third periodic report
The following report has been prepared by the Coalition of
Australian Participating Organizations of Women (CAPOW), a group
of national women's organizations. The newest Australian Government
report was not available during the time these NGOs prepared
their report. Therefore, CAPOW has said it plans to submit additional
information to CEDAW when the Australian report becomes available.
Organizations participating in CAPOW include:
- Older Women's
- National Women's
Women's Development Agency
- Coalition of
- Women's Electoral
IWRAW recently received
a copy of the report to CEDAW from the Women's International
League for Peace and Freedom of Australia. Its main points support
the information contained in the report sent by CAPOW. For this
reason we have not summarised it here.
[the following text
from CAPOW has been edited only for clarity and brevity. Footnotes
have been deleted. CAPOW has sent the full text of their report
directly to CEDAW. ed.]
- Despite having
both signed and ratified CEDAW with only two reservations,
Australia has not incorporated many of the commitments inherent
in this action into domestic law. The current federal government
of Australia has stated that it does not consider international
treaties to have a high priority in formulating domestic policy.
- While the status
of women in Australia is undoubtedly better than that of many
women in developing countries, women still do not have equal
human rights. There is ample research-based evidence that
women's access to services in Australia is still far from
equal to that of men. Despite this research, the federal government
has a stated commitment to mainstreaming women, on the grounds
that special services are no longer needed.
- Many of the budgetary
measures taaaken by the current government are designed to
encourage women to move out of the workplace and political
life and back into the role of family caregiver. The federal
government rewards women in traditional roles, while increasing
the cost of child care for working women.
- Retirement funds
are allowed to discriminate on actuarial outcomes for sex
but not on any other actuarial figures, so it costs more for
women to purchase pensions than for men.
- Australia has
been a forerunner in the introduction of the CEDAW Optional
Protocol, but is no longer an active supporter of that process.
- Recent significant
cuts in the Australian foreign aid budget have seriously impacted
programmes for women in developing countries.
- Advances in the
status of women in Australia are currently going backwards.
MEASURES TO ELIMINATE
DISCRIMINATION - Convention Article 2
The principle of
equality for men and women is not embodied in Australia's constitution,
though NGOs continue to urge the government to take such measures.
It has not implemented the recommendation of the Law Reform
Commission on this point.
prohibiting discrimination on the grounds of sex, pregnancy
and marital status contain a number of exemptions. These include:
- Educational institutions
established for religious purposes; it is not unlawful to
discriminate in connection with employment as a member of
staff of a religious institution if the discrimination is
in good faith in order to avoid injury to the religious susceptibilities
of adherents to that religion.
- Voluntary bodies
are also exempt in relation to the admission of people as
members and the provision of benefits, facilities or services
- Acts done in
direct compliance with determinations of courts or tribunals.
- Certain discrimination
in the provision of insurance and superannuation is exempt.
- Competitive sport.
The federal government,
elected in 1996, has announced its intention to make significant
changes to the human rights regime in Australia. Among these
changes is a proposal to amend the Sex Discrimination Act of
1984 and abolish the specialist position of Sex Discrimination
Commissioner (which is required under the Sex Discrimination
Act 1984) within the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.
NGOs are concerned that proposals to abolish the position are
an attempt to downgrade the importance of human rights legislation
pertaining to women, and they are concerned about the potential
effects of the loss of a dedicated specialist to deal with the
implementation of the Sex Discrimination Act.
Budget cuts to the
Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (HREOC) will result
in a loss of thirty to forty staff members and significantly
affect HREOC's capacity to administer human rights legislation,
including the Sex Discrimination Act.
sex discrimination applies to employment, education, the provision
of goods and services, accomodation, land, clubs and the administration
of Commonwealth laws and programmes. The Sex Discrimination
Act of 1984 does not apply more broadly and there is no avenue
for redress of discrimination against women that does not fall
into one of these areas. For example, the Act does not require
the equal representation of women in Parliament or in political
The Office of the
Status of Women
The Office of the
Status of Women (OSW), which has the important role of providing
policy advice to government, was singled out for a thirty-eight
percent cut in its 1996 budget, a far higher cut than that imposed
on other areas of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The government has also closed OSW's register of women interested
in being appointed to government positions, and in the 1997/98
budget, funding for NGOs through the Women's Grants Programme
(to enable women's organizations to participate effectively
in public debate and policy development) has been halved.
In previous years,
the Office of the Status of Women has made a substantial contribution
internationally, but under the current government it has not
been represented at:
- the UN ESCAP
meeting in Seoul in 1996 on strengthening national machineries
for the advancement of women (where Australia was used as
a best-practice model)
- the 1996 OECD
Working Party on Women and the Economy
- the March 1997
meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women
- the special OECD
conference on women and small / medium enterprises in April
Also, the Office
of the Status of Women has previously been linked with a number
of focal points various government departments. One of these,
concerned with gender and curriculum issues in the Department
of Employment, Education, Training and Youth Affairs, has disappeared,
and the last issue of its newsletter appeared in June 1996.
NGOs are greatly
concerned that gains made over the past two decades are being
seriously eroded and that women's access to government decision-making
is being severely restricted.
MEASURES - Convention Article 4
Action Act of 1986 requires companies, higher education institutions,
group training companies and trade unions with one hundred or
more employees to implement affirmative action programmes for
women and report on these annually to the Affirmative Action
Agency. The only sanction available under the Act was that companies
failing to report to the Agency be named in Parliament and be
unable to tender for government contracts. In 1996 the federal
government abolished compulsory reporting after a period of
satisfactory reporting. This obviously weakens what little power
the Act had to promote compliance through the force of public
NGOs are not satisfied
that these changes are in the best interests of Australian women
workers. The objectives of the Affirmative Action Act have not
yet been achieved. Women do not yet have equality of opportunity
and treatment in the workplace. Women's share of managerial
jobs remains woefully low, and the Australian workforce remains
highly gender segregated.
SEX ROLES AND STEREOTYPING
- Convention Article 5
live within a culture that condones violence against women.
- Domestic violence
accounts for seventy percent of police work in New South Wales.
- forty percent
of Australian men believe that sexual assault is justified
if the woman behaves in a certain way.
- eighty-nine percent
of women whose rape cases go to court report on-going trauma
as a result of their experience in court, and
percent of women report that their sexual history is discussed
in court, despite legislative 'protection.'
- Women are far
more likely to be killed by their current or former sexual
partner than by any other person.
The federal government
has cancelled funding for the Australian Institute of Criminology's
four year project to establish the accurate levels of violence
against women, after a preliminary report (at the end of the
first year) showed a lack of consistency between the states
in collecting information on domestic violence. The project
was to have established a national database of domestic violence
orders, in order to protect women across different jurisdictions.
Between 1986 and
1993 the Australian Government made progressive steps toward
addressing sex role stereotypes and promoting positive images
of women through extensive consultation, research and the establishment
of the National Working Party on the Portrayal of Women in the
Media. This activity ceased in 1993 and no area of government
has taken responsibility for these issues since that time.
of legislation in 1995 precipitated the collapse of the system
regulating advertising standards. NGOs are concerned that the
government is currently in the process of allowing an industry
owned system to be implemented which reduces consumer rights
and access, and contains no sanctions. The demonstrated need
for a more effective response to stereotyping has been denied.
TRAFFICKING IN WOMEN - Convention Article 6
The government has
taken measures to deal with the trafficking of women for prostitution
from countries such as Thailand, which include immediate deportation
of the women. This practice discriminates against the women
by singling them out for punishment, and prevents them from
giving evidence against the individuals who have exploited them.
NGOs believe there is a need for safe refuge and support for
these women to ensure their rights are upheld.
AND PUBLIC LIFE - Convention Article 7
Australia is holding
a Constitutional Convention in the lead-up to the centenary
of our Federation. The government has failed to ensure that
the Bill to establish the Constitutional Convention mandate
equal representation for women in both appointed and elected
delegate categories, and has framed it so that it acts to ensure
a preponderance of men.
representation in the federal Parliament is relatively high
as a result of the landslide 1996 election, the federal and
state governments have made only token efforts to involve women
in decision-making, either in elected office or in appointments
to government statutory authorities, boards and committees,
nor have they made any effort to have women appointed to the
boards of corporations, even though the lack of women in decision
making positions is evident in national statistics:
- women in the
House of Representatives are 15.5 percent of all members.
- women are twenty-nine
percent of all Senators.
- women in state
Parliaments are approximately sixteen percent of all members.
- women in local
government are approximately twenty two percent of all councillors.
- it is estimated
that ony thirteen percent of all public board appointees,
three percent of company boards and eleven percent of union
officials are women.
The government has not taken steps to encourage political
parties to put meaningful measures in place to ensure pre-selection
of women in winnable seats, despite submissions analysing
the dynamics of discrimination against women in political
parties and recommendations for addressing these.
- In the 1996 elections,
the two major political parties endorsed only six women candidates
to safe seats, twenty-seven to marginal seats and thirty-one
to hard-to-win seats.
EDUCATION - Convention
The government has
cut back funding for tertiary education and raised fees for
- The introduction
of up-front fees for postgraduate courses will discourage
more women than men from pursuing postgraduate study.
- the introduction
of differential fees for courses will discourage women wanting
to move into non-traditional but higher cost options such
EMPLOYMENT - Convention
The Workplace Relations
Act 1996 undermines the collectively based award system which
has contributed so much to Australia's relatively good performance
on pay equity. Research shows that increased levels of decentralization
in the industrial system are associated with large male/female
earnings gaps. Women's highest level of pay equity with men
was achieved in 1991 prior to the commencement of decentralization
of industrial relations. There is a lot of data on increasing
income dispersion and the widening gap between cost of living
and wage income, including work by the National Centre for Social
and Economic Modelling.
The Act introduces
individual contracts (Australian Workplace Agreements - AWA)
which are to be kept secret. The transparency regarding pay
and benefits which is essential for achieving pay equity will
be further obstructed. Individual contracts will disadvantage
weaker groups in the workforce and will be used to reduce employment
entitlements over time as new agreements are reached with more
recently engaged workers.
There is a much
weaker set of protections and vetting and review of agreements
under the new legislation than under the previous system of
vetting by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission (AIRC).
This individualized system will result in much less consistency
and equity in industrial arrangements.
Trade unions cannot
be involved in proceedings about approval of individual workplace
agreements even where these are being used to undermine terms
and conditions in particular industries, occupations or workplaces.
Union rights of entry to workplaces to check compliance do not
apply in relation to AWAs.
have been reduced considerably. There is now a restricted set
of conditions which can be included in an award (even by agreement
of the industrial parties). For example, occupational health
and safety, sexual harassment, equal employment opportunity
and training, are not listed as allowable award matters. The
limitation on award matters also restricts the scope of matters
which can be the subject of industrial disputes and hence can
be brought before the AIRC to resolve. The award based "no disadvantage"
test of whether a proposed enterprise agreement disadvantaged
employees who would be covered by it by comparison with all
the terms and conditions of the award (the test was formerly
administered by the AIRC) has been replaced by a test of whether
there is an overall reduction of an employees's own individual
terms and conditions. There is no requirement for discrimination
issues to be addressed in the workplace agreements.
specifically prohibits setting limits on the proportion of employees
in particular types of employment (e.g. casual work) or on the
maximum or minimum hours for part time workers. These provisions
will contribute to further deregulation of employment in the
female dominated jobs. Women are now more likely to work very
short shifts and be subject to considerable pressure by employers
to meet their needs. There is evidence that new workplace agreements
seem generally to favour male working patterns and not those
of women or other workers with domestic responsibilities. NGOs
consider that these changes are not unintended consequences
but appear intentional, and women's working conditions at the
lower levels are likely to deteriorate even further.
specifically in relation to women and other industrially vulnerable
groups were included in previous legislation and have now been
The Act significantly
increases the burden on individual women of recognizing and
enforcing on an individual basis and at their own expense their
employment rights at a time when legal aid funding is being
Filing fees and
costs awards have been introduced in relation to unjust dismissal
claims which will reduce women's prospects of taking action
to obtain remedies.
Provision of free
legal assistance by the Employment Advocate is discretionary
to "where the Employment Advocate considers this would promote
enforcement of the provisions of the Act."
The current trend
in Australia of reducing the size of the public sector through
the competitive tendering and contracting out of services has
detrimental impact on women in the workforce since women often
work in the ancillary and support services which are often the
first target for contracting out. Contracting out is often a
strategy to achieve savings by reducing terms and conditions
of employment, and this then affects women in those jobs.
Whereas the previous
legislation had ILO Conventions scheduled to it, the Workplace
Relations Act does not. The federal government has on several
occasions attacked measures to make international conventions
count in Australian law and practice.
The Australian government
has not become a signatory to the International Labour Convention
and Recommendation on Outworkers, yet Australia employs between
90,000 and 300,000 outworkers, of whom ninety-five percent are
Migrant women experienced
nearly double the unemployment rate compared to Australian women
in February 1997.
Australia has a
reservation to CEDAW, as it does not have paid maternity leave.
The maternity allowance introduced by the previous government
is too small and covers too brief a period of leave to meet
anti-discrimination and human rights legislation and complaints
systems, there are still many complaints about workplace discrimination,
particularly from younger women complaining about harassment
and lesbian women about general discrimination.
The current federal
government cuts in areas related to human rights has signalled
to the community that it is against 'political correctness.'
This failure to condemn harassment and other forms of discriminatory
behaviour has left many women in the workplace feeling much
Australia has had
an enviable child care system. A rapidly expanding centre-based
care service has allowed a substantial proportion of Australian
children to have reasonable quality child care at affordable
cost. In two budgets, the current federal government has substantialy
cut its contibution to funding such services. Costs of services
have risen substantially and pressure is on to reduce staffing
costs by using fewer or less qualified staff. Higher fees have
already resulted in parents withdrawing children from care.
The emphasis has almost entirely shifted from government involvement
in the services themselves to a voucher-type subsidy for fees.
Children and mothers
from low income housholds do not have access to good quality
services. This also presents special problems for children in
Aboriginal, non-English speaking and disabled families.
Access to pre-school
and after school care for children with disabilities has also
been seriously eroded by government budget cuts.
HEALTH CARE AND
FAMILY PLANNING - Convention Article 12
has good health services overall, including successful programmes
such as breast cancer screening and the pap register, women
have limited access to preventative health programmes and services.
Lower income women have poorer health than others and continue
to be missed in screening programmes. The Vietnamese community
has a high incidence of cervical cancer. There are few specialised
health services targeting ethnic community groups.
government and independent reports recommending a shift toward
women-centred care during pregnancy, childbirth and in the postnatal
period, women in Australia still have limited access to this
type of care. The Australian health system is based entirely
on the medical model and women are persuaded to accept the medical
view. It is difficult for women to get information on homebirth,
for example. Independent midwifery is difficult to access because
it is not encouraged or supported in Australia. There are no
health rebates for this type of care and no legal protection
for the midwives or the mothers.
The Government has
cut funding to Family Planning Australia by ten percent over
1996-1998 and has restricted the importation of abortion drug
RU486. It has also cut $3.5 million in funding for family planning
programmes run by the U.N.
The federal Attorney-General's
Department has proposed a model criminal code to cover every
state in Australia. The model proposes that abortion be entrenched
in Australian law as a crime and that the conditions for allowing
abortion be more restrictive than is currently the case in at
least three states. The committee making these recommendations
did not engage in any prior consultations.
Since the acceptance
of the Beijing Plan of Action, the Australian government has
not begun in any meaningful way to involve women in decision-making,
and its failure to include women in the recent actions it has
proposed or taken concerning abortion is a case in point.
generally prefer to be cared for by other women, and lack of
available health professionals in many regions results in late
starts to antenatal care and infrequent visits. There is a shortage
of trained aboriginal health workers. The aboriginal foetal
death rate in 1991-93 was more than double the rate for other
babies, and the proportion of low birthweight infants is more
than twice as high.
ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL
BENEFITS - Convention Article 13
Sport and recreation
remains primarily a male domain. Women remain underrepresented
in all decison-making positions. The sport and recreation environment
is not always safe or accessible for women, and women are not
adequately recognized or represented. Young women do not have
the same opportunities for participation and development as
young men, and there are increasing health concerns facing women
in sport and recreation.
- Executive directors
of national sports organizations: female eighteen percent
- Presidents of
national sports organizations: female ten percent
- National coaching
directors: female twenty-two percent
- Both the Australian
Olympic Committee and the Sydney Organizing Committee for
the Olympic Games have only one female member on their executive
- it is estimated
that ony thirteen percent of all public board appointees,
three percent of company boards and eleven percent of union
officials are women.
From March 1997,
migrants will have to wait two years from arrival to receive
social security benefits, incuding unemployment benefits, sickness
allowance, youth training, seniors card and health care card.
Women will be disproportionately disadvantaged, as they and
those they care for are more reliant on social security benefits
Lesbians do not
share equal rights with othe women in Recognition of same sex
relationships in the law, with regard to superannuation, with
regard to medical decisions in the case of a seriously ill partner,
and in recognition of their wills.
RURAL WOMEN - Convention
In 1996, funding
was cut from the government health care budget. This has particularly
affected women in the remote areas of Australia, who have little
or no access to adequate health care facilities, counselling
and family planning. The vast distances, lack of public transport
and extreme poverty of many women and children in these areas,
in particular Aboriginal women, make it almost impossible for
them to travel to urban areas for these services.
in Australia has led to rapid shrinking of the rural sector,
and severe cuts in rural infrastructure. Government has achieved
budgetary savings by cutting basic services in rural areas.
The occasional projects introduced for rural women are so rare
that they only serve to highlight the lack of services for the
majority of rural women.
such as housing, sanitation, electricity and water, transport
and communication in remote areas of Australia are well below
urban norms. Many Aboriginal communities live in conditions
which have been classed as third world. This is reflected in
some of the highest mortality rates in the world, and a life
expectancy twenty five years less than the Australian standard.
The ongoing privatisation of previously public utilities is
exacerbating this problem.
THE LAW - Convention Article 15
Women are often
more disadvantaged than men in regard to access to legal information
and advice. The government has severely cut funding for the
Legal Aid Commission, which provides a number of services to
women. Among other things, this has resulted in a reduction
in the budget of the Women's Legal Resources Centre and the
Domestic Violence Advocacy Centre, telephone help lines and
community legal education seminars on women's rights. NGOs are
concerned that these cuts will substantially reduce access to
justice for women, including the availability of legal assistance
for victims of domestic violence and access to compensation
from the Victim's Compensation Tribunal.