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UN CEDAW Committee review of gender equality in Australia

Australia is a party to a large number of United Nations (UN) and other international instruments that are designed to assist all countries to raise their standards of conduct in a very wide range of fields. One such instrument is the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), signed by Australia in 1980.

As a party to CEDAW, Australia is obliged to promote and protect women’s rights, including equality before the law, freedom from discrimination, political participation, health, education and employment.

The UN CEDAW Committee keeps watch on the implementation of such instruments by conducting periodic reviews of the performance of countries against the standards they prescribe. Countries are obliged to report every four years.

Recently, on the 2nd and 3rd of July 2018, Australia’s record on women’s rights was reviewed by the CEDAW Committee. Domestic and international performances were examined, with the former including action on domestic violence.

The Committee drew attention to the following matters:

– The absence of a bill of rights at the federal level or other mechanism to integrate the protections provided by CEDAW and other instruments.

– The level of resources provided to the Office for Women (which has only 30 staff – fewer than White Ribbon).

– The need for targeted and gendered services to be provided for female victims of domestic violence, much more than they are.

– The need for federal legislation addressing domestic violence. The Committee remarked that this may be the only way to overcome problems with gathering consistent data and implementing policy in the federal context. It was suggested that the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) might address this.

– Serious concern about the influence of false claims by so-called men’s rights activists on government policies and practice.

– The family law regime not presently meeting the contemporary needs of families and effectively addressing family violence and child abuse.

The Committee also raised concerns over women’s health, economic security and homelessness in Australia.

Under health it noted that while abortion is covered under Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, it is still criminalized in NSW and QLD. White Ribbon Australia supports the autonomy of women to make their own choices about their basic right to health care. Our position on abortion may be accessed here.

Under economic security it noted that high rates of poverty are experienced by single parent households, the vast majority of which are women. Financial abuse, leading many women into poverty, is a well-recognised form of violence against women. Women need to be economically empowered and to have equal access to resources for their security.

Under homelessness it is well established that domestic and family violence is the principal cause of homelessness for women and children. The Committee questioned the lack of affordable housing in Australia, particularly its access to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, older women, single mothers and women leaving violence. White Ribbon works to reduce violence and thereby address the problem of homelessness.

The CEDAW Committee review provides a timely reminder to Australia that all is not as well as it should be in relation to women’s rights in a country like ours. NGOs, such as White Ribbon, have a role to play in pressing government for improved compliance and in shouldering some of the burden themselves – in White Ribbon’s case, by working to end men’s violence against women. Success in this endeavour reduces the consequences and the harms resulting from the matters particularly noted by the UN Committee.

Author Nicholas Cowdery AM QC is Chair of the White Ribbon Australia Board.

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Mate, we need to talk. Ambassador Andrew Swan calls on men to stand up and speak out after the murder of Eurydice Dixon

Mate, we need to talk.

I’m guessing you don’t need me to tell you what happened to Eurydice Dixon. The whole nation seems to be in a state of shock, and rightfully so.

Everybody has their own way of understanding, coping with, and responding to tragedy, and that’s OK. However, of all the responses we’ve seen in recent days, only one can actually prevent future tragedies like this from occurring. That is, for us – the everyday men of Australia – to stand up, speak out and act to prevent men’s violence against women.

Don’t agree?  Well, let me ask you a few questions:

When was the last time you felt afraid, powerless or unsafe?

In the street? At work? At home? Anywhere?

This week? This month? This year? Ever?

Believe me, if it has ever happened to you, you’d know.

Imagine if you were made to feel afraid, powerless or unsafe regularly enough that you planned for it, just in case. For example, by carrying your keys in one hand and phone in the other as you walk home, uncertain of who you might encounter. Sound familiar?

Violence occurs when someone is hurt or made to feel afraid, powerless or unsafe. It can be physical, emotional or psychological. Anyone can experience it and it happens across communities, ages, cultures and sexes.

No one is immune and it’s more likely to happen at home than in public.

While it’s true that most men are not violent, abusive or disrespectful, we have all seen and will know those who are. To stop violence against women, well-meaning men must do more than merely avoid perpetrating violence themselves.

If we do nothing, nothing will change.

We must pursue equitable and respectful relationships. We must challenge the violence of other men. We must demonstrate that being ‘a man’ means being someone who lives by the values of respect, inclusion and equality. Should we fail or refuse to do this, we will not be perpetrators but perpetuators who chose to let violence continue.

Changing attitudes and behaviour will take time but if we succeed it will be time well spent, and lives saved.

So, what small act can you do, starting right now, to make a difference? To begin with, do what most of us have done all our life: love, respect and protect women. If you can do that, then try to do the following:

Be aware…

  • Of the facts. Know the facts about violence against women.
  • Of yourself. Have the confidence to explore your own actions, beliefs, and opinions, confront your faults and make a plan to improve.
  • Of victim-blaming. Learn what it is and how to recognise it. Tell others.

Speak up…

When it matters. Call out bad behaviour and safely challenge others who overstep the line.

Talk with women and girls…

  • About their experiences. Be willing to listen and learn.
  • About your own behaviour. You may not see the impact that your words and deeds are having.

Talk with men and boys…

  • About the problem. Learn how the issue touches their lives.
  • About how to respond. Empower them to call it out.
  • Early, and often. Mentor and teach one another about how to be men in ways that don’t involve degrading or abusing girls and women.

If you question what impact any of the above actions can have, give one of them a try today and see for yourself. I did, and the response indicated that I still have work to do. When it comes to tackling such a big problem, we all have work to do.

Everybody has their own way of understanding, coping with, and responding to tragedy. But you have a choice. You can remain in the silent majority of men who disapprove of violence but do little to prevent it. Or, you can stand up, speak out and act to help all Australians live a better life.

Mate, it’s up to you.

Take the White Ribbon Oath today.

Author Andrew Swan is a White Ribbon Australia Ambassador and active member of our Victoria State Committee.

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