Op-Ed - Australia should take a stand to support Iranian women

Many Australians over the last six weeks will have learnt the name Mahsa Amini. Mahsa was just 22 years old when she died earlier in September following a violent arrest by Iran’s ‘morality police’.

Her ‘crime’ was not covering her hair in the way that the men who rule Iran demand that all women must. For this, she lost her life.

Despite the attempts of the Iranian regime to censor the internet and restrict access to social media, many of you would have seen vision of the incredible bravery of women who have taken to the streets of Iran in response to the killing of Mahsa Amini and decades of oppression against them because of their sex.

What you probably haven’t been told though, is that the Iranian regime holds membership of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. It shares this status with a select group of other nations, including Australia.

Iran’s membership of this commission is a joke, but it is not at all funny. This position allows Iran’s rulers to legitimise their oppression of women by masquerading as an expert on women’s rights. That’s why in the week following  Mahsa Amini’s death, I called for Australia to take a lead role in having Iran removed from the Commission on the Status of Women.

Since I first made this call on behalf of the Federal Opposition more than six weeks ago, it has found support from governments and parliaments around the world. In the last week alone, New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Canada’s Foreign Minister, the US State Department and the Dutch Senate have all joined the push.

Former PM Julia Gillard, former US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Malala Yousafazi and former US First Ladies Michelle Obama and Laura Bush were among thousands of female leaders who signed an open letter this week demanding Iran’s removal from the Commission on the Status of Women.

The Australian Government, by contrast, has said and done nothing.  Australia should by now have made a clear statement that Iran’s position on the Commission is untenable. For as long as Iran remains on the UN Commission on the Status of Women, the Commission can have no credibility.

Nor has the Australian Government implemented any other form of sanctions or diplomatic response to Iran’s killing of women and girls, despite our international partners including the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, Germany and France all moving to sanction Iran over its reprehensible treatment of its own people.

It's this absence of action which prompted myself and my Tasmanian colleague Senator Jacqui Lambie to initiate a Senate inquiry into Australia’s response to the human rights abuses being perpetrated by Iranian authorities.

Pleasingly, our motion was supported unanimously by the Senate last week and the inquiry of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee, which I chair, is now open and accepting public submissions.

Importantly, this inquiry will allow the voices of Iranian-Australians to be heard by the Parliament and the Government. Over the last month as I’ve spoken with Iranian-Australians – particularly those with family and friends in Iran – I’ve heard growing frustration about the refusal of the Australian Government to take tangible action to hold Iran accountable, as other nations are already doing.

There is no need for the Government to delay any further in announcing some concrete actions. Joining the international push to have Iran removed from the Commission on the Status of Women is, to put it mildly, a no-brainer. I hope to hear an announcement by the Albanese Government that it will do so without any further delay.