'It's a fight for women across Australia': Sarah Hanson-Young

‘This is not just my fight. It’s a fight for women across Australia’: Sarah Hanson-Young

Want 53,745 reasons to hope? In five days a crowdfunding campaign to support Sarah Hanson-Young in the defamation proceedings she has brought against David Leyonhjelm has raised $53,745.

Litigation is expensive and if Hanson-Young’s action against Leyonhjelm fails she will bear the cost of her own legal representation but also potentially his.

The risk of a costs order can be a huge deterrent to those seeking redress in defamation cases, which is why author and commentator Jane Caro and Simon Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman AO set up a gofundme page.

“If you share our disgust at Leyonhjelm’s words and want to help Sarah insulate herself from what can be considerable legal expenses, please join us in contributing to a legal support fund* in this matter.

Should, as we trust, she win her action and the court orders Leyonhjelm to pay all court and legal costs, all funds collected will be divided evenly between two charities:

Plan International
Working Women’s Centre, SA

Hanson-Young says the crowd-funding donations match the encouragement she has felt since speaking out.

“It is so incredibly heartening, I feel really quite supported by so many people from all walks of life across the country,” Hanson-Young told Women’s Agenda. “Lots of women have been in touch also lots of men are saying they are particularly moved by what’s going on and they want to get involved and lend their support.”

The crowdfunding has bolstered Hanson-Young’s resolve.

“I do feel like I have a responsibility to stand up and call it out.  The messages of support particularly from women has made this very clear. This is not just my fight. It’s a fight for women across Australia.”

She says the cost of defamation proceedings is just one factor to consider.

“There’s lots of reasons not to take legal action – cost is one, how long these matters can take and the idea that this will keep being talked about are all barriers,” she says. “But they actually represent barriers women face all the time in deciding whether they are going to speak up.”

Two weeks ago when Hanson-Young chose to call Leyonhjelm out she knew it wouldn’t go unnoticed.

“When I put this on the record I didn’t know I’d get the reaction I did but I knew it would create some conversation because the moment you name it and stop being silent things do change,” she says.

Hanson-Young has been inundated with messages from women telling her their own experiences.  “I think the fact my story has been public has given people an opportunity to tell me their own stories,” she says. “Women across the country in a variety of different workplaces have been in touch saying ‘This is my story. This happened to me too’.”

Earlier this week one of the charities that will receive any unused funding , Plan International, released research that illustrates precisely why the treatment of Sarah Hanson-Young is so problematic.

In 2017, Plan International surveyed more than 2000 Australian girls and young women aged 10-25-years old about their aspirations for the future. Only 2% of girls aged 10-14 listed politics as a future career option, rising to 5% for girls 15-17. It dropped to 0% among young women aged 18-25. Zero.

Hanson-Young says it’s “devastating”.

“I have seen first hand the value of having female voices in parliament of having women in key leadership positions and being able to stand up for their communities,” she says. “I’ve been in that place for 10 years and it’s not easy but boy it is important.”

She hopes that in the long term fighting Leyonhjelm will attract – rather than deter – more young women to consider careers in politics.

“The last thing I want out of this process and experience is fewer young women wanting to be involved in politics,” she says. “I want to be able to talk about this as a way of improving thing so actually more young women know they have a right to be in parliament and a right to have opinions.  And not just a right but to know they’re bloody good at it too and we need them there.”

Plan International Australia’s head of advocacy, Hayley Cull, said young womens’ lack of interest in politics was concerning ‘but not at all surprising’.

“When you consider how female politicians are still treated in Parliament and the media in this country, is it any wonder the next generation has no desire to expose themselves to this world?” Cull says. “Unfortunately, in Australia, girls grow up seeing strong, smart, capable female politicians constantly reduced to what they’re wearing, comments about their sexuality and snipes about their gender. What they don’t see is a consistent level of respect that should be afforded to all people, no matter their gender or occupation.”

Senator David Leyonhjelm’s comments about Hanson-Young – in the Senate chamber and then on Sky News – made this plain to see.

“Senator Hanson-Young is certainly not the first woman who a male politician has attempted to humiliate in the Senate and she won’t be the last, but it’s clear – for the future of our Senate and for our country – that this behaviour has to stop,” Cull says.  “The vast majority of Australians do not stand for abuse and it’s certainly not what they want to see coming from elected representatives.”

Certainly the money raised suggests there is widespread support for this sentiment. In his own crowdfunding endeavours David Leyonhjelm has raised just under $20,000 to fight Sarah and The Greens more generally.

Readers, you know what to do.

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