As debate rages over sexism and misogyny in federal politics and across the country, a global survey has found Australian women are the most economically empowered in the world.

Australia topped a list of 128 countries for women's access to education, equal pay, childcare and anti-discrimination policies.

The study, by international consulting and management firm Booz & Company, found Australia was the global leader despite its women still being paid 17 per cent less than men.

Helen Conway, Director, EOWA. 2011.Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.BRW PR Image: NO CREDIT

Helen Conway, Director, EOWA. 2011.Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency.BRW PR Image: NO CREDIT

Helen Conway, the director of the federal government's Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency, said the report reflected that Australian women were among the best educated in the world and had a national paid parental leave scheme.

But she warned the broader reality for Australian women relative to similar countries was not as optimistic as the report suggested. ''Australia has a relatively low female workforce participation rate (Australia was ranked 14th in the participation rate of women of the 34 OECD nations in 2010), and a gender pay gap … that refuses to budge,'' she said.

''There is a large body of research showing Australia has a long way to go in removing barriers to women's workforce participation.''

The Booz report ranked Australia above three Scandinavian countries - Norway, Sweden and Finland. New Zealand was fifth. At the bottom were Yemen, Pakistan, Sudan and Chad.

The Workplace Relations Minister, Bill Shorten, said the report showed Australia was doing ''more than most'' to maximise the full potential of women, but needed to do more, including closing the gender pay gap.

''In Australia, women hold just 14 per cent of board seats in Australian companies, just five CEOs of our top 200 companies are women and a quarter of our top 200 companies have no women on their boards at all,'' he said.

Ms Conway said more than 50 per cent of university graduates in Australia were women, but that had not translated to substantial increases in the percentage of women in corporate leadership positions. ''We are wasting our female talent,'' Ms Conway said.

Across the world, the survey found up to 1 billion women will enter the workforce in the next decade.

It argues the burgeoning populations of India and China have received plenty of attention, but less heed was paid to the 1 billion women improving their economic circumstances.

Using data from the World Economic Forum and the Economist Intelligence Unit, the report looks at whether wages are equal, the number of women in work compared with men, and whether there is equality in the number of women managers, senior business leaders and politicians.

It argues the huge jump in women employers and employees, managers and entrepreneurs would power global economic growth, but key decision-makers in many countries had failed to fully study its impact.

The research found women face common challenges. ''Around the world, women are the primary caregivers for children, the elderly and the sick, and this responsibility hampers their economic development,'' a Booz & Company partner, DeAnne Aguirre, said.

She said several elements were critical in increasing access to work, including widespread, affordable care for children, the elderly and the sick; cultural changes to share care work between men and women; and recognition by the private sector of the importance of care work for all employees. The EOWA releases a census of women in leadership next month.