On Saturday the 27th of February Janine Hendry, a 57 year old academic, educator and feminist, had an idea. It was borne from fury and frustration.
She’d never organised a rally but she wondered how many other women might feel as enraged – as viscerally affected and furiously fed up – as she felt watching the Federal government’s ‘appalling and woeful’ response to sexual abuse allegations.
She sent out a tweet, testing the waters, with a suggestion; what if 4000 women came together in Canberra to form a circle around Parliament House when the parliament resumed to protest the treatment of women in this country in 2021?
The response was overwhelming. Hendry was inundated with replies: her suggestion sparked a groundswell of support that confirmed her instinct was right. Women – young and old, from capital cities and small rural towns around the country, survivors and allies – were seething.
“I wanted to act, and so did everyone I spoke to,” Hendry says. “I kept hearing people saying let’s march on parliament, so that’s exactly what we are going to do. There are young women who face harassment every day, and there are older women who are tired and furious that we are still fighting this fight.”
On Sunday the 28th, despite never having contemplated that she might organise a rally in the nation’s capital, Janine set up a Facebook group with the objective of organising a peaceful demonstration. An event for survivors and allies to draw a line in the sand. An event for women who were no longer willing to countenance not acting. Not anymore. Not this time. An event for anyone and everyone willing to demand justice for gendered violence in workplaces – including Parliament.
In under 48 hours there were 9,500 people on board willing to #March4Justice at 12pm on Monday 15th March 2021. The group now has more than 17,000 followers. An organic uprising is the only way to describe the momentum that has gathered. This is a grassroots collective that has spread like wildfire and shows no sign of abating.
In little more than 24 hours a petition outlining the specific demands for justice for gendered violence has attracted more than 9,100 signatures. The main #March4Justice will take place in Canberra and there are satellite events planned around the nation. (You can find more information here.)
Attending a protest in the capital in the middle of a working day isn’t possible for every person who wants to show up for this cause. Allies and survivors who cannot physically attend a march are encouraged to blast I am Woman at 12noon on Monday from wherever they are: at work, at home, at their desk. (Leaders – in business, health, education, academia, community, finance, retail – are encouraged to get their sound systems ready.)
And use social media. Take a selfie with a sign saying #EnoughIsEnough & #March4Justice & #FedUp and spread it far and wide at 12noon. Join the live stream. Post the demands from the petition you want actioned. If it’s appropriate add a geographic tag to your social media posts so we have a visual map of where supporters and allies are gathered.
This isn’t happening in Canberra to exclude anyone: it’s happening because that’s the heart of power in this country Australia and it’s the middle of the day because that’s when Parliament is sitting.
But this march is not about a political party. It is not about a single accused. It is not about a single survivor. This march is about justice. It is about recognising that the treatment of women in this country is unacceptable. It is about demanding a future in which women are treated with the dignity and respect their humanity deserves.
This march is for every woman. Because every single woman in this country has the right to be safe in every single space she inhabits. That right has been denied for too long and it has exacted a contemptible toll.
This March is for every woman who has ever been harassed, assaulted or violated. It is for every woman who knows a woman who has been harassed, assaulted or violated. It is for every woman who has lived in fear of being violated – fleetingly, perpetually, temporarily.
It is for every woman who has lost her life to violence. It is for every woman who has ever feared she might.
It is for every woman who has ever reported sexual violence and for every woman who hasn’t.
It is for every woman who has left a job or a career or a dream because she was being harassed or assaulted by someone. For every woman who couldn’t or can’t leave their job or their home.
For every woman who has spent time or money or energy tiptoeing around a man she fears. Or doubts. For every woman who has spent time plotting the safest way back to her car. Or the bus. Or the train. Or home. For every woman who has taken steps and mentally calculated her movements to ensure she isn’t ever alone with a particular colleague, acquaintance, stranger.
It is for every woman who has called the police or the HR department or their boss and been believed. And for every woman who wasn’t. For every woman who has doubted if she would be believed. For every woman who has doubted if she believes her own memory. For every woman who has wondered if they caused another person to do something terrible to them.
It is for every woman who has spoken out and lost everything. For every woman who has said nothing and lost everything anyway.
It is for every woman.
It is also for everyone in the lives of those women – their families, their friends, their loved ones, their peers – who know the anguish, trauma, fear, grief and pain they have suffered is real and unforgivable. It is for everyone who has lost a person they loved to violence, to abuse, to control, to harassment. For anyone who has had a child, a partner, a friend, a parent, a colleague, a peer, a sibling, a neighbour robbed of their spirit, their humanity – in big and small ways – by the actions of another.
It is for every person who knows how prolific gendered violence and sexual harassment against women remains in this country. It is for every person who knows that 87% of these crimes are never reported, and criminal convictions are only secured in between 2-10% of the few cases that are reported. It is for every person who understands that reporting of workplace sexual harassment or misconduct is similarly rare – and that when they are reported a negligible number are resolved in a manner the complainant considers satisfactory.
It is for every person who understands Australia’s endemic in relation to sexual abuse, harassment and gendered violence is not of false allegations. That the endemic is in women’s lives being ruined.
For every person who sees that the treatment of women in this country is unacceptable, and is willing to sit with the discomfort and pain of that truth. Who sees no matter how much it hurts to consider it hurts more to live.
The #March4Justice is for every person who sees the price women – individually and collectively – have paid – and continue to pay – for men’s violence and harassment and abuse of power over generations and has had enough. Who is willing to rally against the sheer injustice of it.
This is a march for justice and I invite every single one of you to join in. To turn up. To sign the petition. To show your support for women, for decency, for justice. We are at a profound moment in Australia’s history that could change our course forever; for the better.
Every woman, in every workplace, deserves to be safe. That isn’t the case right now, even in Parliament House, as the last three weeks have laid bare in a manner that has been powerfully clarifying. It begs the simple question: if women in the nation’s parliament, the building in which laws are made, are not safe from harassment or violence then what hope do women in other workplaces have?
None. It needs to start from the top. And the women of Australia – and plenty of men too – won’t stop until we get the leadership this country needs.