It’s time for action on equal honours this Queen’s Birthday

Australian women are at the frontline of our nation’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the lead-up to the announcement of the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Order of Australia awards, community movement Honour a Woman and the Workplace Gender Equality Agency are encouraging all state and territory governments to develop and embed gender equality-focused nomination processes for the Australian Honours to ensure women receive due recognition for their essential work.

Women in STEMM Australia supports this call to action to ensure women in science, technology, engineering, mathematics, health and medicine (STEMM) – in every professional sector – are nominated.

CEO Dr Marguerite Evans-Galea AM said that being recognised as a Member of the Order of the Australia was a humbling, rewarding and energising experience. Evans-Galea says women in STEMM play an important role in Australia’s future. “In 2020 alone, Australia has faced its worst bushfires, a pandemic, and now a recession – and it’s only June. STEMM has been, and will continue to be, central to navigating these challenges successfully.”

Dr Evans-Galea said Australia will face new hurdles and that a diverse range of voices is needed to brain-storm the best ideas, have robust debate, and devise effective solutions. “And we need to recognise those voices”, said Dr Evans-Galea. “Many women in STEMM are deserving of an Australian Honour.”

“Honour a Woman’s advocacy has contributed to more women being honoured in the Order of Australia over the last three years”, said Honour a Woman co-founder, Dr Elizabeth Hartnell-Young. “However, this improvement in gender equality will only be sustained when there are deliberate mechanisms to generate nominations of women in each state and territory.”

The majority of Honours are now awarded to men (approximately 60%) and statistics provided by the Governor General’s Office to Honour a Woman show significant gender disparities across the states and territories in the 2020 Australia Day Honours:
– Western Australia, 28.8% of the 52 awards went to women
– Australian Capital Territory, 32.1% of the 28 awards went to women
– Northern Territory, 35.7% of the 14 awards went to women
– New South Wales, 36% of the 257 awards went to women
– Queensland, 41.1% of the 112 awards went to women
– Tasmania: 46.9% of the 32 awards went to women
– South Australia: 49.2% of the 61 awards went to women
– Victoria: 49.8% of the 265 awards went to women

“We welcome the recent progress towards gender equality, but the results are not consistent nor sustained around Australia,” said Libby Lyons, Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency and an Ambassador for Honour a Woman. “If we’re serious about improving gender equality, then it’s necessary to set targets and measure and report on progress to achieve sustainable change.”

Evans-Galea says that women from underrepresented identity groups must also be included. “It’s important there is an inclusive approach taken and an intersectional lens applied throughout the entire process – from who gets nominated to who is recognised on the day.”

“The pathway for embedding equality in the Order of Australia is for states and territories to have dedicated systems to ensure outstanding women are nominated. Victoria has reached gender equality through a state-driven nomination program,” said Carol Kiernan, co-founder, Honour a Woman. “Recognition Matters has increased the proportion of Honours awarded to Victorian women from 35% in the 2018 Australia Day Honours to almost 50% in 2020. Other states such as South Australia and Tasmania did well in the last Honours round compared to previous years, but unless dedicated systems are in place, we risk leaving equality to chance.”

Honour a Woman proposes four possible models: appointing an awards officer to support community nominations (the Victorian model); forming a sub-committee of existing state councils for women; funding a national group such as the National Council of Women to undertake the task through its affiliates; or establishing Order of Australia Nominating Working Parties in each jurisdiction.

“The states and territories have a vital role in ensuring that the Order of Australia recognises the exceptional contribution of all Australians,” said Ruth McGowan OAM, co-founder Honour a Woman. “It is time for action to celebrate men’s and women’s achievements equally.”

Media Contact: Murray Black 0438 071 876 / E

About the Agency: The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) is an Australian Government statutory agency charged with promoting and improving gender equality in Australian workplaces.

About Honour a Woman: Honour a Woman is a non-partisan movement working towards gender equality in the Order of Australia.

Credit: This article was adapted from the media release of Honour a Woman and WGEA

Photos: Government House, Victoria 2019 Queen’s Birthday Investiture – Copyright © 2019 Kit Haselden Photography; Adrienne Bizzarri Photography; Foster Photography; photos provided to Women in STEMM Australia