Strengthening National Gender Equality Laws, Agencies and Monitoring
Sex discrimination remains a harsh reality for many Australian women, who continue to experience unfair treatment in the workplace and other spheres of life. The Commission continues to receive a high number of complaints on the grounds of Sex Discrimination:
- in 2006/07 the Commission received 472 complaints
- in 2007/08, the Commission received 438 complaints
- in 2009/10, the Commission received 532 complaints
- in 2010/2011, the Commission received 459 complaints
- in 2011/2012, the Commission received 505 complaints.
What is Commissioner Broderick doing to strengthen national gender equality laws, agencies and monitoring?
Commissioner Broderick made achieving stronger gender equality laws, agencies and monitoring a priority area of reform in her 2010 Gender Equality Blueprint.
As part of this process, she has sought substantial amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth) and the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (Cth). The amendments seek to strengthen the laws as well as empower the agencies that are responsible for administering them.
To date, the Government has already adopted a number of Commissioner Broderick’s recommendations.
In June 2013, the Sex Discrimination Amendment (Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Intersex Status) Bill 2013 was passed into law. Among other things, the amendments:
- provided new protections against discrimination on the basis of a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status
- extended the ground of ‘marital status’ to ‘marital or relationship status’
- qualified the exemptions for religious organisations to the effect that it does not apply to conduct connected with the provision of Commonwealth-funded aged care services.
- extended the list of circumstances to be taken into account as part of the test for sexual harassment to include marital or relationship status, sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status
- replaced references to ‘opposite sex’ with ‘different sex’, recognising that a person may be, or identify as, neither male nor female.
Click here to read more about sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status discrimination.
On 20 June 2011, significant amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act came into effect. These included:
- ensuring that protections from sex discrimination apply equally to women and men
- prohibiting direct discrimination against male and female employees on the ground of family responsibilities, in all areas of employment
- strengthening protections against sexual harassment in workplaces and schools and prohibiting sexual harassment conducted through new technologies
- establishing breastfeeding as a separate ground of discrimination, allowing measures to protect and accommodate the needs of breastfeeding mothers.
The amended Sex Discrimination Act can be accessed here . The Commission’s submission to the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Inquiry on the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill is available here. See also the Committee’s report on its inquiry into the Sex and Age Discrimination Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 in March 2011.
How did these changes come about?
On 26 June 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs was asked by the Senate to inquire into the effectiveness of the Sex Discrimination Act in eliminating discrimination and promoting gender equality.
The Commission lodged a submission to the Senate inquiry recommending changes to the Act, including:
- specifying breastfeeding as separate grounds of unlawful discrimination
- increasing protection from unlawful discrimination on the grounds of family and carer responsibilities
- strengthening sexual harassment laws, both in terms of what constitutes harassment and who is protected and liable.
Click here to view a copy of the Commission’s submission.
On 12 December 2008, the Senate Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional Affairs tabled a report of its findings, which included 43 recommendations for change. Many of these recommendations reflected the submissions made by the Commission. View the Senate report here.
On 4 May 2010, the Government tabled its response to the Senate Report proposing immediate action to amend the Sex Discrimination Act. View the Government’s response here.
The 2011 and 2013 amendments to the Sex Discrimination Act partially implemented the Government’s response to the review of the Act.
Gender Indicators, Australia
The Gender Indicators, produced by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), feature a total of 52 key indicators spread across six major areas of social concern for gender equality (Economic security, Education, Health, Work and family balance, Safety and justice, and Democracy, governance and citizenship).
The February 2014 release of ABS Gender Indicators, Australia, include a podcast of a conversation between Ms Elizabeth Broderick (Sex Discrimination Commissioner from the Australian Human Rights Commission) and Dr Paul Jelfs (First Assistant Statistician, Social, Health and Labour Division at the ABS). Elizabeth outlines some of the main areas of gender differences including the disparity in retirement savings between men and women and how unpaid caring impacts the lives of women. She highlights the important role that initiatives such as the ABS Gender Indicators product play in informing policy makers, researchers and the larger community on Australia’s progress toward gender equality. Here is a link to this podcast.
In June 2009, the (then) Minister for the Status of Women, the Hon. Tanya Plibersek, announced a review to examine the effectiveness and efficiency of the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Act 1999 (EOWW Act) and Agency in promoting equal opportunity for women in the workplace.
The Commission was invited to make a submission to the review.
A Consultation Report was then prepared by KPMG.
On 22 November 2012, the Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace (EOWW) Amendment Bill 2012 was passed. The central reforms contained in the Bill included:
- renaming the EOWW Act the Workplace Gender Equality Act, and renaming the Agency as the Workplace Gender Equality Agency
- amending the objects of the Act to include pay equity, against which organisations will be required to report, and also acknowledging the caring responsibilities of both women and men
- broadening the coverage of the Act to include men, particularly in relation to caring responsibilities
- requiring employers to report on the gender composition of their boards.
Prior to the Bill passing through the Senate, the Commission made a submission to the Senate Education Employment and Workplace Relations Legislation Committee. Click here to view the submission.
More information can be found on the Workplace Gender Equality Agency website.
25th Anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth)
The 25th Anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 was celebrated in 2009. The SDA has been a major part of ensuring that all Australian’s are equal regardless of sex, promoting the elimination of discrimination on the basis of sex, marital status or pregnancy or potential for becoming pregnant. Since its introduction, the SDA has helped thousands of people, who have suffered sex discrimination seek redress, promoting gender equality in Australia in most areas of public life.
Related Speeches and Media
- Better protection is needed against gender based discrimination in the 21st Century (4 September 2008)
- Time for fresh ideas to tackle sex discrimination (27 June 2008)