This week, the key UN Committee on gender equality asked a multi-agency Australian government delegation how Australia is implementing the primary convention on women’s rights and gender equality.
As a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Australian government is expected to present to the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination every four years but the last time they presented was in 2010.
Given Australia’s global economic standing, the Committee was extremely concerned by cuts to women’s shelter services and the housing, financial and legal services upon which the most vulnerable women rely. The Committee criticised Australia for cutting specialised services designed to help women escape violence in the home and replacing them with mainstreamed services. The Committee considered it is unreasonable for a woman who has been the victim of male violence seek refuge at a shelter that now also serves men.
Committee expert, Ruth Halperin-Kaddari asked about reduction in women’s access to justice due to “major cuts to legal aid across the board.” Quoting the 2014 Productivity Commission Inquiry she reminded us “women are more likely to experience unmet legal need than men, and that indigenous women are more at risk, and more legal need is unmet in rural, regional and remote areas.”
Committee’s Rapporteur for Australia, Patricia Schulz, was deeply critical of why the government had decided to merge the Family Court with the Federal Circuit Court before the results of the review they commissioned to ensure the family law system meets the contemporary needs of families and effectively addresses family violence and child abuse. She also expressed concern about the influence of false claims by the so called ‘Men’s Rights Activists’ on family law officers, policies and practice at the expense of the safety and protection of women and children in situations of domestic violence.