Woman of the World -
Know Your International Human Rights
- What are human rights?
- What is the United Nations?
- The UN: Protecting the rights of woman
- What is CEDAW
- Australia's signing of CEDAW
- A guide to the rights in CEDAW
- CEDAW and the Sex Discimination Act
- The Optional Protocol to CEDAW
- What about Beijing?
- What can you do: The public sphere
- What can you do: Private actions
The decision by Australia to sign and later
ratify CEDAW was a long process, surrounded by much debate.
Some comments and
assertions about CEDAW:
[CEDAW]... seeks to assert that many women who consider themselves to
be both happy and equal in their roles as mothers and wives are not happy...
the convention in effect belittles the vital role of these women and consequently
the role of their husbands'.
Australian Senate, 9 December 1983.
'From where did
the clamour for equality originate? It began in the Eastern Soviet bloc
countries, which, while speaking loudly for equality, were not particularly
renowned for their practice of human rights. I am sure that Australian
women do not want the same rights as women in Iran and India.'
Australian Senate, 29 November 1983.
CEDAW: Many Australians feared CEDAW and the effect that it would
have on Australian society. Some groups and individuals organised rallies
and wrote letters to members of parliament, hoping to influence Australia
not to sign. Several parliamentarians went on to voice their opposition
to CEDAW in parliament and worked to prevent Australia from signing the
that CEDAW would force women out of their homes and into the workforce
and cause a breakdown of family life. In addition, the fact that the former
Soviet Union bloc participated in the UN led some people to believe that
Australia signing CEDAW would give these countries the power to make laws
Support for CEDAW:
There was strong
support for CEDAW from many Australian women's organisations. This support
was demonstrated at a national level and also in local branches. These
groups included the Federation of Business and Professional Women, the
Young Women's Christian Association and Zonta International. Many other
NGOs also supported the Convention through the National Council of Women,
a voluntary co-ordinating body that at the time had 583 affiliated organisations,
representing over 1 million members.
worked to secure political support for CEDAW. For example, the Women's
Electoral Lobby sent letters and had meetings, asking politicians and
political candidates to support the Convention. Seminars were held and
pamphlets were distributed to publicise CEDAW and inform women, allowing
them to see how the Convention could address many issues relevant to their
The signing of CEDAW:
Despite some opposition,
Australia signed CEDAW at a special signing ceremony at the UN World Conference
for the Decade of Women on 17 July 1980. Australia was one of the 23 countries
that helped prepare the ceremony and sent a strong delegation of experts
led by The Hon Robert Ellicot (the then Minister for Home Affairs).
of CEDAW, under the Fraser Liberal government, showed Australia's commitment,
in principle, to the rights it enshrines. After signing, the Hon Robert
Ellicott and the Hon Andrew Peacock (the then Minister for Foreign Affairs)
said that the signing evidenced 'Australia's policy of equality for
women and the elimination of discrimination.'