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Australia has come under fire for what the United Nations has labelled an “alarming” record on action for women’s rights.

The expert Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) reviewed Australia’s record in July as part of a Geneva summit discussing international human rights and concluded that the Australian Government must urgently do more to protect the rights of women and girls.

“You say you [Australia] are at the forefront of the protection of human rights internationally, but you are the only western democracy without a bill of rights,” said UN expert Patricia Schultz, a former international human rights barrister and member of CEDAW. “I see a contradiction.”

The Committee grilled the Australian government over issues including the gender wage and superannuation gap, maternity-related discrimination, sexual harassment, and violence against women. Various studies have found Australian women are suffering severe disadvantage in these areas.

Data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics has shown one in five Australian women has been sexually assaulted, and one in three women has experienced physical violence.
The federal Workplace Gender Equality Agency (WGEA) estimates that the gender pay gap across all sectors in Australia sits at 15.3 per cent, and jumps to a shocking 35.6 per cent for women working in the legal services industry. And the Australian Human Rights Commission has found one in two working mothers have experienced some form of discrimination during pregnancy, maternity leave or on return to work.

Tess Deegan, law reform solicitor at Kingsford Legal Centre, said she had seen cases of gender discrimination reach crisis levels in recent years.

“Endemic levels of discrimination, sexual harassment, and difficulty accessing flexible work arrangements,” Deegan said. “The Australian government should listen to the UN Committee and urgently implement changes to ensure women can exercise their right to work and fully participate in public life. The girls and women of Australia deserve so much better.”
Kingsford Legal Centre solicitor Maria Nawaz agreed.
“This is extremely disappointing,” she said.
The Australian government delegation to Geneva said it did not intend to introduce a charter of rights into Australian law.