16 Days of Activism: Enable and support women’s health and rights at work

December 6, 2020

Day 12 of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence

By Bern Fraser, WHGNE Health Promotion Worker

Globally, a significant number of women work in low paid and vulnerable jobs with no rights or entitlements and the gender pay gap (GPG) remains persistent at 20%.

The GPG is a measure of women’s overall position in the paid workforce and does not compare like roles. In Australia the national GPG is 14% and is influenced by a number of factors, including: 

  • discrimination and bias in hiring and pay decisions 
  • women and men working in different industries and different jobs, with female-dominated industries and jobs attracting lower wages 
  • women’s disproportionate share of unpaid caring and domestic work.


As the COVID-19 pandemic continues across the world, we’ve seen a rise in gender inequality, with women working at the frontlines providing medical, health and aged care, and essential services in early childhood education, teaching, family violence, housing and homelessness, social support and retail.

At the same time, many women are keeping families and communities running while lockdowns are enforced. Women’s working hours in paid and unpaid roles have significantly increased as have their experiences of violence during the pandemic, with 64.5% of 15,000 Australian women surveyed reporting that the physical and/or sexual violence had started or escalated in from March 2020

Gender inequities and violence contribute to poor health and wellbeing.

Client data from Victoria’s sexual and reproductive information and referral service 1800 My Options from March to July 2020 show increases in the number of women reporting:  

  • family violence and reproductive coercion
  • financial stress
  • late gestation of pregnancy and other complexities 
  • women isolated due to geography, language barriers or other circumstances
  • conscientious objection from health practitioners to pregnancy choices
  • other support needs when pregnant  

Gender inequities that limit or prevent women’s access to accurate sexual and reproductive health information, health care and services, including timely access to contraception, abortion and violence support, restrict women’s choices over their own bodies, creating barriers to equity of access to education, employment, social and economic participation.

More than ever, workplaces across all sectors need to ensure that they address existing gender inequities and create safe, inclusive settings where women’s rights and health, including their sexual and reproductive health, are enabled and supported.   


Workplaces can start to address this right now by:

  • Engaging with diverse workplace employees, clients and community members to audit and review worksite accessibility and safety for women/people of all abilities: physical build, mobility space and facilities to support equality of access, participation and inclusion: accessible toilets with menstrual products and disposal units, appropriate temperature control /heating and cooling, lunch/break spaces, comfortable breast feeding and parenting spaces
  •  Reviewing workplace leave policies in collaboration with diverse staff representatives to address existing gender inequities, including leave entitlements for women and gender diverse employees (permanent and casual) to access:– sexual and reproductive health care and treatment; including but not limited to assisted fertility, pregnancy, ante/post- natal care, breast feeding and adoption, fertility control, menstrual disorders, endometriosis, poly cystic ovarian syndrome and menopause 
    – violence services and support
    – family/parenting /carer’s /personal and sick leave, including adequate time/leave for breast feeding.  

  • Ensuring your workplace anti-discrimination policy includes prevention of pregnancy /parenting/caring discrimination. These forms of gender-based discrimination include questions about pregnancy, parenting or caring responsibilities in job/role descriptions and interviews, dismissal of a woman/person due to pregnancy, parenting/caring responsibilities, movement to lower paid roles or denied advancement opportunities during/following pregnancy. The current gender pay gap in Australia (14%) demonstrates that women still face a ‘motherhood penalty’, which leads to a larger pay gap and dramatically lowers retirement savings or superannuation contributions, leaving women more vulnerable to poverty


To build our understanding of pregnancy discrimination in Australia, how about we do a quick quiz?

Which of the following is pregnancy discrimination? 
  • As soon as Amina’s bump begins to show, she’s barred from attending client meetings because her boss says her bump might “put off clients”. 
  • Evie’s job relies on networking with clients. Evie’s boss arranges a horseback riding weekend for all staff to bond with clients — knowing that Evie can’t safely go because she’s pregnant. 
  • Gloria applies for a promotion and is passed over because she recently got married, and her boss thinks she’s likely to get pregnant and take maternity leave soon. 

The correct answer? All three, most likely, involve discrimination. 


Build your knowledge:
  • One in two (49 per cent) Australian mothers have experienced pregnancy-related discrimination at work at some point during pregnancy, parental leave or on return to work. 
  • Young mothers (aged 18-24), single mothers and mums with disabilities are more likely to experience pregnancy-related discrimination, the report found. 
  • Casual workers were more likely to report experiencing discrimination during pregnancy (31 per cent) than mums on permanent/ongoing or fixed-term contracts. 
  • Eighty-four per cent of mothers who experienced discrimination experienced a negative impact — for example, on their mental health or finances — as a result of that discrimination.