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The progressive achievement, the economic, social and cultural rights of indigenous peoples poses a double challenge to the dominant development paradigm: on the one hand, indigenous peoples have the right to be fully included in, and to benefit from, global efforts to achieve an adequate standard of living and to the continuous improvement of their living conditions. On the other, their right to define and pursue their self-determined development path and priorities must be respected in order to safeguard their cultural integrity and strengthen their potential for sustainable development.[i]
Vicki Tauli-Corpuz, UN Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
Chapter 15 Pathways to employment and empowerment
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls, like all Australians, want to engage meaningfully in contemporary society. Women and girls throughout this chapter recount their experiences with tertiary education and vocational training. They describe the multiple barriers they face when engaging with institutions, including: accessibility; financial support; academic and cultural support; and relevance to their situation and environment.
This chapter also describes significant challenges when engaging with work. Intersectional discrimination operates to exclude women and girls from employment opportunities as well as to impede their career progression, and—too often—workplaces lack diversity, respect, cultural safety, and adequate supports for Indigenous women and girls.
Women and girls emphasised the need for institutions to recognise, value and build on the existing strengths, knowledge and cultural identity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Where structures and institutions fail to do so, they fail to empower women and girls. This chapter captures their calls for well-resourced, dedicated and culturally appropriate education, training and employment supports, programs and strategies.
This includes making education and training affordable and accessible so as not to discourage women and girls from engaging with the mechanisms that will enable them to thrive. Women and girls want clear and appropriate pathways to jobs and for employers to implement strategies and policies to ensure they are respected and valued in the workplace.
Chapter 16 Economic participation
The need to develop a foundation of economic security in order to lift communities out of poverty was raised as a major theme throughout the Wiyi Yani U Thangani consultations.
Historically, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been exposed to narrow and discriminatory structures that have negatively impacted on their social and economic wellbeing. Around the country, women and girls consistently reported feeling worse-off in these regards than others in their communities.
Women and girls are more likely than men and boys to take time out of paid work to care for family. This includes caring for those with disability, long-term health conditions and older members of the community. Women and girls also reported experiencing intersectional discrimination when it comes to accessing education and employment.
Women and girls relay the challenges in trying to achieve economic security. These include: insufficient incomes and to meet the cost of living; unemployment and social welfare; and barriers to employment. They describe the need for a holistic approach to welfare that is strengths-based, supports healing from trauma, enables education, and facilitates entry into employment. Women and girls also shared their motivation for change and their aspirations and solutions for Indigenous business and economic development. Women and girls emphasised that with the right supports, they offer employers and the economy unique skills, strengths and knowledge.
The human rights context
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls have been excluded from freely pursuing their own economic, social and cultural development. This exclusion has not only been on the basis of race and gender, but also as a result of economic and employment structures not acknowledging the unique strengths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women and girls. These are fundamental inclusions to international human rights frameworks.
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights
Article 1 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) recognises that:
All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development.[i]
Article 6 of ICESCR states the ‘right of everyone to the opportunity to gain his living by work which he freely chooses or accepts’ and outlines the steps that should be taken to achieve this include:
technical and vocational guidance and training programmes, policies and techniques to achieve steady economic, social and cultural development and full and productive employment under conditions safeguarding fundamental political and economic freedoms to the individual.[ii]
Article 7 provides for the right of everyone to the enjoyment of just and favourable conditions of work. This includes:
(a)(i) fair wages and equal remuneration for work of equal value without distinction of any kind, in particular women being guaranteed conditions of work not inferior to those enjoyed by men, with equal pay for equal work;
(c) equal opportunity for everyone to be promoted in his employment to an appropriate higher level, subject to no considerations other than those of seniority and competence.[iii]
The United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
The United Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP) reaffirms the right of Indigenous peoples to self-determination (Article 3) as well as rights specific to employment and economic development, including the right of Indigenous peoples to:
- maintain and develop their political, economic and social systems or institutions, to be secure in the enjoyment of their own means of subsistence and development, and to engage freely in all their traditional and other economic activities (Article 20(1)). Indigenous peoples deprived of their means of subsistence and development are entitled to just and fair redress (Article 20(2)).
- The improvement of their economic and social conditions, including, inter alia, in the areas of education, employment, vocational training and retraining, housing, sanitation, health and social security (Article 21(1)). States shall take effective measures and, where appropriate, special measures to ensure continuing improvement of their economic and social conditions. Particular attention shall be paid to the rights and special needs of Indigenous elders, women, youth, children and persons with disabilities (21(2)).
- Be actively involved in developing and determining health, housing and other economic and social programmes affecting them and, as far as possible, to administer such programmes through their own institutions (Article 23).[iv]
Other relevant rights recognised in UNDRIP include the right to freedom from assimilation and destruction of our culture (Article 8), the right to ownership and use of our country (Article 26) and the right to development of our country (Article 32).[v]
In addition to ICESCR and UNDRIP, there are a number of other international instruments which provide additional protections relevant to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ engagement with employment and economic development, including protections for people who face intersectional discrimination and disadvantage based on race, gender, disability and age.
The International Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) requires states to take special measures to ensure all people, without discrimination on the basis of race. This includes the right to work, to free choices of employment, to just and favourable conditions and remuneration, and to protection against unemployment as provided under Article 5(e)(i).[vi]
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) obligates states take measures to ensure women have equal rights with men in access to education (Article 10), to employment and social security (Article 11), to participation in all areas of economic, social and cultural life (Article 13), and to take special measures to ensure the application of these rights to women in rural areas (Article 14).[vii]
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) requires states to recognise the right of persons with disabilities. This includes equal access to education (Article 24), prohibiting discrimination on the basis of disability with regard to all aspects of employment (Article 27), and the right of persons with disabilities to an adequate standard of living and social protection (Article 28).[viii]
The Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) promotes and protects the enjoyment of all human rights by all children. Relevant to economic security and development, every child has the right to benefit from social security (Article 26) and the right to a standard of living adequate for the child's physical, mental, spiritual, moral and social development. The CRC also requires states to provide all appropriate measures to assist parents and others responsible for the child to implement this right (Article 27).[ix]
[i] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opened for signature 16 December 1966 993 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976).
[ii] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opened for signature 16 December 1966 993 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976).
[iii] International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights opened for signature 16 December 1966 993 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 January 1976).
[iv] United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples GA Res 61/295, UN GAOR, 61st sess, Agenda Item 68, UN Doc A/RES/61/295 (2 October 2007).
[v] Australian Human Rights Commission, Declaration Poster: United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (2010) <http://declaration.humanrights.gov.au/sites/default/files/declaration_poster.pdf>.
[vi] International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination opened for signature 21 December 1965 660 UNTS 195 (entered into force 4 January 1969).
[vii] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women opened for signature 18 December 1979 1249 UNTS 13 (entered into force 3 September 1981).
[viii] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, opened for signature 24 January 2007, 2515 UNTS 3 (entered into force 3 May 2008).
[ix] Convention on the Rights of the Child, opened for signature 20 November 1989, 1577 UNTS 3 (entered into force 2 September 1990).
[i] Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Report of the Special Rapporteur of the Human Rights Council on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, 27th sess, Agenda Item 3, UN Doc A/HRC/27/52 (11 August 2014) <http://unsr.vtaulicorpuz.org/?p=424>.