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How Australian Law Pushes Vulnerable Women Towards Hiring Male Carers
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How Australian Law Pushes Vulnerable Women Towards Hiring Male Carers

The law prioritises a man’s sense of his identity over women’s safety, bodily integrity, privacy, dignity, and comfort.

· 8 min read

Lee Hazel finds herself in a difficult position. She knows what is right, and what her rights should be. But she lives in a country that sees things differently from her, and does not protect her rights: in particular, her right to disability assistance from a carer of the same sex.

Lee is a woman in her late 30s. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS). She recently wrote to the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner, asking whether she could—under the permanent exemptions to the Sex Discrimination Act—advertise for a biologically female personal disability carer.

MS is a neurodegenerative condition that affects the central nervous system and can severely impact the sufferer’s quality of life. It can disrupt a person’s control over their body, causing loss of control of limbs, incontinence, slurred speech, fatigue, and reduced mobility, and it can cause sensory issues such as numbness and tingling. It affects different people differently: a person diagnosed with MS at 30 may never experience symptoms severe enough to cause disability or may not start experiencing such symptoms until the age of, say, 60. But Lee wasn’t that fortunate. She began to experience serious symptoms soon after her diagnosis.

In her reply to Lee, Sex Discrimination Commissioner Anna Cody noted that, while there are permanent exemptions for sex in relation to “employment to perform domestic duties at a person’s residence” including where needed to preserve decency or privacy, these permanent exemptions do not extend to gender identity. (Note that this is not a legal determination: ultimately, the relationship between sex and gender identity in sex discrimination law will have to be tested in court).

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