70th Session of the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women 2018

Here you will see the latest updates on the 70th session of the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women taking place in Geneva, 2 – 20 July 2018.

A timetable of the Session is available here: CEDAW 70 Session 2-20 July

3 July 2018 – eighth periodic review of Australia (10am – 1pm)

Australian Opening

Australia delegation opening statement: A national plan has been implemented to combat violence against women since 2011. Each plan responds to issues identified from previous research carried out by CEDAW and Australian Human Rights Council. One of these action plans tackles gender stereotyping and prevent controlling and abusive gender discrimination. The plan promotes gender equality in employment and civil life. The Australian government recognises the increased levels of violence affecting Aboriginal women, migrant women and women with disabilities. The Australian government has committed millions of dollars to aid victims of domestic violence and improve response to domestic abuse. Australia has taken an initiative to combat cyber abuse and cyber harassment. One in four women and one in six men over the age of 15 have experienced sexual harassment in the work place. Economic empowerment of women in Australia is a priority. 44% of government workers are female. The government acknowledges the pay gap and hopes to close the gap as soon as possible.

Article 1 and 2

Expert questions on Article 1 and 2 of the Convention:

  • Australia has not implemented the 2009 recommendation by CEDAW to domesticate, in its national legislative framework, rights of women. Expert P Schulz asks for a framework of the intention to do so by the Australian government so as to provide full protection of the rights of women.
  • Australia should ensure constitutional recognition of Aboriginal persons and engage in accordance with the rights of indigenous person.
  • How does Australia plan to combat impunity of violence against migrants?
  • How does Australia plan to combat the dire system of migrant rights?
  • Australia has an obligation to combat gender based violence in extra-territorial industries. The Australian government must comment on how it intends to embark on a plan for business and harmonisation with human rights.

Delegation Response:

  • In response to the first question concerning the absence of a Bill of Rights, or charter of rights, Australia recognises the universality of human rights and promotes equality and freedom from discrimination. Australia has a comprehensive civil law system to protect human rights. The Federal Discrimination Act gives effect to CEDAW, thereby protecting the rights of women in accordance with international obligations. The Sex Discrimination Act combats gender inequality. It is unlawful to discriminate on the basis of sex, family responsibilities, pregnancy, breastfeeding etc. Existing mechanisms effectively provide for the motion of protection of human rights. There is, therefore, no intention of the Australian government to institute a charter of rights.
  • Recognition of indigenous persons remains a national priority. Changes to the constitution have been historically difficult. A parliamentary committee has been established and is due to produce a report at the end of July which will recommend options for constitutional change that will be acceptable to parliament and the people of Australia.

Follow Up Questions by Experts:

  • Australia claims to be at the forefront of human rights globally yet it is the only Western democratic country not to have any form of a bill of rights or charter of rights. How can this be acceptable?
  • What is the status of migrant women in Australia?
  • What is the Australian government’s stance on the recognition of Aboriginal customary laws?
  • Australia accounts for 0.3% of the world population but 1.4% of fuel emissions affecting the globe. As a result of this neighbouring islands are experience drastic climate change and result in environmental migrants fleeing to mainland Australia. What does the Australian government plan to do to combat this contribution to climate change and ensure the safety of migrants?
  • How much consideration is given to human rights when national budget cuts are made?
  • How does Australia plan to combat the limited access to justice due to budget cuts in legal aid, mainly affecting women?

Delegation response:

  • Migration policies have been in place since 2013 when 500,000 migrants came to Australia, 1200 of whom died at sea. Falling resources affect everyone, not just women and migrants, everyone must deal with the budget cuts. Australia takes its international obligations very seriously, particularly in regards to migrants rights. The Status Resolution Support Services offers a wide range of supports to migrants and immigrants awaiting status changes or transfers. These include accommodation, financial support, education and counselling. English language classes are also available.
  • With regards to climate change Australia takes its international obligations seriously and treats its neighbouring islands with respect. Australia is the third in the world for humanitarian work and support.
  • LBTI migrants are afforded the chance to propose possible obstacles they will face upon transfer. There are no plans to review this policy.

Follow up comments:

  • Australia has for years been recommended to renounce asylum laws to be in line with human rights compliance. The Australian approach to migration is putting vulnerable women and girls at risk.
  • Humanitarian aid cannot solve damage done by increased emissions. More needs to be done to tackle the sources of climate change, not solely provide support after the fact.

Articles 3 and 4

Expert Questions:

  • What measures have been taken to strengthen the decision making powers of gender policy offices? What are the funding and coordination plans in place by the government?
  • Have performance research reports been implemented into the functioning of these offices?
  • The Australian Human Rights Council has undergone budget cuts, recommendations are not binding and cases cannot be brought before the court. Does the Australian government find the function of the AHRC to be the best of its capabilities with these restrictions?
  • Why has the state party not implemented temporary special measures for the advancement of gender equality?

Delegation response:

  • Offices of gender policy have been incorporated in the Prime Ministers Offices to allow access to policy proposals and legislative framework in order to be used more effectively.
  • A working group has been establish to understand the challenges of women in Australia and how to overcome said challenges in order to combat women’s issues.
  • Forums and rountable discussions have been established to give women a voice.
  • The fiscal situation of Australia has resulted in budget cuts across government departments. The government has afforded as much funding as it believes necessary for the functioning of the AHRC. The budget for the AHRC has increased by AUS$6-8m this fiscal term.
  • With regards to temporary special measures the Australian government has set targets to increase female presence in government by 2025. 40% was reached in 2016 and a new target to reach 50% is in operation with no set time frame.

Follow up questions:

  • What are the office development plans? Without overarching policies there will be a fragmented Federal policy.
  • Is the inclusion of the gender policy offices into the prime minister’s offices affecting the independent nature of the office?

Delegation response:

  • No specific development plans are in place for indigenous women.
  • There is no comment on the independence of AHRC.
  • There is no intention to increase budgetary funding to advocacy.

Article 5 and 6

Expert Questions:

  • What place is reserved for LBTI, indigenous, marginalised women in Australian society?
  • Australia has criminalised child marriage. What funding will be given to aid victims of child marriage? What tools are in case to identify cases of forced marriage, seeing as since the law has been implemented in 2014 no convictions have been made.
  • No reports are available for the FGM policy in Australia. FGM has not been criminalised at a federal level, what are the plans to combat FGM?
  • Why is the government refraining from implementing a federal law to criminalise domestic violence?
  • Will the judicial be trained to combat gender inequality in family law courts?
  • Are women victims of human trafficking supported and protected?
  • Unidentified victims of human trafficking are subjected to prosecution or deportation. What is the Australian government’s plan to combat this?
  • There is no current system to discourage prostitution and demand for prostitution. What measures is the Australian government to adopt to combat this?

Delegation response:

  • FGM is criminalised in each state.
  • Support is given to women affected by FGM and child marriage.
  • Community involvement is encouraged to combat stereotypes; social media campaigns, LBTI awareness in schools and media engagement. There is a campaign in schools to promote healthy relationships.
  • With regards to domestic violence the Stop It At the Start campaign raises awareness about domestic violence and discourages violence in young relationships. Domestic violence is clearly defined in civil law, across all states.
  • The government is committed to tackling modern slavery and human trafficking. Victims of trafficking receive support and there is protection for vulnerable witnesses to uphold justice.

2 July 2018 – Opening Session 10 am CET

Members highlighted the need to eliminate violence against women and young people across the world as crime statistics grow. Awareness must be raised to improve gender equality in all cultures and promote the inclusion of women in businesses, politics, the private sector and the public sector. Justice for women is necessary for the growth of democracy and society. In the academic world women must be promoted and treated equally. In politics women must be allowed in to demonstrate their capabilities and skills. The promotion of women in politics will help to fasten the growth of gender equality in many countries and promote gender equality in all spheres of life.

The CEDAW Working Group met in November 2017 (20-24) to discuss the issues that will be investigated and presented at the 70th session for the named states; Australia, New Zealand, Liechtenstein, Cyprus, Turkmenistan, the State of Palestine, Cook Islands and Mexico (see my commentary on the 2005 CEDAW report on Mexico here).

Informal Meeting with NGOs

Australia

40% of children of single mothers in Australia live in poverty due to cutbacks in single mother allowances and gender discrimination in employment. The inability of mother’s to economically provide for their children is a massive issue in Australia with many children being taken away from their mothers due to a failure by the Australian government to provide assistance for single mothers. The treatment of migrant mothers and children remains equally bad with separation common amongst migrant families. Abortion is criminalised in many Australian states, violating a woman’s right to choose. Women cannot access abortion in the public health service, it is virtually unattainable for a lot of women.

Women and girls with disabilities experience greater numbers of violence, especially sexual violence in institutional environments. Their exposure to a wide number of perpetrators makes them easy targets and their rights are being repeatedly violated. Women with disabilities are subjected to gross human rights violations by virtue of being a woman and by virtue of their disability. Women and girls with disabilities are often forced into castration, sterilisation, contraception and menstrual suppressants.

There is a 15.3% pay gap and 1 in 5 women will experience sexual violence.

Mexico

Mexican NGOs called for the protection of women, transgender women and cisgender women in the State of Mexico. Human rights are not being respected. It is necessary to recognise sex work as a form of labour to reduce the number of violent sexual attacks against women in mexico and provide safety for sex workers. The recognition of sex work would reduce the number of violent sexual crimes, sex trafficking and human trafficking. As of present, no protection is afforded to sex workers by the State. There is also a lack of reproductive rights in Mexico, affecting women throughout the State.

Proper access to the justice system is impeded by the State for women. There has been an increase in violence against women. Over the last 3 years femicide has risen but the State has failed to acknowledge femicide as being the cause for the large number of female murder victims. Only 24% of victims were investigated as femicides. Between 2008 and 2017 there have been an alarming number of cases of child abduction, mainly the abduction of teenage girls. Sexual violence is a serious problem faced by women in Mexico and sexual torture is used by the police and armed forces as an interrogation technique in drug cartel cases. Crimes represent 43% of cases against women.

Cyprus

The antidiscrimination law in employment is not enforced practically. LBTQ women need increased social and legal protection by the State of Cyprus. It is highly important that medical personnel, when treating LBTQ women, create a safe environment and encourage these women to seek medical advice. Currently transgender women face great emotional stress and discrimination when seeking medical attention. They will put off treatments and medical care for fear of humiliation and emotional bullying by medical staff such as doctors, nurses, hospital staff. A safe environment must be created to protect the right to access healthcare.

Cyprus has passed a civil union law in 2015 but same sex couples still face massive discrimination under family law in the State. Same sex couples cannot adopt, seek artificial insemination or attain parental rights over children that are not biologically theirs. A single LBTQ woman can apply for artificial insemination and have a child but she cannot be in a civil union at the time of the artificial insemination. If she later enters a union, her partner will not attain parental rights over the child.

Liechtenstein

The government of Liechtenstein has showed it has no intention of establishing a gender equality plan for the State. There has been consistent difficulty in attaining full gender equality in employment and other areas of law in Liechtenstein. There is a significant lack of women in politics. Child care facilities have increased, making it easier for women to find employment but no increased economic assistance has been introduced.

The Violence Protection Law 2001 expels the abuser in domestic violence from the home, a welcome development. However, women who file a complaint of marital rape are often dismissed due to lack of available evidence. The courts will dismiss cases without medical evidence of forced sexual activity which can be difficult to provide unless the event was violent. There needs to be an increase in child protection in violent households. Violent fathers automatically get visitation rights and can even retain custody of the children, despite their violent nature. The Women’s Shelter calls for better  training of police and officials working with victims of domestic violence, with child welfare as a priority.

Extra-territorial Intersex Genital Mutilation (IGM) is a serious problem in Liechtenstein. Intersex children are often sent to hospitals in Austria and Switzerland to undergo castration. Parents are intimidated and pressured into exposing their children to scientific experiments in Children’s hospitals in Switzerland and to undergo non-urgent genital surgery.

The session continues tomorrow at 10am CET with the eighth periodic report of Australia. 

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