Much left to do to ensure gender equity in Australia, says ANU Law alumna

Former Director of the International Labour Organisation’s Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch, Jane Hodges. Photo: Claire Atteia, ANU

There’s still much left to do to ensure gender equity in Australia, according to former Director of the International Labour Organisation’s Gender, Equality and Diversity Branch and ANU College of Law alumna, Jane Hodges.

Jane returned to Australia in late 2015 after a career spent championing the rights of women around the world, only to be shocked by the coverage and commentary around the sexual harassment of a female sports journalist covering the T20 cricket.

“In Europe, that conduct would have been slammed in the influential newspapers. The next day a human rights commission president would have publicly slammed it, sports bodies would have been called in and asked to sanction the cricketer and there would have been NGOs threatening court litigation,” Jane said.

“While the press here were correctly appalled, I couldn’t believe the story just went away. What I couldn’t understand was that there were no immediate official responses to the behaviour. Where were the human rights advocates and policy-makers slamming the behaviour?

“Sadly, a lot of people were saying ‘it was just a joke’. It’s not just a joke. The question remains - why did the cricketer think he could get away with it in Australia? What does that say about Australia?

“Like many parts of the world, gender equality appears to be going backwards in Australia. Behaviours that wouldn’t have been acceptable 30 years ago, now appear to be acceptable or receive one-days' worth of criticism and then slide off the screen,” Jane said.

ANU law students will be able to draw on Jane’s considerable experience in how international law can improve gender equality this semester when she will be working with Senior Lecturer Kevin Boreham on his Women’s Rights unit, including giving a guest lecture.

Born in Melbourne and brought up in NSW’s Riverina, Jane studied a combined Arts-Law degree at ANU, graduating in 1977 before continuing post-graduate studies at the University of Sydney and the Hague Institute of International Law.

Finding work with Sydney based law firm was a good start but it was soon clear there was little prospect of a junior woman getting the good briefs. So Jane began writing to major organisations around the world to enquire about employment opportunities.

Accepting an initial 12-month contract with the ILO, Jane began to create the foundation for a career that stretched over 35 years and covered an incredibly diverse array of roles.

From work on freedom of association cases and non-discrimination files to five years serving the field from the ILO’s Zimbabwe Office, Jane built a global network, establishing herself as an expert in labour law reform to help build new laws in contexts of labour market reform. She trained thousands of politicians, judges, bureaucrats, business leaders and workers in countries around the world.

It was this work that drew Jane into gender equality. She realised that while many countries had introduced an increasing number of protections for women – such as banning sexual harassment, gender neutral language, maternity protection,  and affirmative action for women on company boards – women were still invisible and unprotected, never getting decent work like the men did.

Placing a greater focus on gender and the law, Jane was asked by the ILO Director-General to head up the then new Gender Equality Bureau, a role that she continues to describe as the “best job in the world”.

“If one woman gets back pay and damages because she’s been unfairly stigmatised, or discriminated against, I’d like to think that’s because little old Jane Hodges made some judge know they could use international law to set wrongs right, and somewhere justice was done,” Jane said.


Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team