For Canberra women, it’s hard to drive past Parliament House up on the hill without thinking about every time we’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted. Without feeling slightly ill with remembering. Without recollecting every friend and colleague who has disclosed their similar experiences to us. On and on the disclosures go. The trauma and disempowerment. The rage.
Since former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins had the courage to tell the nation about her alleged rape in that previously esteemed building – the place where our elected representatives govern – we have all hung our heads. Not in shame. But in despair.
Then we also heard about ‘Kate’, now deceased, who alleged historical rape against Christian Porter MP. Then we heard about Andrew Laming MP’s alleged predator trolling of women in his constituency. Then reporter Sam Maiden wrote about women in the Labor party’s experiences of sexual harassment. We wondered: Will this ever end?
Thus, we drive past the House shaking behind the wheel and, possibly, needing to pull over. We are led to think more broadly about every inequality in our lives. In our community. It persists, despite everything that’s been promised to us by those with the power.
As I penned an article around that same time about the destructive and demeaning sexual harassment of Julia Szlakowski at AMP, I wrote an email to the editor I was working with at news.com.au on the story. I told her: I am so angry as I type this story, I’m afraid my laptop will go on fire.
The sea of gender equality is not just about my own experiences or those of women I know. Or those of the women above who have most recently been named in media headlines. These are issues that I’ve been covering for more than 20 years. This is about every woman I know. This is about whether my young daughters – aged 8 and 10 – will grow up to have the same experiences I’ve had. God, I hope they won’t. I’ll fight so they won’t.
Like so many others, I have personally experienced sexual harassment at work. I have experienced sexual assault.
When I was married, I experienced deep inequality in the domestic sphere. It was a millstone around my neck, making me perpetually exhausted during paid work and leisure time alike. Looking back now to when my kids were small, that huge and unequal burden made me a shadow of myself.
Another moment in my showreel of inequality comes to mind. As a highly qualified young professional applying for a job inside an organisation that I worked for, I was passed over for a less qualified man. My boss at the time told me: “You’ve got two little kids now. It’s not your time.”
Like me, that man also had two little kids with his partner. That fact had no apparent bearing on his ability to do the job – but it did mine. Because I’m a woman. I tell you these things about myself not because they are extraordinary. In fact, for the opposite reason. Because in 2021, these experiences are STILL so common as to be pedestrian.
These are a few of the reasons that I’ve just quit my previous role at a non-profit and taken up the position of editor at BroadAgenda, Australia’s leading research-based gender equality media platform based at the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation at the University of Canberra.
These experiences shouldn’t be ordinary. The time for change is now. We can’t let the heat go out of the kitchen or, for that matter, out of the halls of power.
This is also why the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation is holding is first Annual Symposium next week (Wednesday June 16-Thursday 17, June) at the University of Canberra.
We’ll be asking the questions: What will it take to achieve women’s equal representation in leadership positions in Australian government and public institutions by 2030? And what about equality on the home front?
As Professor Kim Rubenstein, Co-Director of the ’50/50 by 2030 Foundation, said to me: “The March4Justice marches were three months ago and there has been very little real movement in Parliament around gender equity. We need to keep reminding our Parliamentarians and policy makers that changes can be made and should be made now!”
We’ll bring together cutting-edge research and ideas together from around the country to activate action in policy and law and norms in society.
Join us online or in person!
#sharetheload #sharethepower #sharetheload
*this article first appeared in HerCanberra and is reprinted with permission