Discrimination against women is a violation of human rights. Australia’s cultural and social history has led to systemic discrimination. As per Article 2 of CEDAW, WEL calls on governments to institute legislative and other measures which prohibit and seek to eradicate discrimination against women. WEL supports the Sex Discrimination Act and is opposed to any changes which would weaken its effectiveness. WEL further calls for the removal of all exemptions for religious and other bodies from the Sex Discrimination Act. WEL calls for a new framework such as a national plan of action within which women’s fundamental right to equal opportunity and equal citizenship is acknowledged and promoted. This would encompass effective equality legislation, the independence and proper resourcing of bodies charged with implementing such legislation, exemption from court fees for discrimination complaints, provision of legal aid for test cases and the systematic review of legislation and policies for discriminatory implications.
Good news on the discrimination scene. Greater protections against sexual harassment and discrimination. In June 2018 the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins announced $500,000 towards a national enquiry by the Human Rights Commission into sexual harassment at Australian workplaces and an address to the U.N. Human Rights Council about abuse of women and girls. She said that 30 percent of women already surveyed had experienced abuse or harassment. There will be national consultations and public meetings so that individuals and organisations can register and contribute. Structural issues will also be covered.
The Australian Parliament has passed the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010. This will provide greater protections by: prohibiting discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities for both men and women in employment, establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination with measures to cater for the needs of breastfeeding mothers, and protecting students and workers from sexual harassment including online or phone.
Gender Equality. The previous Sex Discrimination Commissioner of the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission has conducted a Listening Tour throughout Australia and announces a “roadmap towards gender equality”. CLICK for the HREOC Media Release with all the proposed outcomes. It is asserted that the focus must be on men to allow them flexible work arrangements as well as women. Currently the need for caring is having a negative effect for women who take the maternal leave entitlement at a time in their careers when employees need to put in the long hours.
Gender Statistics. The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has launched ‘Gender @ a Glance’, its gender statistics web page of gender-related statistical sources and sex-disaggregated data. The Australian Gender Indicators Project is a partnership between the ABS, FaHCSIA and the Commonwealth, State, Territory and New Zealand Ministers’ Conference on the Status of Women. This will enable monitoring and analysis of outcomes between women and men. CLICK for more Gender Statistics on the ABS website.
The two-speed economy has morphed. As demand for labour to drive trucks and dig minerals out of the ground pushes up wages for men employed in mining and construction, women employed in casual jobs in retail are having shifts cut back, reducing their wages and pushing the gender pay gap to 17.5 per cent. The Australian.
Sexual Harassment. This is a form of sex discrimination, and an abuse of power which embarrasses, humiliates, intimidates and coerces, and may constitute criminal behaviour. It creates a hostile and threatening environment in which the victims feel offended, humiliated or intimidated. If women or men are dismissed after complaining about sexual harassment this can constitute illegal unfair dismissal and can be pursued in the courts. This has given rise to the new “#ME TOO” movement.
Sexual harassment can be a familiar touch on the leg, an amusingly suggestive email, the odd question about a woman’s sex life or a lingering look. It is unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature which offends. Some feel they will be victimized if they bring a complaint, thinking it is not serious enough. Casual, temporary and contract workers are three times more likely to experience it.
There are free, accessible and timely external complaints mechanisms. So if there is none in your workplace come to the Australian Human Rights Commission or a State-based commission. They have an early intervention strategy and can help while you are still in employment. It is important that you are not isolated – talk to friends and family and get support. If you are getting sexually harassed, someone else will be too! Visit humanrights.gov.au or email us if you have suffered unfair dismissal due to sexual harassment or any discriminatory treatment. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. The Commissioner also warns about being careful about consumption of alcohol at, for instance, Christmas parties at work. To protect themselves women should ensure that someone understands the behaviour is unwelcome. The Human Rights Commission is available as a free service.
The Federal Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee inquired into effectiveness of Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act 1984 in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality. CLICK for the WEL Australia submission.
Women on Boards. In 2010, ALP Minister Tanya Plibersek announced that the total number of directors on Federal Government boards would comprise at least 40 percent women and 40 percent men, also scholarships for the Australian Institute of Company Directors courses for women directors. CLICK for the WEL submission lobbying the Government to amend the Corporations Act to ensure that all public companies have at least 40 percent female and 40 percent male directors. The Census of Women in Leadership Report by the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace shows that only 8.4 per cent of board directorships and 8 per cent of Executive Key Management Personnel positions in the ASX 200 are held by women. David Gonski, Director of the Committee for Economic Development of Australia, said that boards need diversity – “A board is like an orchestra – when people only play one instrument it is not an orchestra”. In 2018 the Federal Financial Services Minister Kelly O’Dwyer announced a $50,000 grant to increase the number of women on boards.
Women in Parliament. Professor Marian Sawer AO, Emeritus Professor in the School of Politics and International Relations, ANU, reports on women in parliament. She says that “the overall percentage of women in the House of Representatives is now 24.7 per cent. But somehow the presence of women, and the fact that women’s advocacy groups make a beeline for them, does seem to make a difference. It helps legislators to remember that more than half of those affected by laws and policies are women, and that the effects on them are unlikely to be the same as for men”. Marian wrote the WEL history: Making Women Count.
Review of Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999, submitted by Women’s Electoral Lobby Victoria, October 2009 (We were asked for a brief email in dot form as time was short. The submission is on the lines of the consultation questions): WEL Victoria believes that:
(i) the key barriers to EEO for women in the workplace are: * Long hours and inflexible structures.* Availability of adequate child care and vacation care.* Lack of training for promotion opportunities –usually inflexible approaches — should be online for part of these courses.* Lack of career planning and mentors for all employees.* No career path for part-time work.* High levels of unemployment lead to fear of unfair dismissal – women become risk averse and miss opportunities.* Sexual harassment and discrimination.* The old boys network–jobs for the boys.* Religious organisations which discriminate against women who have different life styles and values.
(ii) costs and benefits to organisations: Large organisations with over 100 employees: * recent research reveals that US companies that had women as directors and in high positions were much more able to survive the Global Financial Crisis.* cost of data collection is balanced by the benefit to the organisation. Costs to small organisations: * in the replacement of women on maternity leave or other absences * cost of EEO plans.
(iii) how to achieve EEO: * WEL believes that after 40 years of promoting EEO it is time to take stronger steps including sanctions and quotas.* WEL urges the Government to request an examination by the Productivity Commission of the costs and benefits of EEO to Australia.* WEL also urges the Government to change the Corporations Act 2001 to ensure that registered companies include women as directors.* WEL believes that there is a necessary connection between the EOWW Act and the Fair Work Act 2009 and that the industrial relations aspects of EOWW should be pursued by the Fair Act Ombudsman.* WEL notes the lack of transparency and accountability in salaries earned by employees in the private sector. Transparency and accountability in salary structures should be essential in considering the granting of EEO Awards. Individual employees should have the right to know the level of pay of their colleagues, as well as their entitlements and access to cars, and education costs for their children. The selection process should be publicised for every job in the private sector. All this needs considerable overhauling. Targets, and eventually quotas, should be set for women to attend training and conferences and as speakers at conferences.* To change attitudes to taking parental leave and leave as carers, companies should identify all the fathers in the organisation whose children are under 15 years old. These fathers should be expected to attend their child’s sport days or other events, and to take children to doctors or dentists as necessary. Data on these absences should be part of information presented for the EEO Awards.* For organisations that fail to meet minimum standards sanctions should apply. Criteria for Government procurement should be tied to EEO planning and achievements. Government subsidies and tax concessions should only be available to organisations which have EEO plans that have been successfully implemented.
WEL believes the EOW Agency should have more resources: * to collect and analyse and publish data, which should be disaggregated as far as possible.* to give feedback to companies that fail to win an award and to assist such companies to improve.* to collaborate with Local Government to assist them to develop EEO planning for their staff and for small businesses in their area.* to develop a Small Business Award and publish the results in the local free press, particularly in regional and rural areas.* to promote EEO in workplaces, unions, schools and universities.
Methodist Ladies College Principal points out that discrimination is occurring even when girls do very well in school. Education needs to address the realities of discrimination in the workforce. CLICK for “Ceiling starts in schools”.