#ChooseToChallenge – On this auspicious day for women, I am both heartened and horrified. Heartened by the recent outstanding bravery displayed by Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame who stood up to speak out on sexism. I am also horrified that it took those appalling events to bring sexual assault and violence against women to be properly recognised and discussed at all levels of our community – and the corridors of power in our country are no exception.
Tenacity To Be Heard
Annabel Crabb in her discussion of the Christian Porter rape allegation raises how the use of the media has provided the silenced a voice. An opportunity to be heard, something that the rule of law has failed to do. Annabel Crabb gave the example of Brittany Higgins who as a young woman was allegedly raped four weeks into her dream job, metres from the Prime Minister’s office, an attack about which others knew at the time and on which they did not act. Brittany Higgins did not report it at the time, her initial reticence to take on the highest institution in this country is understandable. And the fact that Brittany Higgins dug deep into her bravery reserves and stood up to speak out recently on the media stage despite the potential political fallout (let alone her future) is a testament to her tenacity and strength of character.
I share the hope with Annabel Crabb that change will come about because of her tenacity and courage to keep going even in the face of a system that has failed her.
Grace Tame, the Australian of The Year, is another brave, brave woman who through standing up and speaking out has enabled our legal systems to evolve. I encourage you to listen to the speech and comments that Grace Tame gave to the Press Club just hours before Attorney General, Christian Porter gave his press conference.
Misogyny and Sexism Alive and Well
The events of the last few weeks in Canberra have also caused me to revisit Julia Gillard’s Misogyny Speech. Once again, I have mixed emotions when I hear our ex-Prime Minister call out the misogyny and sexism present in the political corridors of this country. Julia’s speech was nearly 10 years ago and yet I feel so little has changed – and what has been gained still seems tenuous.
In the week in the lead up to International Women’s Day, has seen the resolution of the Hanson-Young vs Leyonhjelm case. Once again, I am reminded of the misogyny and sexism present in Australian politics. Senator Sarah Hanson-Young instigated proceedings in 2019, because the Australian Senate did nothing about stopping one of its members calling a female colleague “to stop shagging men” in her place of work. It fills me with frustration and anger that Senator Hanson-Young experienced this type of harassment from her colleagues in the People’s House.
I cite Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame for their bravery in speaking out but also want to highlight that their experiences join a scarily growing number of sexual assault statistics reported each year – they are two of thousands. There are many unheard voices behind these numbers – numbers that denote that in Australia, one woman a week is murdered by her current or former partner. Frighteningly also is that one in five women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15. Year on year these statistics just don’t seem to improve. *
Leaders: Are You Listening?
Is it the vileness of Grace and Brittany’s allegations that has shocked the place into listening? I am horrified that it is the atrociousness of the experiences of women like Grace and Brittany that has been the reason behind them being heard. But surely, surely, our leaders have listened, and they know it is not just these women’s voices, but they represent the many others who remain silent on sexism.
International Women’s Day 2021’s theme is #choosetochallenge. Our political leaders are not immune from this challenge. Collectively, we can all help create an inclusive world, and an inclusive world is a better world. Our political leaders CAN choose to seek out and celebrate women’s achievements and help create an inclusive world. Our leaders have the power and CAN be brave like Grace and Brittany to call out sexism and inequality. I am hopeful that they do, because if our leaders lead by example, there is the possibility for change for women and girls.
My hope is further nourished by the amazing women I come across who choose to challenge and live their commitment. They live their mantra to improve the lives of women, and they do it each and every ordinary day. These inspirational women do more than survive, they thrive. Their actions and words make us and the world – better.