Former political staffer and women’s safety and equality advocate Brittany Higgins has joined forces with former Prime Minister Julia Gillard to help protect women from abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct in parliament.
Ms Higgins has been appointed as the inaugural Visiting Fellow at the Global Institute for Women’s Leadership (GIWL) at King’s College London, established and led by Ms Gillard.
As part of GIWL, Ms Higgins will help advance work on a proposed code of conduct to prevent and respond to abuse, harassment and sexual misconduct in Parliament House and parliamentary workplaces.
Ms Higgins will also collaborate with GIWL on other key issues, including implementing the Respect@Work report, advancing the outcomes of the Independent Inquiry into the Commonwealth’s Parliamentary Workplaces expected in November 2021, and highlighting the importance of young women’s leadership.
Ms Higgins said she was looking forward to working as a conduit between government, academics and those in the field to ensure best-practice models are adopted to bring about systemic change in Australia to the way women are treated in the workplace.
“I am dedicated to driving meaningful change in Parliament House and all Australian workplaces so that our systems work better to prevent and respond to inappropriate workplace conduct,” Ms Higgins said.
“All women have the right to feel safe and respected at work and in society more broadly.”
She said the 2021 Women’s Safety Summit held earlier last month “was a great first step in addressing these challenges”.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison opened the summit on 6 September by saying, “right now, too many Australian women do not feel safe and too often, they are not safe and that is not okay”.
“There is no excuse, and sorry doesn’t cut it.”
Ms Higgins, a former Liberal Party staffer, went public in February this year with allegations that she was raped by a colleague in a minister’s office on 23 March 2019.
Findings released by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 2018 showed that almost two in five women (39 per cent) and one in four men (26 per cent) reported experiencing sexual harassment in the workplace in the five years before the survey.
One in five people who made a formal report or complaint were labelled as a troublemaker (19 per cent), were ostracised, victimised or ignored by colleagues (18 per cent) or resigned (17 per cent).
Ms Gillard described Ms Higgins as “a powerful force for change who had already greatly advanced the national conversation and push for reform in one of the most confronting and urgent issues Australia faces”.
“In Brittany, Australia has an incredible leader who is already having a profound impact,” Ms Gillard said.
“I applaud her courage in coming forward with her experiences and her determination to make sure other women do not ever have to go through what she has.
“Her bravery should and must lead to meaningful change, not only in our workplaces, but across all our society.”