Modern Australian

Australia’s performance on gender equality – are we fair dinkum?

  • Written by Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia

On International Women’s Day this year, Australia hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Not only did we fail to support a United Nations (UN) motion that called for greater accountability for human rights violations against women and girls, but comments made by our prime minister provoked international outrage.

The UN resolution proposed “policies and legislation that respect women and girls’ right to bodily autonomy”. Perhaps Australia refused to support this motion because some of its domestic laws effectively maintain sex discrimination against women.

Abortion is still restricted and even criminalised in some circumstances, in some Australian states, which impinges on women’s capacity to access safe reproductive healthcare.

Read more: Crowd-mapping gender equality – a powerful tool for shaping a better city launches in Melbourne

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, at an International Women’s Day event, generated controversy by saying:

We’re not about setting Australians against each other, trying to push some down and lift others up. We want to see women rise but we don’t want to see women rise only on the basis of others doing worse.

In contrast, UN Secretary General Antonio Gutteres, a “proud feminist” stated:

When we exclude women, everyone pays the price. When we include women, the whole world wins.

Following international media coverage, Morrison sought to clarify his earlier remarks:

What I was saying yesterday is I don’t want to see this agenda pursued by setting women against men. No. Australian against Australian. No. I want to bring all Australians together to focus on this. That’s what I’m fair dinkum about.

How Australia measures up

Fair dinkum though, these developments are disappointing. Australia was one of 47 states elected to a seat on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) for a 2018-2020 term. It currently has real potential to contribute to global progress on women’s rights.

Indeed, one of the five “pillars” of Australia’s bid for a HRC seat was gender equality. Foreign Minister Marise Payne recently reiterated Australia’s commitment to these pillars in her speech to the HRC.

We can measure whether Australia has demonstrated its commitment to its voluntary pledges as a member of the HRC in a number of ways. We can assess whether Australia’s public statements at the council address its objectives.

In 2018, gender equality was the most consistent theme of Australia’s statements before the council. Australia promoted gender equality through statements on violence against women, female genital mutilation, discrimination against women and women’s rights.

On this measure, then, Australia performed well.

Read more: Backlash and gender fatigue. Why progress on gender equality has slowed

In recent years, Australia has at times reacted with hostility to constructive critique from the UN human rights bodies.

But in June 2018, in response to a report from the UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, then Foreign Minister Julie Bishop struck a more diplomatic tone. Bishop thanked the special rapporteur for her report and commented:

Independent scrutiny, transparency and accountability are critical to upholding the human rights of all people and Australia welcomes such scrutiny. Australia is carefully considering the Special Rapporteur’s recommendations and appreciates the opportunity to make a preliminary response today.

In this area, then, Australia also appears to be doing better.

A poor record in Indigenous communities

But in the same statement, Australia acknowledged the following:

The Special Rapporteur noted particular concerns regarding the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women. We acknowledge and regret that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at higher levels than non-Indigenous Australian women. We must do better.

Indeed, the special rapporteur called on the Australian government to make policy in this area with – rather than for – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. She noted that current policy settings are insufficient to address the “institutional, systemic, multiple, intersecting forms of discrimination” experienced by Indigenous women and girls.

On top of that, Australia is falling down on its commitments in terms of how it responds to the human rights performance of other countries. The Universal Periodic Review process, administered by the HRC, scrutinises each UN state’s behaviour on cycles of four and a half years. According to a public database of recommendations, only 4% of Australia’s recommendations to other states related to gender equality.

Far fewer of Australia’s recommendations - 0.6% - related to its commitment “pillar” of Indigenous rights.

Read more: Parents can promote gender equality and help prevent violence against women. Here's how

Plenty of room for improvement

Gender equality is one of many areas in which Australia’s public discourse is poorly served by a lack of comprehensive human rights protection in our domestic law.

From the prime minister’s public comments to Australia’s diplomatic behaviour, there is considerable room for improvement if we are to be “fair dinkum” about gender equality.

Having secured a place on the HRC as a defender of gender equality, Australia ought to be beyond immature statements that depict women’s equality as necessarily diminishing men’s capacity or rights in society.

Authors: Fiona McGaughey, Lecturer, Law School, University of Western Australia

Read more http://theconversation.com/australias-performance-on-gender-equality-are-we-fair-dinkum-113657

NEWS

Lies, obfuscation and fake news make for a dispiriting – and dangerous – election campaign

The integrity of Australia's election process is under unprecedented pressure during this election.Wes Mountain/The Conversation, CC BY-NDThe integrity of Australia’s electoral processes is under unprecedented challenge in this federal election.The...

What's the school cleaner's name? How kids, not just cleaners, are paying the price of outsourcing

In Victoria in 1992, every government-employed school cleaner was terminated overnight.from shutterstock.comThis is an edited extract from The New Disruptors, the 64th edition of Griffith Review. It is a little...

how Western attitudes towards Islam have changed

Muslim clerics and members of the Pakistani Christian minority light candles to commemorate the victims of this week's bomb blasts in Sri Lanka. Islamic State has claimed responsibility for...

Vital signs. Zero inflation means the Reserve Bank should cut rates as soon as it can, on Tuesday week

The last time inflation was zero the Reserve Bank cut rates twice. It'll get the chance on May 7.ShutterstockWhat do US pizza executive Herman Cain, US conservative commentator Stephen Moore...

Bizarrely distributed and verging on extinction, this 'mystic' tree went unidentified for 17 years

Flowers of the mystical Hildegardia australiensis. I.D. Cowie, NT Herbarium.Author provided (No reuse)Sign up to the Beating Around the Bush newsletter here, and suggest a plant we should cover at...

Why the idea of alien life now seems inevitable and possibly imminent

Relative sizes of planets that are in a zone potentially compatible with life: Kepler-22b, Kepler-69c, Kepler-62e, Kepler-62f and Earth (named left to right; except for Earth, these are artists' renditions).NASA...

Think you're allergic to penicillin? There's a good chance you're wrong

A rash people assume is a reaction to penicillin may not be related to the drug at all.From shutterstock.comAre you allergic to penicillin? Perhaps you have a friend or relative...

'you’re always commenting on power'

Podcasters can introduce new voices to the conversations about the cities we live in.Salim October/ShutterstockMore and more podcasts about cities are being produced by journalists and academics. They’re being recorded...

you have the chance to stop fuelling devastation in the Amazon

Deforestation in the Amazon has accelerated since Brazilian president Bolsonaro scrapped environmental laws.ShutterstockThe effects of European consumption are being felt in Brazil, driving disastrous deforestation and violence. But the destruction...

All is forgiven in the Liberal embrace of Palmer

This election is acquiring quite a few back-to-the-future touches.There’s John Howard, in robust campaign mode. One of those he’s spruiking for is the embattled Tony Abbott, with a letter to...

Bat and bird poo can tell you a lot about ancient landscapes in Southeast Asia

A bat in a cave among the poo.Christopher Wurster, Author providedThe islands of Sumatra, Borneo and Java were once part of a much larger landmass connected to Asia called Sundaland...

Islamic State has claimed responsibility for the Sri Lanka terror attack. Here's what that means

In the wake of any tragedy, it should be enough to grieve and stand in solidarity with those who mourn. With a massive toll – at least 359 dead and...

Popular articles from Modern Australian

What to Do When Traveling From Australia to USAWhat we should know about ‘nitric oxide’ and why we need more of itDownsizing: What Is Too Small?5 unique ways to extract toxins from your bodyThe Art Of Bell-RingingModern Snapback Hats trending in Australia6 Mistakes to Avoid When Moving Overseas5 Tips Designed to Help Accentuate Your Hourglass FigureRoyal Edinburgh Military TattooThe inaugural Bondi Ocean Lovers FestivalHow to Plan a Remodeling at Home: Tips and TricksAchieving Facial Symmetry with RhinoplastyHow to Choose the Best Colors for Your BedroomFind Here the 3 Best Online Pokies in AustraliaHair Loss and Transplant Solutions