Australian SDGs Hub


Economic growth, social stability and sustainable development are impeded when half the world’s population is held back by discrimination. For girls and women, disadvantaged access to education, workplace opportunities and resources limits the ability to participate in political, civil and cultural life.

The world has made great progress on gender inequality and the empowerment of women and girls, including greater access to education for girls, reduced rates of child marriage and improvements in sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Despite this, much work remains. As of 2014, some 52 countries had made no commitment to guarantee equality between the sexes.1

Globally, the percentage of women aged 20-24 who reported being married at 17 or younger was 26% around 2015 (down from 32% in 1990), with rates of child marriage highest in Southern Asia and sub-Saharan Africa at 44% and 37%, respectively.1

In the political realm, the proportion of women politicians climbed 6 percentage points over a decade to reach 23% by 2016.1 Women hold 32% of the seats in Australia’s Federal Parliament.

A major 2016 gender gap report by the World Economic Forum (WEF) ranked Australia only 46th for overall gender equality based on economic, educational, health and political measures.2

In the Australian workplace, men are paid more than women in nearly every scenario, with the full-time gender pay gap approximately 18%.3 This means that a woman earns on average 82% of a man’s pay.

Safety is another issue domestically, with one woman killed in Australia each week by a current of former partner.4 Indigenous and Torres Strait Islander women are 32 times more likely to be hospitalised as a result of violence-related assault than non-Indigenous women.4


How is this relevant to business?

Women’s rights are human rights, and it is incumbent on all businesses to respect gender equality.

There is also a strong business case for taking action. Diverse and inclusive workplaces are good for business and the economy. Organisations that respect and value diversity are better able to attract and retain high performers, reduce staff turnover costs, enhance operational performance, improve access to target markets and strengthen their reputation.5

A diversity of skills, expertise, backgrounds, ages, ethnicity and gender in boardrooms helps with decision making capabilities, lessens the risk of ‘group-think’ and ensures stronger connections with customers, employees and other stakeholders.6

“Talent and technology together will determine how the Fourth Industrial Revolution can be harnessed to deliver sustainable economic growth and innumerable benefits to society. Yet if half of the world’s talent is not integrated— as both beneficiary and shaper—into the transformations underway, we will compromise innovation and risk a rise in inequality. This urgency is at the core of a fresh call to action to accelerate progress towards gender equality, adding to the well-established economic case for gender equality.” (World Economic Forum, 2016)


What can business do?

Business can impact positively and negatively on gender equality in myriad ways, at all steps of the value chain – including impacts on women and girls who are employees, consumers, workers in the supply chain, or members of the community in which a business operates. Accordingly, businesses have a responsibility to ensure they respect gender equality.

Businesses also have significant opportunities to advance and promote gender equality.

Businesses can also look at their sphere of influence to encourage others to promote gender equality.

Act Responsibly

  • Identify any ways that the business might be contributing to gender inequality and think broadly in doing so (e.g. impacts on women in communities near project sites; gender implications of environmental impacts; product development, pricing and marketing)
  • Respect human rights and bring a gender lens to human rights implementation (see our Human Rights page for more information)
  • Commit to the Women’s Empowerment Principles
  • Have zero tolerance for workplace discrimination
  • Pay men and women the same rate for the work they do
  • Invest in policies and programs which support women in the workforce and encourage organisations in the value chain to do the same

Find Opportunity

  • Create inclusive business models
  • Increase the proportion of women on company boards and in senior roles, and invest in policies and programs which support women in the workforce and encourage suppliers and partners to do the same
  • Provide female entrepreneurs and small business owners with training and support and include them in supply chains
  • In male-dominated industries help attract women to employment by creating a gender-sensitive work environment, including investing in gender awareness training, accommodating women’s needs
  • Implement policies, training and support programs to end sexual exploitation, domestic violence and other violence against women perpetrated by employees and others in the community
  • View the women’s market as a distinct opportunity
  • Eliminate unhelpful stereotyping from advertising


Links between Goal 5 and the UN Global Compact’s ten principles

Human Rights & Labour (UN Global Compact Principles 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6)

Gender equality is a fundamental and inviolable human right. Gender equality is also a key enabler for the enjoyment of other human rights, all of which everyone is entitled to regardless of status including gender as recognised in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Environment (UN Global Compact Principles 7, 8, 9)

Women, particularly those in developing countries, also are among the world’s most vulnerable to environmental stress given roles such as gatherers of water and food growers. Weather extremes, flooding, resource depletion and destruction of ecosystems threaten to tip vulnerable populations into poverty (or further into poverty).

Women are also crucial to the successful development of solutions to world-scale environmental challenges such as climate change and over-exploitation of natural resources. This in part relates to the role of women in determining consumption and production patterns.

Anti-Corruption (UN Global Compact Principle 10)

Corruption disproportionately harms women, according to Independent US-based research institution, The Wilson Center, as they are overly represented among the world’s poor and illiterate populations.7


1 United Nations (2016),

2 World Economic Forum (2016),

3 Bankwest Curtin Economics Centre and Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2016),

4 Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (2017),

5 Workplace Gender Equality Agency (2016),

6 KPMG (2016),

7 The Wilson Center (2016),


End all forms of discrimination against all women and girls everywhere

Eliminate all forms of violence against all women and girls in the public and private spheres, including trafficking and sexual and other types of exploitation

Eliminate all harmful practices, such as child, early and forced marriage and female genital mutilation

Recognize and value unpaid care and domestic work through the provision of public services, infrastructure and social protection policies and the promotion of shared responsibility within the household and the family as nationally appropriate

Ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life

Ensure universal access to sexual and reproductive health and reproductive rights as agreed in accordance with the Programme of Action of the International Conference on Population and Development and the Beijing Platform for Action and the outcome documents of their review conferences

Undertake reforms to give women equal rights to economic resources, as well as access to ownership and control over land and other forms of property, financial services, inheritance and natural resources, in accordance with national laws

Enhance the use of enabling technology, in particular information and communications technology, to promote the empowerment of women

Adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels



The Women’s Empowerment Principles – an initiative of the UN Global Compact and UN Women – provide practical guidance for business on how to empower women in the workplace, marketplace and community. The initative’s website also provides links to related tools and resources.

Australia’s Male Champions of Change initiative is working with influential leaders to take action on gender inequality and provides a range of tools and resources.

Gender Equality Principles self-assessment: A diagnostic tool developed to assist companies in implementing and promoting the GEP. For internal use only (there is no final grade or score assigned to users), it allows companies to establish a baseline, identify areas of strength and opportunities for improvement, leverage extensive indicators and resources, and set goals and objectives to strengthen gender-related policies, practices, and organisational culture. Progress can also be measured and compared by different divisions and over time.

The Understanding and Measuring Women’s Economic Empowerment This is a conceptual guide rather than an operational tool kit. The general framework requires adaptation to meet the needs of specific projects.

For more goal-related tools, go to the Inventory of Business Tools webpage on the SDG Compass website. Businesses can explore and find commonly used tools when assessing their impact on SDGs.