Trigger Warning: Sexual assault, sexual abuse
I’ve been volunteering with the Women’s March Sydney for the past four years. I’ve been passionate about women’s rights and empowering women from different backgrounds. But the #EnoughIsEnough rally hit close to home on many fronts. Most importantly, it has hit close to home having personally experienced this sort of behaviour from men in higher positions and women who are complacent in these sorts of issues who maintain the status quo.
According to the Australian Human Rights Commission (2018), 72% of Australians have been sexually harassed at some point in their lives. In the last twelve months, 23% of women and 16% of men experiencing sexual harassment at work, with the 18-26 year olds most likely experience these sorts of harassment at work (at 45%). At work and at other places that are meant to be safe for everyone.
It has been drilled into me that I have to text someone once I get on public transport or at home, no matter what time of day it is, so that people know I’m safe. I still remember reading a teen magazine in high school that you have to sit on a single seat on the train and face everyone in the carriage so the chances of being stalked by a stranger is less likely and you know potential perpetrator’s faces in case of something goes wrong. Don’t wear headphones while walking home. Don’t wear provocative clothing. Go into a store or change directions so the perpetrator doesn’t know where you live or work.
But the advice that we are given at such a young age is constantly being contradicted. There are no rules or guidelines on how women are supposed to act in order to be safe from harassment or violence. The common theme at the march was that boys and men need to learn from their behaviour and be accountable to their actions. When women are speaking about their own experience, listen. When women call out men’s actions on their sexist behaviour, genuinely apologise and learn why it is problematic rather than apologise and then defend your actions.
When Scott Morrison, on the day of the Canberra rally, said in Parliament, that, “This is a vibrant liberal democracy, Mr Speaker, not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country, Mr Speaker,” it was tone deaf and extremely problematic. Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, who chooses not to attend a rally, dismisses the own culture of sexual assaults and rape in his party, and continues to endorse the misogyny within his own party. He is part of the problem. Even more so, throwing a former Liberal staffer, Brittany Higgins, under the bus.
Brittany Higgins’ speech on the lawns of Parliament House in Canberra, was symbolic and powerful. The issue of rape and sexual assault anywhere, especially at work, is a cross party issue. It does not discriminate based on your political beliefs, your ethnicity, your religion, sexuality, or age. But it shouldn't be a universal experience for women. Brittany highlighted a question that should be asked when a party is in power in all levels of government,
“If they aren’t committed to addressing these issues in their own offices, what confidence can the women of Australia have that they will be proactive in addressing this issue in the broader community? This isn’t a political problem. This is a human problem.”
I marched like many others who have been fighting this issue for decades, fighting for the basic principle that people should be safe. Women and girls should be safe. I should be safe if I’m going on public transport at any time of the day. I shouldn’t have to share my Uber location details to my mum to make sure my driver is taking me home. I should be safe at work just as much as I am safe at home. Enough is enough.
Sinead Simpkins is from the Parramatta Branch.