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UN releases findings on Australia’s commitment to women

The UN has expressed concern over Australia’s treatment of women following an extensive study into Australia’s commitment to women’s rights

The United Nations has suggested that Australia reviews its commitment to women’s rights and implement policy changes to protect women and girls.

The recommendations come as The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) reveals the results from its study into Australia’s commitment to women.

Although the Committee has commended Australia on amendments to policies, such as the Marriage Act and Crime Acts, concerns over the Sex Discrimination Act, legal frameworks of gender equality and treatment of women remain prime concerns.

“The Committee stresses the crucial role of the legislative power in ensuring the full implementation of the Convention,” CEDAW wrote in its concluding observations.

“It invites Parliament, in line with its mandate, to take the necessary steps regarding the implementation of the present concluding observations between now and the submission of the next periodic report under the Convention.”

Below are concerns and recommendations CEDAW has made.

Human Rights Frameworks

Australia remains the only Western democracy without a Human Rights Charter, which was predicted to be reviewed by CEDAW leading up to the review.

The Committee recommends that Australia, “Fully incorporate the Convention into domestic law by adopting a Charter of Human Rights including a guarantee of equality of women and men, as required by article 2 of the Convention.”

The Committee suggests harmonising federal, state and territory legislation on anti-discrimination based on the best practices in line with the Convention. The capacity of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights should also be strengthened.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls

CEDAW has questioned Australia’s insufficient funding for the National Congress of Australia’s First People’s, noting that Indigenous women face difficulties in accessing health services and are at higher risk of homelessness and unemployment.

High suicide rates and the high number of children being removed from their mothers were also of concern. The Committee recommended that policies be implemented to combat the climbing statistics and work to achieve equality.

By implementing a Charter of Human Rights, CEDAW recommends recognising the First Nations in the Constitution to enable indigenous women to claim their rights.

Refugee women and girls

The Committee noted Australia “violates its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian laws”, including processing and separating families.

Prime concerns include preventing refugees from claiming asylum under ‘Operation Sovereign Borders’, the difficulty in processing refugees in Nauru due to the deprived right to fair and efficient asylum procedures and the mandatory detention.

Following the reveal of alleged sexual violence and child abuse on Nauru, CEDAW also had concerns on women and girls’ exposure to rape, sexual abuse and physical harm by staff and locals, often without access to justice.

“[Australia] is responsible for all its actions affecting human rights, regardless of whether the persons affected are on its territory or not, and that all persons having attempted to enter its territory and are subject to Australian refugee status determination procedures fall under the responsibility of the State party,” the Committee noted.

In its recommendations, CEDAW suggests Australia should stop returning asylum seeking women and girls at sea and guarantee that they can claim asylum, stop offshore processing in Nauru and ensure all women have access to gender-sensitive and fair refugee status and repeal provisions in mandatory detention.

Senior Lawyer with the Human Rights centre, Freya Dinshaw, said: “The treatment of women and girls to dangerous conditions in offshore refugee camps need to stop.”

Violence and sexual harassment against women

CEDAW noted concern over the high statistics of women suffering from gender-based violence, adding that the lack of national legislation prohibiting violence against women is preventing the equal protection of both genders.

“Three out of ten women have suffered physical violence, one out of five sexual violence and one out of four violence by an intimate partner, and that 82 per cent of women having experienced violence by their current partner have not reported such violence to the police,” the Committee wrote.

To reduce violence, CEDAW recommended reinforcing efforts to address the attitudes and behaviours that lead to violence, adopt commonwealth legislation in line with the Convention to prohibit all forms of gender-based violence and expedite establishment of data on femicide and violence against women with disabilities.

The Committee maintains concern over the pay gap and violence at the hands of co-workers and superiors in the workplace.

“The Committee notes with concern that 48 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace and that fear of dismissal often prevents them from reporting such incidents,” CEDAW wrote. “It is also concerned that one in 10 women have been sexually harassed at university over the past two years.”

Women in politics

CEDAW has welcomed the move of the Office for Women to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet to promote gender mainstreaming in government policies and programs, however, it is concerned the office is unable to follow this through.

“It is concerned that the Office for Women is unable to efficiently carry out this mandate and to coordinate, on the basis of measurable targets, policies and mechanism for gender equality throughout the State party,” CEDAW wrote.

The Committee is also concerned at the slow increase in women’s representations in the State party’s federal Parliament, an issue recently analysed by Plan International Australia who found treatment of women was dissuading girls to join politics.

The poll, which found only 5 per cent of girls aged 18-25 wanted to work in politics, followed the mistreatment of Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young by Liberal Democrat senator David Leyonhjelm.

Plan International Australia charity director of advocacy, Hayley Cull, said: “When you consider how female politicians are still treated in parliament and the media in this country, is it any wonder the next generation has no desire to expose themselves to this world? There’s a saying that you can only be what you see.”

The Committee recommends adopting a comprehensive national gender equality policy with performance indicators to address concerns and ensure that the Office for Women has a strong mandate to coordinate the implementation of the policy.

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