Sex Discrimination in Uncertain Times

Sex Discrimination in Uncertain Times

Edited by: Margaret Thornton orcid

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This collection of essays arose from a conference held to mark the silver anniversary of the Australian Sex Discrimination Act (1984). The collection has two aims: first; to honour the contributions of both the spirited individuals who valiantly fought for the enactment of the legislation against the odds, and those who championed the new law once it was passed; secondly, to present a stock-take of the Act within the changed socio-political environment of the 21st century.

The contributors present clear-eyed appraisals of the legislation, in addition to considering new forms of legal regulation, such as Equality Act, and the significance of a Human Rights Act. The introduction of a proactive model, which would impose positive duties on organisations, is explored as an alternative to the existing individual complaint-based model of legislation. The contributors also pay attention to the international human rights framework, particularly the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women and the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People. The essays are illuminated by recourse to a rich vein of historical and contemporary literature. Regard is also paid to the comparative experience of other jurisdictions, particularly the UK and Canada.


ISBN (print):
ISBN (online):
Publication date:
Sep 2010
ANU Press
Arts & Humanities: History; Law; Social Sciences: Gender Studies, Social Policy & Administration
Australia; Europe: United Kingdom; North America: Canada

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Part I: A Silver Anniversary

Part II: Then and Now

  1. The Sex Discrimination Act and its Rocky Rite of Passage (PDF, 337KB)Margaret Thornton and Trish Luker doi
  2. A Radical Prequel: Historicising the Concept of Gendered Law in Australia (PDF, 410KB)Ann Genovese doi
  3. Women’s Work is Never Done: The Pursuit of Equality and the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act (PDF, 2.6MB)Marian Sawer doi
  4. To Demand Equality is to Lack Ambition’: Sex Discrimination Legislation—Contexts and Contradictions (PDF, 201KB)Susan Magarey doi

Part III: Critiquing the SDA

  1. The Sex Discrimination Act at 25: Reflections on the Past, Present and Future (PDF, 421KB)Beth Gaze doi
  2. The Sex Discrimination Act: Advancing Gender Equality and Decent Work? (PDF, 311KB)Sara Charlesworth doi
  3. Reproducing Discrimination: Promoting the Equal Sharing of Caring Work in CEDAW, at the ILO and in the SDA (PDF, 326KB)Caroline Lambert doi

Part IV: Equivocations of Equality

  1. Equality Unmodified? (PDF, 325KB)Reg Graycar and Jenny Morgan doi
  2. And Which ‘Equality Act’ Would that Be? (PDF, 670KB)Simon Rice doi
  3. Rethinking the Sex Discrimination Act: Does Canada’s Experience Suggest we should give our Judges (PDF, 346KB)Belinda Smith doi
  4. Equality as a Basic Human Right: Choice and Responsibility (PDF, 373KB)Archana Parashar doi

Part V: Women’s Rights as Human Rights

  1. Raising Women Up: Analysing Australian Advocacy for Women’s Rights under International and Domestic Law (PDF, 410KB)Susan Harris Rimmer doi
  2. Can We Feminise Human Rights? (PDF, 457KB)Margaret Thornton doi
  3. Sex, Race and Questions of Aboriginality (PDF, 255KB)Irene Watson and Sharon Venne doi


In reviewing Sex Discrimination in Uncertain Times for the Australian Feminist Law Journal (Vol. 34, issue 1, June 2011), Diane Kirkby gives an insightful and relevant history  to the Federal Sex Discrimination Act 1984, giving a necessary context to the publication of the book. She goes on to praise Sex Discrimination in Uncertain Times as “a valuable and excellent collection…contextualising the issues and identifying challenges for the future”.

(Kirkby, Diane. “Sex Discrimination, Workplace Opportunities and Law’s Transformative Promise.” Review of Sex Discrimination in Uncertain Times, edited by Margaret Thornton. Australian Feminist Law Journal, vol 34, issue 1, June 2011.)

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