Reflecting on the milestones of Australian women—International Women’s Day

Reflecting on the milestones of Australian women—International Women’s Day

Office for Women
Wednesday, 11 March 2020

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet

International Women's Day #IWD2020 #GenerationEquality

International Women’s day (IWD) is a day celebrated around the world every year on 8 March. IWD offers us the opportunity to stop and reflect on the inspirational women in our lives, the progress society has made on women’s rights and the work we still need to do.

This year’s theme, ‘Generation Equality: Realizing women’s rights for an equal future’, recognises the importance of gender equality. 

As we acknowledge International women’s day for 2020 we’ve taken some time to reflect on the milestones which have helped shape equality for Australian women and girls.


Women gained the right to attend university, and married women the right to own property, thanks to the Victorian Women’s Suffrage Society, formed in1884.


The Working Women’s Trades Union was established to create better working conditions for young women.


Non-Indigenous women won the right to vote in federal elections in 1902 and were allowed to stand for the Australian Parliament for the first time.


A pioneer for women in Parliament, Dame Enid Lyons AD, GBE was the first woman elected to the House of Representatives in 1943.


Indigenous men and women were awarded the right to enrol and vote in Federal elections.


The Women’s Electoral Lobby was formed and has since helped Australian women achieve fairer pay, workplace opportunity, protection from discrimination and safety from violence.


A million Australian women were granted equal pay by the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission.


Australia’s first ever female Cabinet Minister was appointed in 1975. Dame Margaret Guilfoyle AC, DBE held the portfolio of Education and Social Security. She was a strong advocate for social security funding.


South Australia was the first state to criminalise marital rape giving women protection of the criminal law regardless of marital status.


Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser appoints the first ever Minister to assist the Prime Minister in Women’s Affairs—the then Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, Tony Street.


Australia ratified the United Nation’s Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women in 1983.


The same year saw the appointment of first female Minister assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women, Susan Ryan AO.


The Sex Discrimination Act was introduced, which prohibited discrimination on the basis on sex, marital or relationship status, pregnancy, sexual orientation and breastfeeding in public areas.


The Affirmative Action Act (Equal Employment Opportunity for Women) was introduced to create equal employment for Australian women in the workforce.


The first Australian female head of Government, Rosemary Follett AO, was appointed Chief Minister in the ACT.


Nova Peris was the first Indigenous Australian to win an Olympic gold medal for the women’s hockey team in 1996.


The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act was introduced to improve and promote equality in the workplace and remove barriers to women’s workforce participation.


Dame Quentin Alice Louise Bryce is the first woman to hold the position of Governor-General of Australia


The Commonwealth established the National Council to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.


Australia’s first ever female Prime Minister, Julia Gillard AC was sworn in.


The Australian Government released the first ever National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children 2010-2022.


Defence Minister Stephen Smith announced women would be allowed to serve in frontline combat roles by 2016.


The Workplace Gender Equality Act was introduced to promote improved gender equality in Australian workplaces.


The Advisory Panel to Reduce Violence Against Women was established. The panel included 2015 Australian of the Year and domestic violence campaigner, Rosie Batty AO. The panel provided advice to the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) on issues of domestic and family violence, and made recommendations for Government responses.

This led to the release of the $100 million Women’s Safety Package.


The Advisory Panel submitted its final report to COAG, containing six areas for action and 28 recommendations. This informed the Third Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children in 2017 supported by a $100 million funding package.


The Australian Government announced the Women’s Economic Security Statement which provided more than $100 million dedicated to practical measures to support women’s economic empowerment, including financial independence.


The Civil Law and Justice Legislation Amendment Bill 2018 was passed, removing all barriers preventing women from performing combat roles in the Australian Defence Force from the Sex Discrimination Act 1984.


The Council of Australian Governments released the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children. This was supported by a $340 million funding package from the Australian Government.

Australian women have achieved a lot over the years but there is still work to be done. The Australian Government and the Office for Women are committed to progressing policies and programs that advance gender equality, improve women’s economic empowerment and leadership choices and ensure all women are safe from violence.