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Australia: Increase Support for Women’s Rights Globally

Promote Rights of Women, Girls in International Forums, Foreign Policy

Australia Minister for Foreign Affairs Penny Wong addresses the 78th session of the United Nations General Assembly at United Nations headquarters, September 22, 2023.  © 2023 Craig Ruttle/AP Photo

(Sydney) – The Australian government should expand its efforts to promote and defend the rights of women and girls around the world, Human Rights Watch said today. In many countries, governments are increasingly attacking reproductive rights, targeting women’s rights defenders, imposing abusive “guardianship” systems over women and girls, and disregarding the disproportionate toll of the climate crisis on women.

On November 30, 2023, Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade (JSCFADT) issued its report, “The pursuit of equality,” on the rights of women and children. The committee concluded that while Australia “has taken steps to reframe foreign policy to address the perspectives of women … further action can be taken to fully embrace Australia’s role as a world leader in addressing the rights of women and children.”

“The Australian government should counter new laws, policies and practices around the world that threaten women’s rights by advancing a foreign policy that focuses on greater protection and promotion of these rights,” said Daniela Gavshon, Australia director at Human Rights Watch. “Countries in the Asia-Pacific region where women and girls face broader oppression, such as the Taliban’s gender persecution in Afghanistan, should get particular attention.”

In November, Human Rights Watch made a submission to the JSCFADT’s inquiry into the rights of women and children. Human Rights Watch highlighted critical issues including the disproportionate toll of the climate crisis on women and the need for Australia to work with other high emission countries and others to phase out fossil fuels; the plight of women and girls in Afghanistan; the need to guarantee an explicit right to early education and secondary education; and the importance of Australia seizing the opportunity to adopt a feminist foreign policy.

Human Rights Watch endorsed the committee’s recommendation that the Australian government should find ways to support women’s rights in international forums such as the United Nations. The government should back the development of a treaty on crimes against humanity, which provides a crucial opportunity to strengthen international criminal law protections for women and girls, such as considering whether gender can be a basis for the crime against humanity of apartheid. Human Rights Watch has joined other experts in urging countries, including Australia, to approach the development of this new treaty through a gender-competent, survivor-centric, and intersectional lens.

“Australia has the tools in place for effectively promoting women’s rights around the world, including a foreign minister committed to gender equality and a newly created ambassador for gender equality,” Gavshon said. “The Australian government, which has expressed a commitment to being a champion of the rights of women and girls, can become a global leader by making the protection of these rights a more prominent part of its foreign policy.”


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