As International Women’s Day (IWD) comes around, it’s time to celebrate the battles and triumphs of women around the globe. It’s also time for all manner of corporations and organisations to showcase their achievements and solidarity with half of the population.

Unfortunately, too often it seems like a social media post means ‘job done’.  It’s past time to turn the sentiments embraced during IWD into tangible action.

The profit-to-member super industry takes issues affecting women seriously, and it has been advocating through AIST (Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees) for meaningful change for two decades. One of those measures was enacted earlier this year when the Superannuation Guarantee threshold of $450 a month from one employer was scrapped.

This measure overwhelmingly affected women in low-income and casual work. Scrapping it will mean the 197,000 women and 114,000 men who didn’t receive superannuation will receive superannuation on every dollar they earn.

Critics may carp $40 a month won’t make a massive difference, but it will make a difference to these workers’ level of comfort and dignity in retirement. This can be built on if  bold yet pragmatic and equitable policy decisions are made.

Gender pay gap is key

It’s also worth noting fixing superannuation in isolation from the greater problem of the gender pay gap is not enough.  If a woman doesn’t earn the same as a man, she won’t accrue the same superannuation.

Women working fulltime earn 13.8 per cent less than men. If we include part-time workers, the majority of whom are women, the gender pay gap is 22.8 per cent,  according to the Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA), or $25,792.

This feeds into the very real problems facing women in retirement. They are overwhelmingly more likely than men to reduce their work hours or take a career break because of parenting and other caring roles, which leaves their retirement balances on average $159,590 lower than the average man’s balance.

Single women over 60 are the fastest growing cohort of homeless people in Australia, something that can be interpreted, in part, as the result of a lifetime in low paid employment.

A number of problems facing women in retirement can be fixed with little more than a stroke of the pen.

Here is some of what we’ve asked the Government to consider in this year’s budget:

  • Superannuation should be paid on parental leave. (It’s the only paid leave that doesn’t attract super.)
  • It must re-commit to the legislated increase of the Superannuation Guarantee to 12% by 1 July 2025.
  • The objective of the retirement income system should be legislated to ensure superannuation is used for nothing other than retirement savings, except in exceptional circumstances.
  • Improving the equity of tax concessions, which are heavily skewed towards high-income men, and are accessed by twice as many men as women
  • The impact of future policy changes to super on women must be measured and published.

This is not a polemic against International Women’s Day, indeed, it is the one day on which most organisations and media celebrate the achievements of women.

Sadly, true gender equity is a 365 day a year job.

Let’s not down tools as the sun sets on IWD 2022.

This is an edited extract of Eva Scheerlinck’s International Women’s Day op-ed – you can read the full text here

Eva Scheerlinck is CEO of the Australian Institute of Superannuation Trustees

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