The Guardian October 11, 2000


An open letter to the Prime Minister of Australia

The women of Australia call on you to reconsider your Government's 
refusal to sign the Optional Protocol of the United Nations Convention for 
the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

Australia has played a leadership role over several years in the drafting 
of the protocol and in ensuring it was adopted by the United Nations on 
October 6, 1999. Women's non-government organisations were extensively 
involved in partnership with the Government in this process.

Your Government's delegation to the UN's Beijing Plus 5 Special General 
Assembly session worked very hard with other like-minded governments to 
ratify the protocol.

But now, cabinet's refusal to ratify the protocol runs the risk of aligning 
Australia with repressive governments seeking to undermine the 
international system of human rights. Australia may be aligned with 
countries whose women suffer severe discrimination, countries who would 
welcome Australia's refusal to sign as a stamp of legitimacy for their 
refusal to adopt a vision of universal human rights for all women.

The women of Australia believe that your Government's refusal to sign the 
Optional Protocol is against the advice of the Office for the Status of 
Women. There is reason to suspect that this decision was also against the 
advice of the Minister responsible for the Office of the Status of Women, 
Senator Jocelyn Newman.

This decision has the appearance of being made arbitrarily, without 
consulting women who were involved in the process leading up to the 
development of the CEDAW Optional Protocol.

The women of Australia call on the Howard Government to reconsider its 
decision not to sign or ratify the Optional Protocol to CEDAW. Please 
restore Australia's commitment to the principle and practice of universal 
human rights for women.

Justice Elizabeth Evatt; Margaret Reynolds, National 
President, United Nations Association of Australia; Professor Dale 
Spender; Senator Meg Lees, Leader, Australian Democrats; 
Senator Natasha Stott Despoja, Deputy Leader, Australian Democrats; 
Senator Vicki Bourne, Democrats Foreign Affairs Spokeswoman; Dr 
Carmen Lawrence, Labor Shadow Minister for the Status of Women; 
Senator Rosemary Crowley; Jan McLucas, MP; Janice 
Crosio, MP; Susan Brennan, Women's Rights Action Network; 
Mary Ziesak, Women's International League of Peace and Freedom; 
May Lamot, Soroptimists International; Cait Calcutt, Children 
by Choice, Abortion Rights Network of Australia; Eileen Pittaway, 
Asian Women's Human Rights Council; Linda Bartolomei, the Australian 
National Council on Refugee Women; Fiona Jolley, YWCA; Vivienne 
Wynter, National Women's Media Centre; Marion Donaldson, Women's 
Network, Amnesty International; Iris Ritt, Hobart Women's Health 
Centre; Val Shelton-Bunn, SHE Tasmania; Caroline Smith, 
Women's Legal Service (Tas)

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