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Farewell to Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins

Sex Discrimination
A woman, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate, takes a selfie with a young person and smiles.

Australian Human Rights Commission President, Emeritus Professor Rosalind Croucher AM, has joined with colleagues to farewell Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins and celebrate the lasting impact her work has had on Australian workplaces and communities.

During her seven-year term, Commissioner Jenkins’ work has responded to national conversations, sparked cultural change, and improved laws, policies, practices and funding to foster greater gender equality and address sexual harassment, particularly in Australian workplaces.

Her landmark Respect@Work report, released in 2020, examined the prevalence and impact of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces. Last year the Federal Government committed to implementing all 55 recommendations of the report in full, and is currently implementing major changes, including a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.

The Commission’s 2022 National Sexual Harassment Survey Time for Respect showed that 1 in 3 Australian workers said they had experienced sexual harassment at work in the previous 5 years, which will be the benchmark to measure progress of the reforms.

Commissioner Jenkins’ work has also created a significant cultural shift in Federal Parliament, paving the way for more inclusive and respectful workplaces for parliamentarians and staffers. The Commission’s Set the Standard: Report on the Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces, led by Commissioner Jenkins, was published in 2021. Since then, the Commission has welcomed news that parliament has introduced behavioural codes of conduct and is making excellent progress on improving workplace culture.

Other highlights of Commissioner Jenkins’ term have included:

  • Chairing the Respect@Work Council.
  • Leading the Commission’s collaborative partnerships on cultural reform in the Australian Defence Force, Australian Federal Police and Australian Border Force.
  • Conducting a national survey on sexual harassment and sexual assault at Australian universities, with findings released in 2017 in the Change the Course report.
  • Working with a range of sporting codes to improve inclusion, including golf, cricket, Australian Rules football, netball and gymnastics.
  • Leading the Commission’s 2019 Guidelines for the inclusion of transgender and gender diverse people in sport.
  • Co-chairing Play by the Rules for seven years, a joint project between human rights agencies and sports commissions, which aims to make grass roots sports safe, fair and inclusive

Race Discrimination Commissioner Chin Tan said: “Kate has courageously devoted herself in the fight for human rights to make our world a better place for all, especially for women and girls. I am humbled, inspired and enriched because of who she is and what she has done.

“She has not merely added another brick to the foundation for human rights, she’s built a whole wall. Thank you in advance from the next generation.”

Commissioner Jenkins said: “The progress we’ve achieved would not have been possible without the courageous contributions of people who have used their voices to speak out against sexual harassment, assault and discrimination in Australia. Your stories – whether shared generously with the Commission in research projects, or through the news cycle – have sparked important conversations and created a momentum for change. For everyone who has spoken out I know there are many others who have experienced harm and also supported change.”

“Thank you also to my colleagues at the Commission who have worked tirelessly to improve gender equality in Australia.”

“Now that the necessary laws are in place, we are on the precipice of change in Australia. What we need now is for businesses to take action to prevent workplace sexual harassment and build more respectful and safe workplace cultures.”

Prior to joining the Commission, Kate spent three years as the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, 20 years as lead equal opportunity partner with Herbert Smith Freehills and many years serving on the boards of Berry Street Victoria, Heide Museum of Modern Art and Carlton Football Club.