Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Australia’s new sex discrimination commissioner may have a straightforward-sounding job title. But reality is more complicated.
“A person is rarely just a woman,” said Dr Anna Cody, an academic and lawyer. “She would also have a racial background, sexuality, disability or not-disability, be First Nations or not First Nations … [There’s a] cross-cutting way in which inequality can play out.”
Dr Anna Cody plans to approach gender, sex and LGBTQI+ issues with an intersectional lens in her role as Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner.Credit: Wolter Peeters
Cody this month starts her five-year term as the country’s eighth sex discrimination commissioner, a role that was created as part of the Human Rights Commission in 1984 to oversee the operation of the Sex Discrimination Act.
But when it comes to her remit as it’s spelled out in the legislation – tackling discrimination on the grounds of sex, sexual orientation and gender – she thinks it’s time for the country to take a wider view.
“None of us are just one identity. No issue is just one facet. To actually solve and deal with and confront issues [comprehensively], we need to think holistically around the experience of people,” she said.
“Australia has worked well thinking about issues as single issues. But now we’re ready for a more fulsome, comprehensive understanding of equality and how to achieve that.”
In her first interview since she started in the role, Cody said it was too early to outline her goals and priorities for this term; she anticipates another three to six months of consultation before that becomes clear.
However, she knows she plans to approach gender, sex and LGBTQI+ issues with an intersectional lens.
“So thinking about women and girls with disability, what are those particular issues? Or women from low socio-economic backgrounds? What are the issues for culturally and racially marginalised [women]? Really getting a deeper understanding,” she said.
It’s an approach she came to appreciate in one of her first jobs – when she worked in the Northern Territory in her 20s to help establish a domestic violence legal service for mainly First Nations women – and continued in her recent role as the law school dean at Western Sydney University.
“Working within a diverse workforce … really shifts how you see issues. When you’re suddenly sitting across the table from someone who’s a First Nations person, or who is from a culturally or racially marginalised group, even just dealing with very run-of-the-mill issues. It makes you see things differently because you are thinking of it from someone else’s perspective,” she said.
“[At the university], it was support for students, or curriculum development. In this new role, it will be different issues. But it’s still: who is around the table? How do we engage with the diversity of our community in shaping equality, so that … it actually leads to substantive outcomes?
“Having that richness, having that range of voices included, is really beneficial.”
The concerns of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex Australians will be a particular focus. “It’s part of my mandate … It’s absolutely a fundamental part of what I do,” Cody said.
“I think that now is a really good time to focus on those priorities. There has been some substantial work done in that area, for example, the previous commissioner, Kate Jenkins, worked on transgender inclusion within sport, as well as guidelines around intersex people.”
Cody will also take up what remains of Jenkins’ Respect at Work project, which focused on sexual harassment and sex-based discrimination in the workplace, as well as projects trying to achieve cultural change in the defence and police forces.
Next in the workplace reform space will be a program called “Positive Duty”, which begins this year and calls on businesses to take a preventative approach to sex-based harassment and discrimination.
“It is clearly an ongoing issue. It’s something that Australia is grappling with, and we need to continue our focus on,” Cody said.
“I think what’s exciting about this new program of work is that until now, it’s been very much complaints-driven … [This is] actually shifting that to how are [employers and organisations] preventing sexual harassment happening at work.”
Another part of Cody’s role is shifting community attitudes, something she thinks is reflected in many workplace enterprise bargaining agreements now containing domestic violence leave.
However, there are other signs change is slow, such as this year’s violence against women survey of 19,100 Australians that found one-third believed women use sexual assault claims as retribution against men.
“While attitudes are moving – I am optimistic about a shift in both our policy environment, our laws, attitudes within business, within government and community – there is further work that we need to be doing,” she said.
National Sexual Assault, Family & Domestic Violence Counselling Line: 1800 737 732. Crisis support can be found at Lifeline (13 11 14), the Suicide Call Back Service (1300 659 467) and beyondblue (1300 22 4636).
The Morning Edition newsletter is our guide to the day’s most important and interesting stories, analysis and insights. Sign up here.
Most Viewed in Politics
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article