In continued talks and collaborations between Darulfatwa Australia and Al-Azhar Asharif of the Republic of Egypt, the research division of the Al-Azhar Asharif University requested from Darulfatwa Australia, a factual composition on women’s rights in Australia. His Eminence, Chairman of Darulfatwa-In 2021, the Islamic High Council of Australia, Prof. Sheikh Salim Alwan submitted the below account outlining the rights of women in Australia as per the Australian constitution and how this manifest in everyday life in Australia over time. The outcome on the work of Al-Azhar university is pending.
The Rights of Women in Australia
Historically, women in Australia have been excluded from large parts of public and political life in their own society. This was mainly due to some social structures, traditions, stereotypes and attitudes about women and their role in society. Women in Australia today still do not have access to or are able to equally enforce what is known as their human rights, as much as men. However, as a result of their plights for gender equality in many areas of life, the Australian woman exercises more rights than she did over 150 years ago.
Today the rights of the Australian woman are governed under the Universal Declaration of Human Rights Adopted by the General Assembly of the United Nations on 10 December 1948 Article 1; the following is a plain language version:
Article 1– Everyone is born free and equal in dignity and rights.
Article 2– Everyone is entitled to all the rights and freedoms in this Declaration.
Article 3– Everyone has the right to life and to live in freedom and safety.
Article 4– No one can be forced into slavery.
Article 5-No one can be tortured or treated cruelly.
Article 6– Everyone has the right to be treated equally by the law.
Article 7-The law is the same for everyone and should be applied in the same way to everyone.
Article 8-Everyone has the right to ask for legal help when their rights are not respected.
Article 9-No one can be randomly imprisoned or sent away from their own country.
Article 10-Everyone has the right to a fair and public trial by an independent court.
Article 11-Everyone should be considered innocent until proved guilty.
Article 12– Nobody can interfere with someone’s family, home, privacy or correspondence without good reason. Everybody has the right to be protected from such actions.
Article 13-Everyone has the right to travel wherever they want within their own country. Everyone also has the right to leave their country and to return to it.
Article 14-Everyone has the right to go to another country and ask for protection if they are being mistreated or are in danger.
Article 15-Everyone has the right to belong to a country. Nobody can be prevented from belonging to another country without good reason.
Article 16-All men and women have the right to marry and have a family.
Article 17-Everyone has the right to own property and possessions.
Article 18-Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion. Everyone has the right to practice a religion. Everyone also has the right not to practice a religion.
Article 19-Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.
Article 20-Everyone has the right to peacefully take part in meetings and belong to groups.
Article 21-Everyone has the right to choose to take part in the government of their country. The will of the people is the foundation for the authority of government. The will of the people is expressed in free and fair elections.
Article 22-Everyone has the right to social security and is entitled to economic, social and cultural rights.
Article 23-Everyone has the right to work, the right to equal pay for equal work and the right to a decent income and working conditions. Everyone also has the right to form and to join trade unions.
Article 24-Everyone has the right to have time to relax and have fun.
Article 25-Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for health and wellbeing. Motherhood and childhood are entitled to special care and help.
Article 26-Everyone has the right to free education. Primary school education should be available to everyone. Everybody should also have access to higher education.
Article 27-Everyone has the right to participate in their community’s cultural life.
Article 28-Everyone has the right to live in a society in which the rights and freedoms in this Declaration are available.
Article 29-Everyone has a responsibility to ensure that the rights of others are respected.
Article 30-No one has the right to try and take away any of the rights in this Declaration.
Women’s Rights are Human Rights
The human rights that women have in Australia include the rights to education, to health care, equal access to the law, the right to live independently, to have their own money, to travel wherever they want to, to vote, to be professionals, and ideally, to be in every way equal to men. Women ideally have access to these rights in the school, the workplace and in the family and are said to have equal rights as men. This is reflected in the Australian legal system.
Women and girls’ rights in Australia include the following:
- Women have the right to not be discriminated against just because they are female. Discrimination means any actions which stop women from accessing and enjoying all their human rights.
- Child protection laws, anti-discrimination laws and labour laws protect women from being forced to take a less equal role in our society.
- Women have the right to be protected from trafficking and exploitation. There are strict laws in place to protect women from being trafficked and to assist women who have been trafficked to Australia. Women who have been trafficked to Australia can get help.
- There are also laws which protect women and girls from forced prostitution.
- There are other laws which protect women who choose to work in the sex industry to make sure that they are safe at work. There are laws to make sure that women and girls have choices about work and are safe when working.
- Women have the right to enter all levels of politics and political decision-making
- ‘Women have the right to represent their countries at an international level equally with men
- Women have the right to choose to retain their nationality, or to change it if they wish.
- Women have the right to give their nationality to their children
- Women have the right to full access to the same education as men at all levels, including scholarships
- Women have the same rights as men in the workplace. This includes the right to equal pay for equal work, and maternity leave and special care during pregnancy
- Women have the right to equal access to health care, in particular to reproductive and maternal health care and access to family planning services
- Women have the right to equal access to income, family benefits, credit and loans, social support, sports and recreation
- Women have the right to equality in law, including the right to enter into contracts and financial agreements, to choose where they live, and to appear in court
- Women have the same rights in marriage as men
- Women have the right to be protected from physical or verbal harm
- Women have the right to feel protected in their own home and on the streets.
- Women have the right to be protected from sexual violence and assault
- An overhaul to the family law system in 1975 made the sole ground for divorce an ‘irretrievable breakdown’ of the relationship. Subsequently, divorce has become less costly, fairer and more accessible to both men and women. These reforms have also provided women with more legal rights.
In day-to-day life, the rights of women in Australia manifest in the following:
- In the home, women have an equal share in discussions and decisions in the household as do men.
- Women may sometimes be the only breadwinner of the family
- If neither the mother or the father is working, women and young people receive their own payments from Centrelink; it does not come through the father or spouse.
- If women need help in any social or family problem or unrest, she can seek assistance from a variety of centres set up to support women. This includes government departments, the local police, doctors, professional, interpreting services, solicitors.
- Those who are proven to be preventing women from accessing their rights and to the law can be placed in prison.
- If they can afford to, women can take loans, for example, to buy a car, or a house.
- They can make contracts, such as work contracts, or rental agreements in their own names.
- They can become citizens of Australia, even if a woman’s husband or father is not a citizen. Once they are citizens, they can vote in all government elections.
- women cannot be paid less than men for doing the same work
- cannot be forced to do paid work which is traditionally ‘women’s work’ such as child-minding or cleaning, if they want other kinds of employment.
- Women cannot be locked in their homes and not be allowed to travel.
- Women cannot be forced into marriage.
- Young women cannot be forced to leave school to help with home duties.
- People who try to force women and girls into prostitution can be put into prison for a long time
- Many political parties in Australia have female politicians. Many political parties have special programs to assist women to take their place in political life. These programs help women who are interested in politics to learn the skills that they need to be a politician and assist them to stand for election.
- Many women have been appointed by the Government to serve at the United Nations, for example in the Human Rights Council, and in the United Nations High Commission for Refugees. Women serve in our embassies in many countries and in international organisations around the world, such as AusAID, the International Organisation for Migration and CARE. Australian women also sit on the boards of some international corporations.
- If a woman is a permanent resident, once she has been here for four years, she can apply to become a citizen of Australia. Her children will then become citizens of Australia too.
- In Australia, the same education is offered to boys and girls, men and women, at primary, secondary and tertiary levels.
- Women are equally able to access most scholarships for tertiary study
- There are laws which state that women should receive equal pay for equal work. If this does not happen, women should go to a trade union, or to Fair Work Australia.
- Many working women in Australia are entitled to paid parental leave.
- The Government provides a network of women’s health services which cover all aspects of health and wellbeing for the whole of her life. In particular women are entitled to sexual and reproductive health care, which includes care during pregnancy, at childbirth and in the months following the birth.
- When the government is assisting families with social and family support, the woman and the man are each paid their portions of the family benefits separately. If there are children under the age of 16, a portion of the benefit paid to women is for the support of the children. It is intended that each member of the family who receives a Centrelink benefit will contribute to the household costs. Because this does not always happen; the government separates payments to make sure that if for some reason, the man does not contribute to the household costs, the woman has sufficient money to feed and care for the family.
- Banks are not allowed to discriminate against women seeking loans
- Women are entitled to join sports and recreation clubs in their own right and to participate in sports and recreational activities if they wish to.
- Once a woman has been given permanent residency, she cannot be returned to her home country by her husband. She has equal rights to stay here.
- Women have the right to be treated with respect and be safe within marriage.
- It is against the law to force anyone to marry someone against their will, or to force them to stay in a marriage when they wish to leave. Men and women have equal rights and responsibilities within marriage
- Women and men have the same rights and responsibilities about the custody and raising of children.
- Women have the right to be treated with respect and to be safe within marriage.
- By Australian law, women have the same right as men to seek divorce if they wish to
- It is against the law for anyone in Australia to threaten, intimidate or harm a woman. This includes threats, intimidation or harm from partners, ex partners or family members or strangers.
- In Australia, the law says that there must be consent by both partners when having sex with no force or intimidation of any kind involved.
- Sexual assault is a very broad term in Australia and includes non-consensual sex in a marriage. Women who are married still need to consent to having sex with their partners, otherwise this will be considered sexual assault.
- A woman must be over 16 years old in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria, and must not be unconscious or asleep and cannot give consent when they are substantially intoxicated or on drugs.
- In the process of divorce, in some circumstances the court may order an equal split of the assets between the spouses. When circumstances are complicated with other factors including children, custody and contributions to the marriage, the asset share may be more in favour of the mother, if she is granted custody.
- In a divorce settlement, The Court will assess each partner’s contribution to the marriage. Beyond financial income, domestic duties also carry significant weight. For example, if a wife did not work due to raising children, the Court will deem her contribution to be just as significant as her spouse’s.
- The mother who has full custody of the children also has a right to spousal maintenance and child support from the father.
Under Australian law, women cannot be discriminated against in the name of politics, religion or culture. Women cannot be forced to do anything they do not want to do. They cannot have their rights taken away from them, even by family members. If this happens, the woman has the right to go seek help.
Government has introduced special programs to make sure that women have access to their rights and are able to take an equal place in decision-making in our society. Women have the right to enjoy equal practices that do not discriminate against them due to their gender. This applies to women who are married, single, widowed or divorced.
Voting rights for Women in Australia
Women’s suffrage in Australia was one of the earliest objectives of the movement for gender equality in Australia. It began to be socially and politically accepted and legislated during the late 19th century, beginning with South Australia in 1894 and Western Australia in 1899. In 1902, the newly established Australian Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which set a uniform law enabling women (except those who were “aboriginal natives” of Australia, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific Islands, unless excepted under section 41 of the constitution) to vote at federal elections and to stand for the federal Parliament. This removed gender discrimination in relation to electoral rights for federal elections in Australia. By 1911, the remaining Australian states had legislated for women’s suffrage for state elections. It took longer before women could stand for parliament throughout Australia and even longer before they were actually elected.
The first election for the Parliament of the newly formed Commonwealth of Australia in 1901 was based on the electoral laws of the six federating colonies, so that women who had the vote and the right to stand for Parliament at a colony (now state) level (i.e., in South Australia including the Northern Territory and Western Australia) had the same rights for the 1901 Australian federal election. In 1902, the Commonwealth Parliament passed the uniform Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which enabled women 21 years of age and older to vote at elections for the federal Parliament. The States soon gave women over 21 the vote: New South Wales in 1902, Tasmania in 1903, Queensland in 1905, and Victoria in 1908.
In the Workforce
During the 1960s women working in the public service and in many private companies were forced to resign from their jobs when they got married. It was not until 1966 that women in the Australian public service won the right to remain employed after marriage.
Though, a gender-based pay gap still exists in Australia. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency (AGEA) reported in February 2021 that based on national ABS statistics, “Australia’s national gender pay gap is 13.4%. In November 2020, women’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings across all industries and occupations was $1,562.00 compared to men’s average weekly ordinary full-time earnings of $1,804.20”. However, the pay gap has lessened since 2014 when it was 18.5%.
This gender pay gap is influenced by a range of interconnected factors, including stereotypes about the work women and men ‘should’ do, and the way women and men ‘should’ engage in the workforce. An example is the low pay for social and community workers. The question is, are they unpaid roles because they are roles predominantly taken up by women?
Other factors that contribute to the gender pay gap include discrimination, a lack of women in senior positions, a lack of part-time or flexible roles that accommodate for family responsibilities, and differences in education and work experience.
Snapshot of Milestones
- In 1902, the newly established Australian Parliament passed the Commonwealth Franchise Act 1902, which set a uniform law enabling mainly (white) women to vote at federal elections and to stand for the federal Parliament.
- White Female Suffrage in Australia:
- The right to vote -1902
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1902
- State – South Australia
- The right to vote – 1895
- The right to stand for Parliament-1895
- State – Western Australia
- The right to vote -1899
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1920
- State – New South Wales
- The right to vote -1902
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1918
- State – Tasmania
- The right to vote -1903
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1921
- State – Queensland
- The right to vote -1905
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1915
- State – Victoria
- The right to vote -1908
- The right to stand for Parliament – 1923
- The right to vote – 1895
- In 1943, the first woman was elected to the Commonwealth Parliament
- Since 1983, a married woman’s application for an Australian passport does not need to be authorised by her husband.
- In 1882, Australia’s first female trade union was established in Victoria
- In 1890, the first Working Women’s Trade Union of South Australia was formed
- In 1885, the Age of Consent for females was raised from 13 years to 16 years to protect young girls.
- In 1972, women were granted equal pay to men but only in instances where they did identical work as men.
- In 1966 women in the Australian public service won the right to remain employed after marriage.
- In 1975, an overhaul to the family law system made the sole ground for divorce an ‘irretrievable breakdown of the relationship. Subsequently, these reforms have provided women with more legal rights.
A Remaining Imbalance of Equity
Despite the abovementioned rights given to women in Australia, gender inequality continues to be a major barrier to the realisation of rights and access to opportunities for girls and women in Australia. The unequal status of women and girls in Australia is underlined by structural and systemic gendered inequalities. Gender inequality interacts with other systems of power and inequality resulting in multiple and intersecting experiences of inequality and disadvantage for marginalised women. The following data illustrates a general view of the status of women in Australia in terms of exercising rights.
- 1 in 3 women in Australia has experienced violence since the age of 15.
- 1 in 3 women have been sexually harassed since the age of 15.
- Women are more likely to live below the poverty line.
- On average, women retire with approximately half the level of retirement savings of men.
- Women spend twice as much time on unpaid work as men.
- Women make up 32% of all Federal Parliamentarians.
- Women account for just 21% of sources directly quoted in news articles.
High Islamic Council Australia
Media and Research department