Following a public hearing by the treaties committee into opportunities for women to serve in combat roles within the Australian Defence Force, Australia will withdraw an outdated reservation to the gender discrimination convention.
The committee reviewed the withdrawal of Australia's reservation to the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) concerning women in combat and combat-related duties in May this year.
As of 1 January 2016, the government’s policy to remove all gender restrictions from the ADF combat roles was fully implemented. Women now have equal opportunities to apply and be considered for all ADF positions.
The chair of the committee, Stuart Robert, explained that the change in defence policy makes the reservation to the convention unnecessary.
"The original reservation no longer reflects government policy nor the expectations of the Australian community. The committee strongly supports the withdrawal of the reservation and the commitments of successive governments to gender equality within the Australian Defence Force," Robert said.
Robert also stressed that the ADF has a long way to go in achieving gender balance.
"There is still a significant road ahead before gender balance is achieved within the Australian Defence Force. Yet there is no shortage of talented women in the Australian military and the Australian Defence Force should embrace it fully. While not every woman will be capable of serving in combat roles, neither is every man. Access to such roles should be based on merit and ability, not gender," said Robert.
As of May 2017, women comprised 16.4 per cent of the permanent ADF.
The committee found the gender imbalance is most pronounced in the upper levels of command. The committee said this becomes clear when considering the male to female ratio of star ranked officers across all three services.
As at 2012:
- in the Navy, one of 52 star ranked officers is female;
- in the Army, four of 71 star ranked officers is female; and
- in the Air Force, one of 53 star ranked officers is female.