Australia must better protect LGBTI womens’ rights: UN Committee highlights

Australia must better protect LGBTI womens’ rights: UN Committee highlights

The UN’s expert committee on discrimination against women has raised a series of concerns about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex and queer women and girls in Australia.

The UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is this week reviewing Australia’s progress on ending discrimination against women.

Australia’s record was last reviewed eight years ago, and while the Australian Government has made positive steps, the voices of some of the most marginalised women and girls continue to go unheard.

Related news: Australia’s record on women’s rights to be scrutinised on the world stage

Reducing discrimination, bullying and harassment

The UN Committee highlighted the need to tackle stereotypes and break down stigma for LGBTI women and the need to replace LGBTI specific anti-bullying programs which have been defunded.

The Committee grilled the Australian Government on the need for specialist services to address the “staggering rates of self-harm and suicide” for LGBTI women, particularly transgender and intersex people, caused by “unacceptably high rates of discrimination and harassment”.

Lee Carnie, Senior Lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, who is in Geneva attending the review, said the Australian Government has a responsibility to invest in long-term, coordinated action to prevent discrimination and harassment.

“Harassment and discrimination causes real harm to our communities. Nine out of ten LGBTI Australians reported that last year’s postal survey on marriage equality had a negative impact on them, and we saw a spike in calls to specialist crisis support lines. The Australian Government needs to listen to the world’s top women’s rights experts and take action to decrease the high levels of discrimination, bullying and harassment LGBTI women and girls face in Australia,” said Lee Carnie. 

Ending unnecessary medical interventions on intersex people

The Australian Government’s inaction on the forced and coerced medical interventions on intersex people was also questioned, as were plans for prevention, compensation, investigation and prosecution.

Currently the Australian Government does not propose any changes to the existing arrangements on the involuntary and coerced sterilisation of intersex people.

“Everyone has the right to decide what happens to their body. Five years ago, the Australian Senate handed down a comprehensive report calling for rigorous oversight to end medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex people without their informed consent. Australia has a responsibility to make sure there are no unnecessary surgeries being performed on intersex kids right now,” said Lee Carnie.

Legal recognition of gender for trans and gender diverse Australians

The Committee questioned the Australian Government on the “onerous legal barriers to change legal gender”, including laws requiring surgical sterilisation and laws which do not recognise categories of gender outside male and female. The Australian Government acknowledged the need for reform.

“It’s fantastic to see Australia recognising the need to improve its gender recognition laws but it’s important that the words spoken on the world stage in Geneva are converted into action back at home. All trans and gender diverse people should be able to access basic identity documents that reflect who they are,” said Lee Carnie.

LGBTI women seeking asylum

The risks to lesbian, bisexual and transgender women seeking asylum in Australia and the need to improve screening processes was also questioned by the UN Committee. The Committee also levelled a series of questions about the serious health impacts of Australia’s offshore immigration regime on women and girls on Nauru.

“Australia is failing vulnerable LGBTI women seeking safety, whether its deciding claims on the basis of stereotypes or gaps in services for LGBTI refugees. The Australian Government needs to immediately end mandatory detention, implement LGBTI-sensitive screening processes for assessing refugee status and improve access to non-discriminatory support services,” said Lee Carnie.

Background to the CEDAW review

The UN Committee on the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women is an international treaty body responsible for monitoring countries’ compliance with international human rights standards under the Convention.

In signing the treaty, Australia committed to taking all steps required under the treaty to eliminate discrimination against women and to a review every 4 years by the Committee – a panel of experts on women’s rights. Australia was last reviewed in 2010, following delays from the Australian Government in providing information to the Committee.

The Committee will release an advance copy concluding observations for the Australian Government on 23 July 2018.

Lee Carnie presented a report to the Committee and will be available for comment from Geneva, thanks to funding from International Gay Lesbian Bisexual Trans and Intersex Association (ILGA).

Download report: Hear our voice: Equal rights for women and girls in Australia.

Watch: Lee Carnie at the UN

For interviews or further information please call:

Michelle Bennett, Director of Communications, Human Rights Law Centre, 0419 100 519