Women's Economic Security Statement

Women's Economic Security Statement

Women's Economic Security Statement


The inaugural Women’s Economic Security Statement was delivered by the Hon Kelly O’Dwyer MP, Minister for Women, on 20 November 2018.

The Statement builds upon the Australian Government’s strong progress in supporting women’s economic security, with a focus on three key pillars:

  • Workforce participation
  • Earning potential
  • Economic independence

New measures announced in the Women’s Economic Security Statement are a further step in delivering on Towards 2025: An Australian Government Strategy to Boost Women’s Workforce Participation and its implementation plan. The new measures ($119 million over four years) complement actions the Government has already taken to improve women’s economic security, including the record $8.3 billion investment into the new child care system in 2018-19, and superannuation reforms to protect retirement savings.

What do we mean by women’s economic security?

In the past, most Australian workplaces were organised around typically male, full-time employees advancing their careers over an unbroken working life. Although things are changing, this pattern of work is still prevalent.

In contrast, women are likely to take time out of paid work to care for family, and to work part-time to balance their careers with ongoing family and care activities.

This makes it harder for women to get established in the workforce or gain a foot-hold on the ladder to higher paid jobs, which leaves them with lower levels of economic security. This pattern of work also makes it much harder to recover from financial shocks like illness, separation, or domestic violence. Taken together, this also means that many women have less superannuation at retirement.

The Australian Government is working to turn this story around.

Chart 1: Workforce participation by age and sex

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Source: ABS cat. no. 6291.0.55.001, Labour Force, Australia, Detailed - Electronic Delivery, September 2018, Original data, 12-month average.

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Chart 2: Part-time work

The chart, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data in October 2018, shows there are around 5.9 million women in employment, compared to around 6.7 million men. 46% of women in employment work part-time, compared to just 18% of men. Women’s full-time and part–time employment have been growing more rapidly than men’s. The number of men in part-time work has grown slightly faster than the number of men in full time work.

Source ABS cat. no. 6202.0, Labour Force, Australia, October-2018.

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Chart 3: Superannuation

The chart, based on Australian Bureau of Statistics data from 2015-16, shows women retire with 42% less in their superannuation balances than men. One in three women have no money in superannuation.

ABS cat. no. 6523.0, Household Income and Wealth, 2015-16, median superannuation balances of persons aged 55-64.

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Workforce Participation

Better policy through improved understanding

Gender gaps in economic security are caused by a complex range of factors. The Australian Government is investing in practical measures to build the evidence base and improve our understanding of what drives women’s economic insecurity.

Time use survey

The Australian Bureau of Statistics will reinstate the Time Use Survey to help us understand the economic value of unpaid work, including care work, a key factor in the workforce participation gap between women and men, and the impact of changes in digital work practices since the survey was last conducted in 2006—funding of $10.4 million. The initial survey will be conducted in 2020-21 followed by a smaller ongoing annual survey that will build up the evidence base over time.

So much has changed since 2006, how are Australians balancing their work and home lives today?

The Time Use Survey will collect high-quality data on how we spend our time. Our lives have changed a lot since the last ABS Time Use Survey was run more than 10 years ago.

In 2006:

  • Mothers of young children spent 83 hours 51 minutes per week on child care while fathers spent 36 hours 25 minutes per week
  • Women spent nearly double the time spent by men on domestic activities
  • Men spent, on average, 4 hours 33 minutes a day on employment related activities, similar to the amounts spent in both 1992 and 1997. Women spent 2 hours 21 minutes a day on these activities, up 12% on the time measured in the 1992 survey.

The Time Use Survey will help the Australian Government design policies to fit the way people actually live their lives. A new eDiary approach will make it easier for survey participants to record their information, and make the results more accurate

Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA)

WGEA will implement an upgraded reporting and data management system to strengthen gender data reporting activities. Streamlining the process for business reporting will reduce red tape and enable the public sector and small businesses to report voluntarily. This will increase the reach of WGEA’s dataset up to 75% of Australian employees (currently 40%)—funding of $8 million.

Support to improve employment practices

The Reducing Barriers to Work Forum will bring together leaders from Australia’s largest and most innovative recruiters, employers, and peak not-for-profit organisations to discuss innovative ideas to recruit and retain women, including through family friendly, flexible and part-time work arrangements.

It will harness private sector energy and interest to promote the benefits of flexible work and support the cultural change required to shift work practices and help all parents, women and men, to better balance work and family responsibilities.

CASE STUDY: Beam Australia – pioneers in fractional work

Fractional work start-up Beam Australia estimates 11,000 more people (mainly women) will re-join the Australian workforce if just 5% of degree qualified, stay-at-home parents can find highly-skilled part time roles.

One of Beam’s clients, Lisa*, had held a full time leadership role in a law firm prior to having her second child. After maternity leave, Lisa’s firm requested she return full-time, or not at all. Lisa, wanting to balance her family obligations with her career, contemplated leaving the workforce entirely. Beam connected her with a fast-growing start-up that needed marketing expertise, but didn’t have the budget for a full-time staff member with Lisa’s experience. Lisa now works four days a week for the start-up, growing the business (she has added more than $400k in revenue in the last year) and Lisa has the flexibility she needs to manage her family and sustain her career. Through this model, Australia hasn’t lost Lisa from the economy and has added a new job to the workforce!

With Beam’s help, Matthew* was able to move from a full-time Managing Director position to three days a week as Chief Operations Officer at a fast-expanding cyber security firm, so he could spend more time with his family.

*names changed to protect privacy

Parental Leave Pay (PLP)

Measures in the Package will allow parents more flexibility in accessing their Government-funded PLP and make it available to some women who have previously been excluded.

PLP Flexibility

Each year, about 2,300 people receiving PLP return to work before they have used all of their pay entitlement, which means they lose the unused portion. Changes will allow families to split their PLP entitlement into blocks of leave and to work in between, over a two year period. This will support women who are self-employed and small business owners who cannot afford to take time from work for 18 weeks straight.

Extending PLP

The current PLP work-test rules will be changed so that women who may previously have been excluded can now be eligible—this includes women who have irregular work, such as teachers on casual contracts, and women in hazardous jobs who have to leave their job early in their pregnancy, such as in mining and construction.

Workforce access for Rural and Regional women

Women in rural and regional areas are likely to face additional barriers when returning to work after a career break due to smaller and less diverse industries and fewer opportunities for skilled employment. The Career Revive initiative supports regional employers to develop action plans for their business to attract and retain women returning to work after a career break—funding of $1.5 million. 

CASE STUDY: Getting more women into mining with St Barbara Ltd

Mining is a highly gender segregated industry, with women making up just 16.4% of the workforce. Australian mining company St Barbara Ltd recognised this and has worked to challenge perceptions of mining as a ‘man’s domain’, breaking down barriers to women’s participation and creating a pipeline of qualified women to fill professional and technical roles. They have also worked to retain valuable employees who would have otherwise left the workforce entirely.

St Barbara supported a local Indigenous woman to complete her boilermaker’s apprenticeship by helping with the costs of accommodation and travel for her and her family after she became pregnant. The young mother became a valued team member and mentor to two other Indigenous apprentices and is now working towards her goal of becoming a TAFE instructor and encouraging more women to learn trades.

Scholarships for women in economics and finance

There is a 26.4% gender pay gap in the financial and insurance services—the largest gap of all industries—and poor career progression is a contributing factor. Women studying accounting and finance and those working in economics related fields will be able to access scholarships internships and other work experience opportunities to support their career development, including for women re-entering the workforce. Funded through the Women’s Leadership and Development Program, these scholarships will help create a talent pool and pipeline for diversity in business leadership for the future. 

Economic Independence

Financial independence and women’s safety

Women are more likely than men to face financial hardship following separation and divorce.

Chart 6: Economic impact of separation and divorceLink to extended text description is below

Source and note: Derived from HILDA release 16. Results compare changes in income and wealth for those who were married in 2010. The separated and divorced category includes everyone who went through a relationship breakdown in the four year period, regardless of their marital status in 2014. Equivalised income and wealth adjusts total household resources to account for sharing across multiple household members. Estimates are subject to sampling error; particular care should be taken in interpreting outcomes for the separated and divorced groups, given the relatively small sample sizes.

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Chart 7: Experience of at least one indicator of financial stress - women who are lone parents are most likely to report financial stress

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Source and note: Derived from HILDA release 16, for selected household types. Indicators of financial stress include an inability to pay bills or afford essential services, requiring financial assistance from others and selling assets due to a shortage of money.

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Women affected by domestic and family violence may be especially vulnerable to financial stress. If the costs of setting up a new home for themselves and their children seem unmanageable, they may be discouraged or prevented from leaving an abusive relationship.

The Australian Government is helping women who are leaving abusive relationships to ensure their safety and to help them recover their economic independence.

Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships, including Financial Support Services

The Australian Government will continue to fund existing Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships, and extend funding to include help with financial literacy to help women get on top of their finances—funding of $31.8 million.

Early access to superannuation

Women experiencing domestic and family violence will now also be able to apply for early access to part of their superannuation to help cover the significant costs of rebuilding their lives.

No interest loans

Good Shepherd Microfinance’s No Interest Loan scheme will help women at risk of domestic violence access finance when they most need it, without high interest holding back their financial recovery into the future. The loans will be able to assist with relocation, essential household items, rental bonds, or, where appropriate, debt consolidation—funding of $14.9 million over three years.

Family Violence and Cross-examination of Parties Scheme

Many women escaping family violence settle family law disputes for less than they are entitled to before they reach court trial because they fear being directly cross-examined by their ex-partner. The Australian Government will fund Legal Aid Commissions to support changes to family law that will ban direct cross-examination in some cases of this kind—funding of $7 million.

Making Settlement Faster and Fairer

Most women are unable to catch up financially after separation, with economic disadvantage still evident six years after separation. The Australian Government will implement the following measures to make settlement following separation faster, less costly and more equitable. This will lessen the impact of separation and divorce on women and speed their financial recovery.

Improve visibility of superannuation

This measure will reduce the complexity, cost and time it takes to find out about a former partner’s superannuation assets if they have not been fully disclosed in the course of separation or divorce. This will mean women can have a better idea what they are entitled to on separation and divorce.

Support to settle family law property matters outside court

An additional 31,850 families will be supported to resolve family law property disputes more quickly through two complementary mediation programs—funding of $50.4 million.

  • Expanding mediation available in Family Relationship Centres to include property matters
  • Legal Aid Commissions to trial lawyer-assisted mediation for small value property matters of up to $500,000

Small Claims Property Pilots

Quicker, simpler judicial processes to divide property valued up to $500,000 will reduce the legal costs of separation in small claims situations, leaving more money in women’s pockets.

Case Study: Lawyer-assisted property mediation pilot

Samira and Glen have separated after 14 years and need to divide their property. Samira thinks their property is worth less than $500,000 (not including their debt), but it’s complicated because Glen’s brother owns a third of the family home. Samira can’t afford a private lawyer and feels intimidated by Glen because he knows more about their finances than she does, and since the separation has been verbally abusive toward her.

Samira is so anxious about the situation that she is considering walking away from the relationship with nothing, until she hears that her local Legal Aid Commission can give her legal advice and support her to mediate a fair property settlement with Glen. Her experienced legal aid lawyer represented her during the mediation conference, which meant Glen couldn’t bully her, and they were able to reach an agreement Samira was happy with. Samira was relieved she didn’t have to accept an unfair agreement, and didn’t have to go to court to divide their property. If they couldn’t agree, Samira would have been supported by her legal aid lawyer through the court process.

Case Studies: Domestic Violence Units

Carol suffered high-risk domestic violence for more than 11 years. She separated from her partner but he was allowed some contact with their kids on weekends and school holidays. When Carol met with her ex-partner to pass the kids into his care, he physically assaulted her in front of them. Carol applied for a Domestic Violence Order but was denied. Women’s Legal Service Queensland Domestic Violence Unit helped Carol to successfully appeal the court’s decision and she was granted a Domestic Violence Order for five years.

Lyn came to Australia from overseas. She left her partner when he became violent towards her children. He threatened and intimidated her, telling her it would only stop if she came back. Lyn was struggling with the cost of rent and food, and the pressure to return was immense. But Women’s Legal Service Queensland help Lyn find a safe, stable home through its specialist Domestic Violence Unit, working with housing, immigration, health, legal and financial support services. Lyn said without the legal service’s support, everything would have been too hard and she would have returned to her abusive ex-partner.

Earning Potential

Expansion of Curious Minds

To encourage girls to train for the jobs of the future, the Curious Minds program, which has proven to be successful in encouraging interest in STEM at a young age, will be expanded—funding of $1.2 million.


Many Australian women, especially young women, find the idea of self-employment highly appealing, but lack the confidence, know-how or financial backing to pursue it.

Future Female Entrepreneurs

The Future Female Entrepreneurs program will engage around 55,000 girls and young women nationwide in a program encouraging entrepreneurs and self-employment—funding of $3.6 million.

Boosting Female Founders

To complement the range of measures supporting small business owners, a women’s start-up fund, Boosting Female Founders, will help increase entrepreneurship opportunities through co-funded grants to female-founded start-ups to engage in Australian and/or export markets—$18 million in funding for grants.

Chart 8: Occupational segregation

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Source: 2016 Census

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New Measures

The Women’s Economic Security Package: summary of new measures


Building on strong foundations

The Women’s Economic Security Package ($109 million over four years) is built around three pillars:

  • Workforce participation
  • Earning potential
  • Economic independence

Measures to increase women’s workforce participation ($54.8 million over four years) include:

  • reinstating the Time Use Survey, a contemporary evidence base to measure women’s economic security
  • improvements to Workplace Gender Equality Agency systems to enhance Australia’s gender equality data and reduce the cost of reporting for business
  • establishing a Forum on Reducing Barriers to Work;
  • increasing flexibility in the Paid Parental Leave system and extending access through changes to the work test
  • supporting regional employers through the Career Revive initiative to develop action plans for their business to attract and retain women returning to work after a career break
  • providing scholarships for women in economics and finance through the Women’s Leadership and Development Program.

Measures to support women’s economic independence ($35.6 million over four years) include:

  • providing Specialist Domestic Violence Units and Health Justice Partnerships, including for financial support services
  • extending early release of superannuation for victims of domestic and family violence
  • expanding the No Interest Loan Scheme run by Good Shepherd Microfinance to women experiencing family and domestic violence
  • funding legal assistance to ensure victims of family violence are appropriately protected from direct cross-examination by their perpetrators in family law matters
  • improving the visibility of superannuation assets in family law proceedings
  • providing family law property mediation
  • establishing a new Small Claims Property pilots program.

Measures to improve women's earning potential include ($18.6 million over four years):

  • an expansion of the Curious Minds program
  • establishing a Future Female Entrepreneurs program in partnership with the private sector
  • creating a new grants programs, Boosting Female Founders, to ensure women can access the finance they need to achieve their entrepreneurial goals

We're making Progress


Australia is closing the gap in women’s workforce participation

The 2014 G20 meeting in Brisbane saw leaders from G20 countries agree to reduce the gender participation gap between working aged men and women (aged 15 – 64 years) by 25% by 2025.

For Australia, this meant decreasing the gap by three percentage points from 12.1 (the 2012 starting point) to 9.1 percentage points by 2025. With the gap currently at 9.5 percentage points, we are well on our way to meeting this target.

At present 73.2% of women aged between 15 and 64 are in the labour force, compared to 82.7% of men.

Chart 4: Progress towards G20 workforce participation target

The chart shows the workforce participation rate for 15 to 64 years olds in October 2018 (the latest data) was 82.7% for men, and 73.2% for women. It shows the percentage point gap between the women’s and men’s workforce participation rates has decreased from 12.1 percentage points in 2012 to 9.5 percentage points in 2018.

Source: ABS cat. no. 6202.0, Labour Force, Australia, October - 2018

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The Australian Government is supporting women’s workforce participation through:

  • Child care reforms – a record investment in early learning and child care totalling $8.3 billion in 2018-19, leaving families on average $1,333 better off per child every year.
  • $351 million to expand the ParentsNext program to create a path to employment for parents who have young children and are at risk of long-term welfare dependency.
  • $64.3 million for a Jobs and Market Fund to support development of the disability care market – expected to provide greater business and employment opportunities for women – alongside roll out of the National Disability Insurance Scheme.
  • the More Choices for a Longer Life package, which includes $189.7 million to support mature age Australians to participate in the workforce.


The gender pay gap is narrowing

The gender pay gap has declined by 4.2 percentage points to a record low of 14.5% in May 2018, from 18.7% in November 2014, based on full-time average weekly ordinary time earnings1.

The Australian Government is working to reduce the gender pay gap further by increasing earnings and building foundations for economic independence.

Chart 5: The gender pay gap

the chart shows the gender pay gap has fallen from 18.7% in May 2014 to 14.5% in May 2018. The average weekly ordinary time earnings for men in May 2018 was $1677 compared to $1434 for women.

Source: ABS cat. no. 6302.0, Average Weekly Earnings, May-2018.

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Increasing earnings

Women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics

2018-19 Budget funding of $4.5 million over four years to advance women in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) will be used to: 

  • develop a Women in Science STEM Strategy to coordinate the Government’s efforts to increase women’s participation in STEM;
  • support the work of the new Women in STEM Ambassador who will focus on engaging with schools and school-aged girls;
  • develop a Girls in STEM Toolkit to improve the representation of girls in STEM education; and
  • develop a Decadal Plan for Women in STEM which will provide a roadmap for sustained increases in women’s STEM participation.

These commitments build on the $13 million National Innovation and Science Agenda (NISA) Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship initiative to encourage more women to choose and stay in STEM education and careers. This included funding for the Science in Australia Gender Equity (SAGE) project; the Women in STEM and Entrepreneurship grants program; and a new group of ‘Male Champions of Change’ focused on STEM based and entrepreneurial industries.

The Government’s $25 million investment in the Indigenous Girls STEM Academy—to support high achieving Indigenous girls from middle to high school years through to higher education and graduate employment - includes $5 million for the Stronger Smarter Institute to support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women who are teachers in STEM.

Women leaders and entrepreneurs

Roll out of the NBN is set to help up to 52,000 more Australian women become entrepreneurs, with an estimated 2.3% annual growth in the number of self-employed women in NBN connected locations, compared to just 0.1% in non-connected areas.

The Indigenous Business Sector Strategy (IBSS) and Indigenous Business Hubs will support Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women to start, improve and grow their own business.

The Government is increasing the number of women in senior leadership roles by investing over $1 million in board scholarships for women through the Australian Institute of Company Directors (AICD), and over $1 million for Women Leaders in Sport.

The BoardLinks program has been connecting qualified and skilled women directors with opportunities for appointment to Australian Government Boards. Women now hold 45.8% of positions on Australian Government Boards, and occupy 35% of Chair and Deputy Chair positions. This is expected to increase with recent changes that mean any woman can nominate as an interested candidate.

Building foundations for economic independence

The Australian Government wants to make sure women are able to make good financial decisions at all life stages, to protect their hard-earned savings and make the most of their retirement.


The Australian Government has introduced significant reforms to make it easier for women to build their superannuation. According to Australian Bureau of Statistics data, the gap between the median superannuation balance of men and women nearing retirement age has narrowed, from 47% in 2013-2014 to 42% in 2015-16.

To close this gap faster, the 2018-19 Budget included measures to protect superannuation balances by capping certain fees for low balance accounts and banning exit fees; allowing opt-in insurance for young members and those on low balance accounts; and measures to help reunite lost, low balance and inactive accounts with people’s active accounts.

Other Australian Government superannuation reforms also benefit women, such as extending the current spouse tax offset; removing the 10% rule for personal deductible contributions; and helping people ‘catch-up’ their superannuation contributions by allowing individuals with a total superannuation balance of less than $500,000 to carry forward their unused concessional cap amount for up to five years.

Financial capability

The 2018-19 Budget included $10 million in funding for specific initiatives to put women in control of their financial lives.

The National Financial Capability Strategy, launched in August 2018, emphasises initiatives to improve the scope and depth of financial literacy resources for women.

The Australian Securities and Investment Commission (ASIC) has updated its MoneySmart First Business App to include more case studies featuring women’s experiences as small business owners.  



1. Ordinary time earnings are used to calculate the gender pay gap. This means overtime hours are not included