CEDAW Opening Statement
Speech by Elizabeth Broderick
and Commissioner responsible for Age Discrimination
Australian Human Rights Commission
Delivered to the CEDAW Committee on 19 July 2010
Monday, 19 July 2010
UN Headquarters, New York
Madame Chair, thank you for the opportunity to address the Committee as part
of its review of Australia’s implementation of the Convention on the
Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. As the only
National Human Rights Institution appearing today I am honoured to have this
opportunity to present to the Committee.
I am Australia’s Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner representing
the Australian Human Rights Commission. The Commission is an independent
statutory authority, established in compliance with the Paris Principles. The
Commission administers the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984,
which gives effect to many of Australia’s obligations as a signatory to
By virtue of our complaint handling function and our role in promoting
understanding of human rights, the Commission plays a vital role promoting
women’s rights and gender equality and independently monitoring
Australia’s progress on implementing its obligations under CEDAW.
Today marks the first time an Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner has
addressed the Committee as an independent representative and I am pleased to
present you with the Commission’s first independent report.
The Commission’s first report is not an exhaustive assessment of
Australia’s implementation of CEDAW. The particular issues of minority
groups have been addressed in detail in the NGO Shadow report, the Aboriginal
and Torres Straight Islander report and the Women with Disabilities report. I
commend these reports to you. Instead the Commission’s report focuses on
the structural and legislative in place and the areas that require
I also advise the Committee that the Australian Prime Minister announced two
days ago, a general election to be held on 21 August. The Australian Government
is now in caretaker mode and as a statutory officer I will confine my comments
to the recommendations already raised with the Government.
The report does highlight a number of positive developments in the protection
of women’s human rights. The four major positive developments that I
would particularly like to highlight in this oral address are:
- The Australian Government’s accession to the Optional Protocol
- The Australian Government’s announcement of a new Human Rights
Framework which includes specific funding for the Commission to further develop
its educational function. The Government also provided funding to NGOs to
produce the two shadow reports.
- The Australian Government’s introduction of amending
legislation into Parliament to strengthen the Sex Discrimination
- The Australian Governmen’st introduction of Australia’s
first Paid Parental Leave Scheme which will commence on 1 January 2011.
Areas to be strengthened
The report also identifies a number of areas in Australia’s
implementation of CEDAW that could be strengthened.
When I came into this role, I undertook extensive consultations with women
and men across Australia. Through these consultations I identified five broad
areas of reform:
- Strengthening national gender equality laws, agencies and monitoring
- Promoting women in leadership
- Preventing violence against women and sexual harassment
- Balancing paid work and caring responsibilities
- Ensuring women’s lifetime economic security
sets out the key reforms currently required in each area.
Some of these recommendations represent deep, structural change necessary to
drive ongoing improvement in women’s rights and gender equality. Others
represent changes which must be made to current policies or programs for an
immediate, positive impact.
Follow up procedure
In accordance with the Committee’s new follow-up procedure, I draw your
attention to two key priorities for inclusion under this mechanism.
The first of these priorities is temporary special measures for women in
leadership. The second priority is the national response to address violence
Women and leadership
Firstly, to women and leadership.
Australia’s achievements when it comes to equality between women and
men in education should be noted. However, equality in education has failed to
translate into equality in the workforce.
This is clearly illustrated by the low level of women’s representation
in leadership and decision-making positions in all sectors.
Both CEDAW and the Sex Discrimination Act provide an avenue for the
Government to institute temporary special measures designed to accelerate
substantive equality outcomes. As also noted in the last review in 2006, the
Commonwealth Government has not adopted quotas or targets to address this
However, in response to the alarming level of women’s representation in
the corporate sphere, the ASX Corporate Governance Council has amended its
reporting requirements. From next year, each listed company will have to set
“measurable objectives” for increasing the number of women at senior
executive level and on their boards. These targets will be disclosed to the
market in full and companies will have to report against them annually.
The majority of State and Territory Governments have also introduced
effective targets to increase the representation of women on government
appointed boards and senior positions in the public service.
It is imperative that the Australian Government now take measures to increase
the representation of women on federal Government appointed boards and in the
federal public service.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recommends:
- That the Australian Government set a minimum target of 40% representation of
each gender on all Australian Government Boards to be achieved within three
- That the Australian Government require all publicly listed companies
providing goods or services to the Australian Government to be certified by the
Equal Opportunity in the Workplace Agency as having met their reporting
The Commission also recommends that the Australian
Government support those initiatives taken by the ASX Corporate Governance
Council. If progress is not made within five years:
- The Australian Government should legislate to require publicly listed
companies and other large employers to achieve a mandatory gender quota within a
Violence against women
Violence against women is the second issue which would benefit from inclusion
in the Committee’s follow-up procedure.
The Australian Government should be congratulated for initiating a new
federal approach, the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and
their Children and its first three-year Action Plan.
For the Plan to be effective, it will be necessary both to create national
structures to drive implementation and ensure cooperation and consistency across
all jurisdictions, and to ensure these structures are adequately funded and
The Commission therefore recommends:
- That the Australian Government ensure both national structures and adequate
Commonwealth funding are put in place to support co-ordinated and strategic
implementation of the National Plan across jurisdictions and
The Plan must include clear benchmarks and targets against
which the Plan can be independently monitored. The monitoring should also inform
the development of a national research and education agenda and promote best
practices. The Commission recommends:
- That the Australian Government nominate and fund a suitable independent
statutory office to monitor and inform the development of the National
- That the Australian Government adequately resource independent advocacy
organisations and representatives to contribute to the development and
evaluation of the Plan.
- That the Australian Government invite the UN Special Rapporteur on Violence
Against Women to visit Australia to contribute to independent monitoring of the
nation’s responses to gender-based violence.
Finally, as a
matter of urgency, the Commission recommends that the Australian Government
ensure services responding to the needs of women and girls who have experienced
violence are adequately funded.
Gender equality machinery & legislative protection from
I would like to finish with a brief overview of recommendations in regards to
Australia’s gender equality legislation. I hope the Committee will
consider these as structural changes which must be made over Australia’s
next full reporting period.
There are limitations in the form and content of the primary pieces of gender
equality legislation in Australia.
The Commission believes the Sex Discrimination Act should be amended
to address problems with existing provisions; enhance its ability to promote
systemic reform and achieve substantive gender equality; and fulfil our
international legal obligations.
The Commonwealth Government has introduced legislation which would make a
number of positive amendments to the Act in line with the recommendations of a
recent Parliamentary review. While this legislation has still to pass through
the Australian Parliament, the Commission recommends that the Government be
encouraged to implement its response to the review in full.
The Commission would like to draw the Committee’s attention to two
further recommendations which would greatly increase the Act’s ability to
promote substantive equality.
- That the Australian Government amend the Act to insert a function for the
Sex Discrimination Commissioner to commence self-initiated investigations for
alleged breaches of the SDA, without requiring an individual complaint
- That the Australian Government amend the Act to require the Sex
Discrimination Commissioner to monitor progress towards eliminating sex
discrimination and achieving gender equality and report to the Australian
Parliament every two years.
The Australian Government has recently
announced federal discrimination laws will be reviewed and consolidated. While
the Commission has welcomed this initiative, it is important to ensure any more
broad-based anti discrimination or equality legislation adequately incorporates
Australia’s specific human rights obligations under CEDAW.
The Commission has also recommended changes to the Equal Opportunity in
the Workplace Act to ensure action taken under this legislation promotes
substantive equality between women and men, rather than equal opportunities.
In closing, let me commend to you the Commission’s independent report
which includes detailed recommendations in regards to five key areas of reform.
As I have suggested – the measures taken to advance women in leadership
positions and address violence would benefit from inclusion in the
Committee’s follow up procedure.
I want to thank the Committee again for recognising our common goals and
promoting the role of national human rights institutions in the CEDAW monitoring
Concluding comments of the
Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women: Australia,
“16. While noting that the Sex Discrimination
Act allows for the adoption of special measures to ensure equality of
opportunity or in order to meet the special needs of women, the Committee is
concerned that the State party does not support the adoption of targets or
quotas to promote greater participation of women, particularly indigenous women
and women belonging to ethnic minorities, in decision-making bodies.
17. The Committee recommends that the State party fully utilize the Sex
Discrimination Act and consider the adoption of quotas and targets, in
accordance with article 4, paragraph 1, of the Convention and the
Committee’s general recommendation 25, to further increase the number of
women in political and public life and to ensure that the representation of
women in political and public bodies reflect the full diversity of the
population, particularly indigenous women and women belonging to ethnic
Fergus, Setting the Standard: international good practice to inform an
Australian National Plan of Action to eliminate violence against women (2008), Amnesty International Australia, p 6.