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Human Rights Lawyer, Legal Scholar, First Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia

Jacqui Hunt, Global Lead, End Sexual Violence, celebrates Elizabeth Evatt as part of Equality Now’s 30 for 30, featuring 30 women and changemakers who have played a key role in making equality reality as part of our 30th anniversary celebrations.

In 2011, Australia honored Elizabeth Evatt with the issue of an Australian Legends stamp.

And a legend she is indeed. Whether working as a judge, law reformer, academic, or international human rights advocate, Elizabeth’s contributions to women’s legal equality loom large on the global stage.

During the course of her long career, Elizabeth has been a champion of social justice, equal opportunity, and non-discrimination. One of my favorite quotes by Elizabeth reads, “You have to see human rights as an all-embracing concept. It could be something that would unite the world, if it could only be seen in that light.

These sentiments inspire our work here at Equality Now, and shape a vision for the world we would like to live in.

A first-class scholar, in 1976 Elizabeth made history when she became the first Chief Judge of the Family Court of Australia, making her the first female judge of an Australian federal court. Elizabeth also served as President of the Australian Law Reform Commission and as a part-time Commissioner of the Australian Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.  In 1992 she became the first Australian to be elected to the United Nations Human Rights Committee among her many ground-breaking achievements.

As chair of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),  Elizabeth worked for many years to hold governments to account for the obligations they had set themselves.  Several years later, she continued to push for adherence to international standards domestically, arguing in a speech on the 20th anniversary of the Sex Discrimination Act 1984 that Australian law was falling short of its obligations under the CEDAW Convention and other international instruments to provide equality of rights and non-discrimination safeguards for women. “Equality is one of the most important of human rights,” Elizabeth said. “The proper protection of minorities and disadvantaged groups is an essential counterweight to the power of democratic majorities.”

At Equality Now we were honored to have Elizabeth serve on our Adolescent Girls’ Legal Defense Fund Advisory Council and on our Board of Directors for many years. We—and I, personally—have been fortunate to have the benefit of Elizabeth’s wisdom, generosity of time, and knowledge and to know firsthand her perseverance, quiet determination, and the gift of her  friendship. 

Every day, I am grateful to pioneers like Elizabeth who have worked, and continue to work, to help us realize our mission of a more equal world for all women and girls. It is thanks to her example we are that much closer to realizing that vision today.

A headshot of Elizabeth Evatt

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