The Minister for Women recently launched a public consultation to inform the National Strategy to Achieve Gender Equality in Australia.
To be released in the second half of 2023, the strategy will guide whole-of-community action to create a gender-equal society for Australia. To achieve this, the strategy must take an intersectional approach that understands and defines gender.
Gender exists on a spectrum and must be understood as a system of power that is structural (embedded in social, political or economic structures) as well as cultural.
When the focus is limited to “women and girls as the group that disproportionately experience the negative impacts of gender inequality,” further marginalisation and disadvantage is placed on non-binary and gender-diverse people from diverse ethnic and cultural backgrounds, and women with multiple disadvantaged identities.
The National Strategy on Gender Equality must be framed, measured and reported with a strong intersectional understanding
The COVID-19 pandemic and the ongoing climate crisis has amplified the need to address equality with a multidimensional approach, as those experiencing intersectional discrimination continue to face disproportionate impacts of inequalities. This includes access to health care, risk of gender-based violence, unemployment, under employment, racism and wellbeing.
Failure to address complex social systems and identities is continuing to deny the human rights protections due to everyone residing in Australia.. It is crucial to develop the strategy and its monitoring and reporting framework in a way that effectively addresses oppression, bias and prejudice due to intersecting forms of discrimination. This requires a full shift in mindset, accompanied by the essential enabling systems, structures, policies and processes. Issues around racism, multiculturalism and discrimination need to be fully spelt out clearly, addressed and monitored through the collection and analysis of disaggregated data, in the National Strategy to achieve Gender Equality.
Centralised human rights protection
The Strategy must be embedded in a whole-of-government system, scaffolded by national human rights protection act.
Currently, Australia is the only liberal democracy without one. A national strategy on gender equality cannot be successfully implemented, monitored and reported without the framework of a centralised human rights protection act.
The most significant and persistent human rights issues in Australia include structural racism and discrimination which our current laws do not, or do not go far enough, to prevent. These issues are complex; many are embedded in Australia’s history, and they often affect the marginalised individuals and communities including, First Nations people, women from certain disadvantaged groups, the disabled and the LGBTQIA+ community.
Currently, human rights protections are found in a range of legislation which are complex, decentralised and sometimes only implied. This strategy cannot work when we have numerous individual laws, for example on religious freedoms or sexual discrimination to the exclusion of others, as all human rights are intrinsically linked.
A whole-of-government approach
The National Strategy on Gender Equality must align with the National Plan to End Violence Against Women and Children, the National Women’s Health Strategy, the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, all the national strategies and plans related to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, including the Wiyi Yani U Thangani (Women’s Voices) project.
This will ensure the critical work on building an intersectional evidence base, that when aligned with the other national plans and strategies highlighted above, will ensure data integrity, data disaggregation and a robust intersectional analysis that reflects the genuine state of affairs of gender equality and human rights in Australia.
Economic empowerment is a critical driver of gender equality
The Women’s Budget Statement is a valuable foundation for informing a national strategy on achieving gender equality. To truly reflect gender equality in economic policy work, it must apply the broader, intersectional definition of gender in its initiatives and investments. These include gender responsive budgeting and a Women’s Economic Equality Taskforce.
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