Using demographics to inform gender equality

Using demographics to inform gender equality

Covid-19 has shown that women are disproportionately more affected by economic impacts than men, highlighting existing inequalities and issues. We live in a time when it is possible to clearly understand the current state of gender equity in your community and to influence areas where inequality exists. So what is gender equality and gender equity? Why does it matter and what role can you play in improving it?

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Gender equality and equity have become mainstream concepts in recent years. The UN has made achieving gender equality one of their 17 Sustainable Development Goals and in 2020, the Victorian Government developed the Gender Equality Act, legislation requiring public sector departments to (among other things) place a gender lens on all activities by conducting a gender impact assessment of policies, programs and services.

Gender equity benefits society

Gender equity focuses on the needs and barriers that women and gender-diverse people face and aims to reduce these barriers through a systemic approach. Gender equity recognises that people’s experiences in the community can be different depending on their circumstances and position.

Women and gender-diverse people experience different levels of inequity. At its most extreme, higher levels of violence against women are consistently associated with lower levels of gender equity in both public life and personal relationships.

Achieving gender equity is critical to improving the health and wellbeing of individuals, families and communities and is a critical part of a fair, safe and inclusive society. Countries with higher levels of gender equity show social benefits and lower levels of gender-based violence.

Enhancing gender equity also brings significant economic and productivity gains, which impact local, state and national economies. Research shows that increasing female participation in the workforce by 6% has the potential to add $25 billion annually to the Australian economy.

Gender equality is a critical human rights and social justice issue. Achieving gender equity is critical to improving the health and wellbeing of individual women and men, families and communities and is a core principle of a fair, safe and inclusive community.
City of Monash “Gender Equity Strategy 2015-2020”

Equity is different to equality

Gender equality focuses on the equal distribution of resources and opportunities. Distribution of resources can lead to vastly different outcomes for women depending on their circumstances. Some people face more barriers, so the outcomes may not be equal. Equity recognises that people experience different barriers and therefore have different needs to enable them to achieve the same outcomes.

Put simply, gender equality is about sameness and gender equity focuses on fairness. Gender equity is the process undertaken to achieve gender equality. If gender equality is the end, gender equity is the means.

Using demographics to inform gender equality

An illustration of the difference between equality and equity (source: stock photography)

Australia is dropping in world rankings for gender equality

The World Economic Forum’s “Global Gender Gap Index” (2021) ranked Australia 50th in the world in terms of gender equality. Concerningly, Australia dropped 6 places since 2020, partly because of the Covid-19 crisis, which has accelerated labour market disruption and disproportionately affected women.

Around 50.4% of Australia’s population are women. Gender disaggregated demographic statistics give the following insights.


Gender-disaggregated demographic information is key to taking action

Understanding and measuring deficiencies in gender equity require robust, impartial and unbiased data analysis. A traditional demographic analysis of a community where the entire population is assessed as one does not show the potential inequalities and social challenges that groups within those communities might have. By understanding how certain demographic and socioeconomic characteristics vary between women and men in your municipality, you can begin to comprehend the extent of inequality based on gender.

Local councils can play an active role in influencing gender equity

Victoria’s recently adopted “Gender Equality Act (2020)” places a gender lens on all activities by requiring a gender impact assessment of policies, programs and services. The legislation also states:

Public sector organisations with 50 or more employees such as local councils, health services, universities and emergency services began reporting on what they are doing to meaningfully progress gender equality in their workplace. Any policies, programs, or services seeking funding in Victorian budgets will also be subject to gendered analysis.

At the local government level, gender strategies can change and improve gender equity in the community, but also within the council, by ensuring gender equity is considered and prioritised in all council planning, policy, strategies, service delivery and practice. Local government gender equity strategies focus on promoting and enhancing gender equity within the organisation, as well as the community.

When we empower our community, such as encouraging diversity in leaders and decision-makers, we all benefit – having more diversity in positions of power promotes gender equality.”
Inner West Council Gender Equity Strategy, 2021-2025

Some examples of local government influence on gender equity:

  • The provision of appropriate infrastructure, such as better streetlights, especially if research shows that a significant portion of the female labour force work in industries such as Accommodation and Food Services or Retail, where work hours can mean walking to/from home in darkness. Even transport infrastructure such as bike paths can be tailored to meet the different needs of women cyclists.
  • Providing or expanding childcare/kindergarten services if research shows a significant proportion of women care for their own children and/or do not participate in the labour force.
  • Creating services and programs where women can upskill, gain more access to knowledge about education, improve employment status, leadership development, knowledge of laws, rights, opportunities, etc.
  • Educating the youth about gender issues and raising awareness of some challenges that exist in their own communities.

Examples from Sweden

Sweden ranks 5th in the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap Index. At a recent webinar, Dr Leonora Risse, an economist with specialist expertise in understanding gender gaps in economic outcomes, gave a great and somewhat “outside of the box” example of how Swedish councils changed existing practices to make life less disadvantaged for women. In a nutshell, Swedish snow clearance practices of sweeping roads first and then footpaths disadvantaged women who were more likely to walk to work or walk with children before footpaths were swept. This resulted in more inconvenience but also more injuries to women due to falls and slips. Men, on the other hand, were more likely to commute further away from home and drive to work, so the sweeping practices benefited them more, even if that was never the intention of the municipality.

This video explains this unconventional but powerful example in more detail. It also details other examples undertaken by local municipalities.

Working towards gender equality in Glenelg Shire

Closer to home, Glenelg Shire – in south-western Victoria – is improving and promoting gender equality in the workplace and the community. A workplace gender audit will shed light on gender inequality within the Council organisation. The results of this audit will drive a Gender Equality Action Plan to promote gender equality in the workplace via a range of strategies and measures.

In the community, Glenelg Shire will improve gender equality by making gender impact assessments a standard part of the development or review of any policy, program or service. Gender impact assessments must assess the effects that each policy, program or service may have on persons of different genders, and state how the policy, program or service will be developed/varied to meet the needs of persons of different genders, address gender inequality and promote gender equality.

Glenelg Shire Council aims to promote Gender Equality through educating both staff and the wider community, and by applying a gender lens in all they do. For more information, see Glenelg Shire’s gender equality resources.

Can we help?

For almost 25 years, .id (informed decisions) has worked to build an enterprise that contributes to a good society. We are driven by a strong desire to contribute to the development of a good society where everyone has access to housing, education, employment, social and political inclusion, culture, health, recreation and information. We share the sentiment in the linked video that local government’s proximity to everyday lives positions them to have concreate impacts in improving society.

Based on our work with local governments engaging in gender equity, we have developed a gender equity report that provides gender-disaggregated demographic insights at the LGA level. Achieving gender equality through the gender equity process has the potential to address short-term issues and also pave the way for long-term benefits for individuals as well as communities.


Nenad - demographic consultant

Nenad’s background is in geosciences and geographic information systems. At .id, Nenad has experience as both as a demographer and population forecaster. His areas of expertise are place-based analysis, identifying spatial patterns in demographic trends, community profiling, catchment analysis and an understanding of role and function of different communities.

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