Respect@Work and the summit

The Prime Minister’s speech was full of the usual platitudes, women should not be living in fear, end violence against women and their children. Every person, every company, every government has a responsibility to do better, blah blah. 

Men got three mentions by the PM:

I don’t believe we can talk about women’s safety without talking about men. About the way some men think they own women.

And the foundation of respect for women in Australian society is not what it should be.  All of us – but Australian men in particular – carry both private obligations and public duties to build those foundations, every day.

It’s true that we need to talk about men but why do we not?

Here’s the thing. Some men don’t just think they own women. On average men kill one woman every week and many more men hurt and terrorise women, sometimes for years on end. This is way more serious than lack of respect.

The PM said ‘we passed legislation to implement our response to the Respect@Work Report’ but Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jennings, said, when fronting the Senate, the most important of her 55 recommendations is missing. It’s the obligation on employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment and victimisation in the workplace.

Jennings says sexual harassment doesn’t just happen – it “almost thrives in some of our workplaces”. Some industries, she said, were particularly high risk.

But it’s women who are at high risk. If men discriminate, sexually harass and victimise their fellow workers then it’s very likely they will do this at home too.

The current Sex Discrimination Act only calls employers to account for the culture in their workplaces when someone makes a complaint. All that does is incentivise employers to deter their employees from complaining, and if a complaint was made, the legislation “encourages [employers] to side with the respondent to defend the complaint … and argue they are not responsible”.

Jenkins’ resolve is to have all recommendations acted on and she reminds us that Australia now ranks 50th on the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap Index, down from 15th in 2006.

Prof Marcia Langton told the women’s safety summit yesterday that government must listen to people in Aboriginal communities saying the women who have to deal with the violence are being ignored. No one is acting on their advice. Aboriginal leaders are marginalised while most of the services are run by white people.

There needs to be a plan, developed for and implemented by Aboriginal people. Is that too hard? Professor Langton says:

“We absolutely need our own Indigenous plan for ending violence against women and children and we absolutely need local and regional initiatives joined up with all the mainstream services, our representatives at the table, designing the local interventions and stopping the stupidity that goes on in the institutional environment when people think they are doing the right thing to us, not with us, they make terrible mistakes and lives are at stake.

In the end the Government’s summit finished in predictable rancour with the Minister for Women, Marise Payne hinting at ‘small-minded political point-scoring’ and the Labor states criticising the lack of action on Jenkins recommendations.

It’s just some men and their appalling behaviour being let off the hook, again and again.

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