Enough is Enough
You’ve got to love Zoom when it allows you spend a Monday morning in the company of Julia Gillard (JG), former Prime Minister of Australia; Elizabeth Broderick (EB), Chair-Rapporteur on the UN Working Group in Discrimination Against Women and Girls; Farah Nazeer (FN), the CEO of the UK’s Woman’s Aid Foundation; and Liz Kelly (LK), Professor of Sexualised Violence at London Metropolitan University, for a panel discussion entitled ‘A New Cultural Reckoning? Gendered violence and misogyny in Australia and the UK.’
What prompted this discussion was the impact of events in both countries. The murder of Sarah Everard unleashed a torrent of protest and calls for men to change their behaviour rather than for women to have to inhibit their own activities to stay safe. Australia has been rocked by allegations of rape in the Australian Parliament building, and the filming of sex videos on the premises. The whistleblower who brought the videos to light described a culture of ‘men thinking they can do whatever they want’, and characterised some of his colleagues as morally bankrupt.
Julia Gillard, now chair of the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership, has herself been at the receiving end of disgraceful displays of sexism, and has stood up forcefully against them. The purpose of the panel discussion was to explore whether we are in a moment when the strength of the public reaction against these instances of gendered violence can finally put some impetus behind culture change.
The raw figures alone underline the need for action: in Australia four out of ten women report having experienced sexual harassment, and one in four have experienced sexual assault or rape. Finally they are speaking out. In the words of the 2021 Australian Woman of the Year, Grace Tame, who was raped by her maths teacher when she was in Year 10, ‘When we share, we heal.’ Likewise in the the UK, the Everyone’s Invited website has received over 16,000 testimonies since it was launched towards the end of March.
Farah Nazeer flagged up a positive in that the Domestic Abuse Bill has now received Royal Assent, but warned against the increasing prevalence of calls for ‘gender neutrality’; these are completely misplaced in the context of domestic abuse, where the perpetrators are overwhelmingly male.
Liz Kelly sounded a pessimistic note: describing herself as ‘a woman of long memory’, she said we had been here before, but inevitably the issues got buried again, with no further resolution. Sexual harassment at work she saw not as a form of hate crime but simply as a result of a sense of entitlement. It was all very well to challenge toxic masculinity, but does that mean that traditional masculinity is just fine?
It’s hard to bring such a rich discussion to a close, but the session finished with quick contributions from each panel member towards an action agenda that could operate at different levels, including:
- Men should call out other men for expressions of discrimination and misogyny even in spaces where there are no women. (LK)
- The private sector has a role to play in keeping women safe in the workplace, even when that workplace is their home. (EB)
- Women themselves must adopt a more sisterly approach that bridges generations. (FN)
- Where there are divisions between women, they need to aim to find a piece of common ground, however small, on which to build. (EB)
- Survivors of domestic abuse should be co-opted as changemakers rather than seen primarily as service users. (LK)
I’ll leave the last word to Elizabeth Broderick: ‘Human rights begin at home: model [the ideal] behaviour, always speak up, always challenge men.’