the last few months to help them prepare for change.

The Municipal Association of Victoria (MAV) was among the organisations involved in the consultation process to better understand the implications of the legislation. It’s fair to say that there was some initial concern about how impactful it could be on councils, particularly those with limited resources who have not undertaken this type of work before.

However, through consultation and pilots with local councils, it became clear that the new legislation has two significant opportunities to improve gender equality. The first is within Council workforces. The second is in the programs and services we deliver for the benefit of all in the communities we serve.

What it means in practical terms is that Councils will need to complete a Workplace Gender Audit. Once the audit is completed, Councils will then develop a four-year Gender Equality Action Plan . Councils will be required to regularly share with the community and the the Commission for Gender Equality in the Public Sector how they are progressing in delivering on their Gender Equality Action Plan.

The Gender Equality Action Plan will look at a range of serious and important issues including gender pay equity; workplace sexual harassment; and recruitment and promotion. With our Councils employing more than 50,000 Victorians, this new legislation provides an important opportunity for Councils to become safer and fairer workplaces and employers of choice.

The legislation also requires Councils to consider how community facing services, programs and infrastructure are delivered fairly so that women, men and everyone in the community are provided with equal access and opportunity.

What we know is we will not achieve gender equality overnight. This process is going to take time and there will be many steps along the way to build awareness and then, create the change.

We already have some great examples of what can happen when you better consider different gender experiences and directly intervene to deal with matters of gender inequality.

For instance, we have actively worked to support women to stand for Council for several election cycles and now, nearly 44% of Councillors in Victoria are women. This is the highest proportion of female councillors of any state or territory.

Moreland City Council provides another great example. It has undertaken a gender equity assessment of its sports and leisure facility users and as a result, created a program to encourage women and girls to be more active and worked with sporting clubs to be more welcoming and inclusive.

The program, simply called Moreland Active Women and Girls, found in 2009 that women and girls made up only 8% of users of their sporting facilities. By 2018, that number had grown to 28%, better reflecting the composition of the local community with local clubs all reporting their experience of these changes has been positive for everyone involved.

And the work continues. Their latest program is called ‘Count me in too’ and it aims to help women of migrant and refugee backgrounds to be more engaged users of council sport and leisure facilities.

This shows that there are some reasonable and practical steps that local government can take to challenge gender inequality and for the benefit all Victorians.

This opinion editorial appeared in the Ballarat Courier, Bendigo Advertiser, Border Mail and the Warrnambool Standard on 10 April 2021.