After long weeks of delay, reshuffles, platitudes and empty gestures, the Prime Minister finally did the bare minimum and accepted – ‘in part’ – the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s 55 recommendations in the Respect@Work report. It remains to be seen if – and how – this will lead to real policy and legislative change.
The case for accountability, due process and justice reform could not be more stark. The new revelations published by 4Corners on Monday, regarding the timing around the NSW Deputy Chief of Police preventing investigators from traveling to South Australia to interview Christian Porter’s alleged victim are sobering.
Justice is not close to being served for too many women. On March 15th 2021, on a crisp Melbourne day, I stood up in front of 20,000 people as MC for the March 4 Justice Melbourne and I called myself a survivor of gendered violence.
Like many women, I rarely – if ever call – myself a survivor or talk about my experiences of gendered violence. Disclosing is too much of a risk for survivors, let alone reporting it. That’s why the horrifying response to Brittany Higgins’ courageous interview, as well as the allegations of rape committed by a Cabinet Minister, has become such a lightening-rod moment.
Survivors carry the burden, the stigma and the stain of gendered violence, not the perpetrators. Disclosing can be and too often is – used to taint and dismantle you even further than the first act of violence. Gendered violence is hard enough to survive on a day to day basis, let alone attempting to seek justice. Think about Kate.
And while seeking justice is virtually impossible for all women, the degree of risk, intersectional discrimination, isolation, lack of support or access to justice, enforced silence and mental and physical health impacts worsen greatly for anyone who is First Nations, Trans or a woman of colour.
Early on when the March 4 Justice was still just a bold idea being developed by four women, including myself, we decided not to focus on details of women’s stories of violence. We wanted to focus on getting justice, on the crime of gendered violence and the lack of consequences for the perpetrators. It was time for perpetrators and apologists to be exposed and to explain themselves.
There were more than 50 women volunteers who organised the Marches that took place around Australia in March, many of whom were survivors. All of us organised while we negotiated our way through our own trauma; through other women and other survivors’ rage.
It wasn’t easy but women found each other and shored each other up because we believed wholeheartedly in creating a moment for survivors and for all women to demand the right response, proper accountability and meaningful change.
Making sure First Nations women, women of colour and Trans women were speakers and represented at every event mattered. It was the bare minimum the political moment demanded. Because there is so much more work for civil society, government, business and media need to do for non-white, gender diverse women’s recognition, equity and safety. The cost of inaction and exclusion is too great.
The Prime Minister described the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s Report, that his Government ignored for 12 months, as a ‘game changer’. In inimitable form he avoided giving any credit for the action to the uprising on his doorstep. But women know. We know what we are changing.
When I walked onto the stage for the Melbourne March and saw a giant mass of people stretching beyond the horizon, I was transformed. The first oceanic roar of tens of thousands of voices was powerful beyond words. Perhaps for the first time for many women, we stood together and we roared support for speakers from all sides of politics, for First Nations women, for Trans women, for women of colour.
We roared our support for Louise Milligan, whom just before the march commenced Christian Porter had announced he would sue. We roared for women journalists, for gender equality activists, for survivors, for the women and children who have lost their lives at the hands of gendered violence. We roared together for all women and girls to be safe.
It felt healing in an excruciating chapter in which the bruises and scars too many women carry were laid bare. I hope every survivor and every woman can remember, and keep feeling, the healing of that moment. Even as we struggle with political leaders, powerful players and systems that fail to deliver meaningful justice.
We can all take comfort from the knowledge that we are the game changers. Our power is immense and we won’t stop until the game is changed.