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Appendix 1: Australia’s international human rights obligations and development commitments

Achieving gender equality is critical to realising the human rights of all people and sustainable development. Australia is committed to working with the international community to advance gender equality and ensure women and girls' empowerment is at the centre of our international efforts.

Australia is a party to the 7 core international human rights treaties, including the:

  • International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)
  • International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)
  • International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)
  • Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
  • Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)
  • Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and
  • Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

The ICCPR obligates Australia to protect and preserve basic human rights. This includes the right to life and human dignity; equality before the law; freedom of speech, assembly and association; religious freedom and privacy; freedom from torture, ill-treatment, and arbitrary detention; gender equality; the right to a fair trial; right to family life and family unity; and minority rights. The ICESCR aims to ensure the protection of economic, social and cultural rights needed to live a life of dignity and freedom, including freedom from discrimination, and the right to equality between men and women. The ICERD was one of the first human rights treaties to be adopted by the United Nations. It commits all member states, including Australia, to eliminate all forms of racial discrimination and to promote understanding amongst all races.

The CRPD sets out Australia's obligations to promote, protect and ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights and fundamental freedoms by all persons with disabilities and to promote respect for their inherent dignity. As part of these obligations Australia has committed to address the disproportionate impacts of discrimination and all forms of gender-based violence experienced by women with disabilities. Article 6 expressly recognises that women and girls with disabilities face multiples forms of discrimination, and requires States Parties to ensure the full and equal enjoyment of all human rights of women and girls with disabilities.

Under CEDAW, Australia has committed to promoting policies, laws, organisations, structures and attitudes that ensure women have the same rights as men. CEDAW facilitates this by promoting non-discriminatory practices across a number of areas including employment; education and training; health; economic life, sport and culture; law and policy; politics and public life; family relations; and violence against women.

The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) is the key legal mechanism Australia uses to implement the rights enshrined within CEDAW. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) makes it unlawful to discriminate against a person because of their sex, gender identity, intersex status, sexual orientation, marital or relationship status, family responsibilities, because they are pregnant (or might become pregnant), or because they are breastfeeding. The Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) imposes a positive duty on employers and persons conducting a business or undertaking to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate as far as possible, the following unlawful behaviour from occurring:

  • discrimination on the grounds of sex in a work context
  • sexual harassment in connection with work
  • sex-based harassment in connection with work
  • conduct creating a workplace environment that is hostile on the grounds of sex
  • related acts of victimisation.

Another important legal mechanism for implementing the rights enshrined in CEDAW in Australian workplaces is the Fair Work Act 2009. The general protections provisions in the Fair Work Act prohibit discriminatory adverse action being taken by an employer against an employee on the basis of a number of protected attributes, including sex, gender identity, breastfeeding, pregnancy, and subjection to family and domestic violence. The Fair Work Act also includes an express prohibition on sexual harassment in the workplace (Part 3-5A). Workers who experience sexual harassment at work can apply to the Fair Work Commission for assistance to resolve the matter, including seeking a 'stop sexual harassment order'.

Australia also endorsed the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) in 2009, which provides a comprehensive framework for the recognition and protection of Indigenous rights. UNDRIP includes 4 key principles; self-determination, participation in decision-making, respect for and protection of culture, and equality and non-discrimination. The UNDRIP is a comprehensive statement of Australia's existing human rights obligations to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. This commits Australia to take action and ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls have the right to shape their own lives and participate in decision making processes affecting their rights. It also promotes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls' right to maintain, protect, and practice cultural traditions, and their right to enjoy all human rights free from discrimination.

While UNDRIP does not establish new human rights for Indigenous peoples, it does explain how the rights within these treaties apply to the specific circumstances of Indigenous peoples globally.

Australia also fully supports the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), agreed by UN member states in 2015 as a road map for global development efforts to 2030 and beyond. The SDGs seek to realise the human rights of all, and cover economic, social and environmental dimensions of sustainable development. The SDGs comprise 17 goals across 169 targets. SDG 5 is 'Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.' Gender equality is also mainstreamed across the 16 other goals and the SDG's reporting framework.