On 8 March, International Women’s Day marks a time when we’ll be highlighting and honouring the women in our lives and their vast and varied contributions to our society.

I want to say this upfront as the most important thing I can say on this day: to all the women from all walks of life we’ve served through our housing and community services – you continuously inspire us with your resilience, drive, grit and achievements. We want to continue working together with you, to help all women in Australia to thrive.

There’s so much to celebrate about women across Australia, but still in 2024, there’s so much that can stop women from flourishing.

This year’s International Women’s Day theme is Count Her In: Invest in Women. Accelerate Progress. This theme focuses on the need to invest more in women to achieve gender equality – a goal that the UN committed to reaching by 2030. We haven’t seen nearly enough investment to make this a reality yet. But if we influence, agitate and advocate to accelerate progress and invest in solutions that ensure all women – including those most vulnerable – can thrive in Australia, it’s my hope that we will be having an entirely different conversation in years to come.

Spoiler alert: although more International Women’s Day morning teas are a great way to connect to the conversation, they aren’t the answer to gender inequality.

Women and girls make up the majority of people living in poverty in Australia. Women are more likely to have casual or part-time jobs, and they are more likely to be sole carers of children.1 Women are likely to earn less than men, with the gender pay gap sitting at 21.7%. This means that on average, for every dollar that men earn in Australia, women earn 78 cents.2 Australia must do better.

We also know from the data and our experience on the frontline, too many women are facing homelessness. They’re our grandmothers, mums, aunties, siblings, friends and colleagues who are slipping into the homelessness abyss – and a lot of the time they aren’t reaching out for help when they need it.

It’s truly concerning that women over the age of 55 are the fastest growing group of people who are homeless, which can be because of low retirement savings and superannuation, not owning their own home, or later-in-life shocks like health concerns or divorce. In the past three years, Mission Australia’s homelessness services have also seen a huge 83 per cent increase in women over the age of 55 seeking our help.

Women are also more far more likely than men to experience domestic and family violence, which is a major driver of homelessness. The number of people escaping domestic and family violence accessing our homelessness services has doubled in the past three years. Every day there are brave women across Australia, making the challenging choice between escaping violence and becoming homeless, or staying in an unsafe and high-risk situation to avoid homelessness. The skyrocketing cost of living, very limited availability of affordable housing and rentals, the low level of income supports, financial constraints and the cost of childcare all impact on a woman’s decision whether to stay or leave an abusive relationship.

As CEO of Mission Australia, I remain committed to being a courageous female voice advocating for gender equality and government policies that invest in and support women, alongside all people in need.

Ensuring women have access to local safe, secure and affordable accommodation is a key solution. We urgently need to see early and measurable investment into the one million new social and affordable homes required to meet growing demand over the next 20 years, and we also need funding for a new $500 million Prevention Transformation Fund to shift the homelessness service system from crisis to prevention. The Federal Government must also lift income support payments from just $54 per day, or $19,000 per year, to at least $78 a day.

If women are properly supported to avoid homelessness altogether, imagine the positive ripple effects this will have on our communities.

I am so grateful that as CEO of Mission Australia I get to work with so many amazing people on these issues. Our female staff make up around three-quarters of our workforce and they’re the majority on our Board. I applaud all the women working and volunteering with us for your commitment, support and hard work. I especially want to thank those who provide quality support and care, case management and safe homes for women in their time of need.

While we’re pleased with how we compare with other organisations on the gender equality front, Mission Australia is always striving to do better. In 2024, our gender pay gap is 4%, down from 6.6% in 2023. We have more women in leadership roles, we’re empowering a workplace culture that promotes flexible work, and we’re always strengthening our practices to ensure financial wellbeing of women when they take time away from Mission Australia to have and raise children. We have firmly embedded practices to bring women back into our workforce and more opportunities for promotion and professional development. Our Family & Domestic Violence Policy is available to staff experiencing, or at risk of domestic violence so they can receive confidential support and extra leave over and above the 10 legislated personal leave days.

I’m sure this resonates with many when I say: this International Women’s Day, let’s reach beyond the coffee and cake. Women want to accelerate progress, we want gender equality now, and we want to live in a country where every woman has the opportunity to succeed and where everyone has a safe, secure home and equal opportunity to thrive. Let’s keep working together to make this vision a reality.


Photo of Sharon, CEO of Mission Australia.


Sharon Callister
CEO Mission Australia


1 Poverty-in-Australia-2023_Who-is-affected.pdf (acoss.org.au)
2 Workplace Gender Equality Agency’s Gender Equality Scorecard 2022-23

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