Date: 
Thursday 6 December 2018

The Australian Human Rights Commission has published refreshed guidelines for the use of special measures under the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 (Cth).

Special measures are positive actions used to promote equality for disadvantaged groups, which are permitted under the Sex Discrimination Act.

The Sex Discrimination Act recognises that some groups, including women and lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons, have suffered historical disadvantage and may not enjoy their human rights equally with others.

The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, points to the gender pay gap, the under-employment of women, barriers to leadership roles, reduced retirement savings and high rates of sexual harassment at work as examples of this continuing inequality.

Lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons continue to experience discrimination at work on the basis of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status, and experience higher than average rates of violence, harassment and bullying.

Commissioner Jenkins said that “increasingly, the Commission has seen examples from individuals and organisations that are seeking to address this inequality by taking proactive measures.”

An example of a special measure under the Sex Discrimination Act might be a workplace setting a target of having 30% of women on their board to address the lack of women’s representation in leadership positions.

Further examples might include:

  • specific women’s legal services which support women who have been subjected to domestic/family violence and sexual assault, to ensure they have access to appropriate and accessible legal representation, legal advice and referral
  • providing a specialist legal advice and court assistance service to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, gender diverse and intersex (LGBTI) persons experiencing domestic and family violence, to address the particular barriers some LGBTI persons experience in accessing mainstream services.

The Commission’s guidelines are intended to assist organisations and individuals to understand and use the special measures provisions in the Sex Discrimination Act.

“The guidelines are an important resource for organisations and individuals seeking to take positive steps to achieve gender equality and a more inclusive Australia, and I encourage everyone to use them,” said Commissioner Jenkins.

The guidelines can be accessed here.