Advocacy groups say it’s time Australia increased the number of women on the honours list. (AAP: Paul Miller)
There are renewed calls for a shake-up of the nation’s honours program, with less than a third of awards going to women in the Order of Australia’s four-decade history.
- Nearly two-thirds of last year’s Queen’s Birthday Order of Australia award recipients were men
- Both men and women are more likely to nominate another man for the award
- Advocates are pushing for a more proactive way of nominating women
The latest recipients will be announced on the Queen’s Birthday holiday on Monday.
Nearly two-thirds of last year’s Queen’s Birthday Order of Australia award recipients were men.
Since 1975, only 30 per cent of the honours have gone to women, prompting concerns Australia is not doing enough to recognise women.
New Zealand and the United Kingdom had faced similar representation issues until recent years.
But improvements across the ditch — where there has been equal representation in the past two years — has prompted advocacy groups to demand Australia catch up.
Director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency Libby Lyons said the problem even extended to traditionally female-dominated workforces.
“The education industry, I think, maybe think that because they are female-dominated they don’t have a problem,” she said.
“Well, actually, they do. They have a huge problem.”
Out of the 31 categories, 28 had more male nominees than female nominees in Australia last year. Eight categories had no women nominated at all.
Ms Lyons said nearly 80 per cent of the workers in education were women, but men made up 58 per cent of the nominees in that field last year.
Men were more likely to nominate other men for an award — but women were also more likely to nominate a man.
But Ms Lyons said there was hope. For example, the only nominee in the mining category last year was a woman.
“That is also an indication of the work that the mining industry has been doing to attract women into that industry; to address the gender pay gap in that industry,” she said.
“And the mining industry now has the lowest gender pay gap of any industry in Australia.
“The more we talk about it, the more we shine a spotlight on it, the more we will get people engaged to nominate.”
‘There’s no reason why Australia can’t look at that’
Carol Kiernan is the co-founder of advocacy group Honour A Woman.
She said other countries were showing that equal representation on an honours list was possible.
“New Zealand and the United Kingdom, they’re really looking at how they can get more gender equality, and the United Kingdom’s actually almost got to that point now,” she said.
She said she would like to see Australia adopt a more proactive way of nominating women and a more transparent selection process to try to replicate those results.
“Theresa May made that a matter of importance for her, to actually work on highlighting people in the community — disabled, women, all sorts of different categories that are being forgotten — and that’s made a difference in the UK,” she said.
“So there’s no reason why Australia can’t look at that as well.
“The New Zealand Government has made a concerted effort to boost the number of women on its honours lists.”
Dr Elizabeth Hartnell-Young, Carol Kiernan and Ruth McGowan OAM founded Honour A Woman to boost representation. (Supplied: Honour A Woman)
That has required leadership from the top of government and efforts to help the community submit stronger applications — but it’s working.
Women only made up 36 per cent of names on one New Zealand honours list in 2015.
But by last year, they made up 56 per cent of the Queen’s Birthday list.
They have continued to make up half the recipients, or more, on lists since then.
‘It will fix itself in time’ — but ‘not through doing nothing’
University of Canterbury professor of law, Elisabeth McDonald, became a Member of the New Zealand Order of Merit last year for her pro bono work on sexual and family violence and with trans and intersex communities.
She thinks Australia should be able to catch up.
“Well you’d like to think that 50 per cent isn’t that difficult, given the number of women in workplaces and certainly at a community level contributing to volunteer work,” she said.
But she said New Zealand still had work to do, too, especially to boost the number of women receiving the more prestigious awards.
“My sense would be that at the sort of community level women are getting recognised, but at the higher levels it’s still probably more likely to be men,” she said.
Australian award recipient Janet McCalman said, as a historian, she remained optimistic that the issue would improve in the years to come.
“It will fix itself in time, as all sorts of other things have fixed themselves,” she said.
“But not through doing nothing.”