COVID-19 has understandably gripped the nation’s attention for the last 18 months. However, an issue that both precedes the pandemic, and will regrettably outlive it, has rightly also captured our attention: violence against women.
As Australia’s eSafety Commissioner and Sex Discrimination Commissioner, we are deeply concerned by the rates of abuse and harassment women experience in all areas of life: at home, at work, in public spaces and online.
Harassment is form of violence against women and the work of our two agencies in recent times has showcased the disturbing harassment women receive in the course of their employment and online.
The Australian Human Rights Commission research shows that 85 per cent of Australian women have been sexually harassed at some point in their lifetimes and that 39 per cent have experienced sexual harassment in the workplace in the last five years.
eSafety research reveals that 35 per cent of women have experienced online abuse as part of their working lives. Further, 24 per cent of women were hesitant to move into a leadership role due to the requirement of an online public or media presence.
These statistics are in themselves distressing.
However, for women experiencing multiple and intersecting forms of discrimination, the statistics are even higher.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse communities, women who identify as LGBTQI+ and women with disability experience greater rates of harassment and abuse in the workplace and online.
The impacts are severe and serious: workplace discrimination and online abuse is a barrier for women reaching their full potential.
Ultimately, both face to face and online abuse serve to further entrench gender inequality and undermine economic, professional and social opportunities for women.
With such stark – and frankly, shameful – statistics, it can be easy to overlook that Australia has often led the world in tackling violence against women, both historically and more recently.
In 2020 the Australian Human Rights Commission released [email protected], its National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces, which was a world-first examination of the nature, prevalence and drivers of workplace sexual harassment.
This September the Australian Parliament passed the Sex Discrimination and Fair Work (Respect at Work) Amendment Bill 2021, containing critical reforms to addressing sexual harassment in Australian workplaces as recommended by the National Inquiry, which will help to make the workplace a safer and more respectful place for everyone.
In early 2021 the Australian Government asked the Commission to undertake an Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces.
The Review, which is due to be handed to Government at the end of November, aims to ensure that all Commonwealth parliamentary workplaces are safe and respectful and that Australia’s federal Parliament sets the standard for the nation in the handling of bullying, sexual harassment and sexual assault.
eSafety is the world’s first government agency dedicated to online safety and has an eSafety Women program dedicated to keeping women safe online – both for women experiencing technology facilitated abuse as an extension of family and domestic violence but also for Women in the Spotlight, who cop vile and sexualised forms of gendered harassment online.
In January next year, the world’s first adult cyber abuse scheme will commence.
This important legislative change will be an important form of redress and support for Australian women who experience serious abuse online – 70 per cent of eSafety’s complaints come from women.
It means perpetrators who share intimate images without consent, a crime which largely affects women, will suffer serious consequences including penalties of up to $111,000.
With other countries looking to Australia for guidance and solution on these issues, the two of us will be discussing these topics with the European Union Commissioner for Equality, Helena Dalli, next week.
This conversation with Commissioner Dalli is part of the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence and a timely opportunity to highlight to a global audience recent progress in Australia.
Australia’s work on online safety for women and sexual harassment at work is part of a global push to reduce violence against women and we are proud to lead the way.
We want to highlight the need for a whole of community approach to addressing this issue.
We recognise the work of advocates, frontline workers, women groups and many others who have fought to advance gender equality.
We are now calling on the whole community to join us. We need all sectors of society, ranging from the community to business to government, to support us – and women, everywhere.
As an individual, you can also assist by demanding change and reflecting on the role you can play: whether it is how you use social media, how you treat others at work and how you respond – and importantly, seek to address – gender inequality in your lives.
When it comes to violence against women, actions speak louder than words.
Julie Inman Grant is Australia’s eSafety Commissioner. Kate Jenkins is the Australian Sex Discrimination Commissioner.
Australia is hosting an event where Kate and Julie will join the European Union Commissioner for Equality Helena Dalli to discuss violence against women online on 30 November 2021, 7-8pm AEDT.