Equality before the Law Bench Book — Update 17 published

Section 7 — Women

This chapter has been rewritten, with updated cases and legislation, new and updated statistics and new sections on socio-economic factors and gender disadvantage, sexual harassment, intersectional discrimination and violence against women. Statistics reported show that women experience inequality and disadvantage which arise because of their sex and gender characteristics. The revised chapter focuses on the issues that may arise for women in their interactions with the justice system to assist judicial understanding of and sensitivity to the requirements of women.

Cumulative economic disadvantage, often over a lifetime, leads to unacceptable levels of women living in poverty and homelessness in retirement. Included in the new section at 7.2 Socio-economic factors and gender disadvantage are commentary and statistics on the gender pay gap as it relates to both wages and superannuation, as well as the impact of caring, domestic work and the “mental load”.

Australia now lags behind other countries in preventing and responding to sexual harassment. Thirty-five years on from the enactment of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, in a landmark 2020 report, Respect@Work, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner reports that the rate of change has been disappointingly slow. The new section at 7.3 Sexual harassment includes the findings of this report as well as findings relating to sexual harassment in the Australian legal profession.

The Australian Human Rights Commission has defined intersectional discrimination as “discrimination on the basis of a combination of attributes”, such as gender, race, disability, age, sexual orientation, gender identity, intersex status or socio-economic status. New section 7.4 Intersectional discrimination provides information on women with disabilities, older women, women from migrant and refugee backgrounds, LGBTIQA+ people, and First Nations women.

The new section 7.5 Violence against women covers cultural and social attitudes to domestic violence, coercive control (an offence in some British jurisdictions but not yet in Australia), technology-facilitated abuse, sexual assault and female genital mutilation/cutting.

The chapter was developed by Judicial Commission staff. An expert committee reviewed and provided feedback. The Committee comprised:

  • Ms Philippa Davis, Principal Solicitor, Women’s Legal Service NSW
  • Ms Larissa Andelman, President, Women Lawyers’ Association for NSW Inc; Ms Renée Bianchi, Vice President, Women Lawyers’ Association for NSW Inc; Ms Holly Lam, Immediate Past President, and the Executive of the Women Lawyers’ Association for NSW Inc.
  • Professor Simon Rice, OAM, Kim Santow Chair of Law and Social Justice, University of Sydney