With the passing of another International Women’s Day (IWD), we found ourselves mulling over this year’s UN Women Australia theme: “Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress.” While an incredibly necessary – and worthy – cause, one can’t help but wonder: which women are we truly investing in, and who is this leaving behind?

The theme for IWD 2024 urges us to explore pathways toward greater economic inclusion for women and girls, aiming to dismantle barriers to their economic participation. In today’s landscape, where Australian women still don’t have equal seats at the decision-making table, are up against a persistent gender pay gap, are underrepresented in lucrative industries, and are disproportionately responsible for unpaid care, the theme couldn’t be more pertinent.

However, for the 1.7 million women and girls in Australia grappling with poverty, the challenges extend far beyond gaps in pay or opportunities. Poverty stands as the most immediate and formidable barrier to economic security for many.

When every moment is consumed by the struggle to survive and there’s scant resources left to cover expenses like transport to job interviews, training, suitable attire, or childcare, the notion of being “work-ready” is rendered virtually impossible.

Poverty is a consequence of systemic disadvantages and compounding marginalisation.

Consider the experience of some older women, where a lifetime of low-paid and part-time work means they have been left with insufficient superannuation. Or the reality of some women experiencing financial abuse, trapped living with their perpetrator due to unaffordable and insecure housing.

Add to that ableist workplace cultures that often underpay and exclude women with disabilities – the cycle of economic insecurity quickly becomes inevitable.

The economic fallout from compounding marginalisation is profound, often resulting in women relying on immediate and long-term income support to survive.

Statistics from March 2023 reveal that the vast majority of people receiving parenting payments were women, with a staggering 96 per cent of single parents and 90 per cent of partnered parents identifying as female.

Similarly, women are more likely to depend on the Age Pension, with 61 per cent of women aged 65 and over receiving it, compared to only 55 per cent of men in the same age bracket.

When considered alongside the Western Australian Council of Social Service’s 2023 Cost of Living Report, which found the weekly income of an individual on parenting payment single exceeded basic living costs by $1.40 and the income of an individual on the Age Pension fell short of covering essential expenses, the gendered uptake of income supports becomes problematic.

This trend underscores a stark reality: our social structures systematically place women below the poverty line, and unliveable rates of income support keep them there.

If genuine progress is to be achieved, we must champion policy initiatives which tackle the multifaceted barriers that confront women from all walks of life – not just those who can participate by working full time.

Such policy initiatives include elevating income support payments to a liveable standard, forging purpose-built pathways into education and employment, enhancing paid parental leave entitlements, and ensuring universal access to affordable childcare.

So, we implore you to pause and contemplate the diverse experiences of women in your community and the myriad of obstacles hindering their economic participation. Then, make sure your advocacy, policy proposals, events, and conversations count her in too.

For until we ensure that no woman is left behind, we will never be able to make true progress towards equity.


Emily Hull is Senior Policy Officer of the WA Council of Social Service and Rachel Siewert is Acting Chief Executive Officer

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