International Women’s Day is usually a day of reflection and celebration – recognising the achievements of women and giving thanks for the strides we have made.
On International Women’s Day this year, I reflected on the significant challenges that we still face.
It is hard not to feel enraged that we find ourselves in 2021 still facing the fundamental issue of how we ensure women are safe in our homes, in public places and when we go to work.
It is hard not to be furious that there is such little regard given by some men in power to the impact of sexual harassment and abuse.
It is deeply distressing to witness the action and inaction of our political leaders that sends a message that women’s experiences are not important and do not matter.
The reports of sexual abuse and sexual harassment in Federal Parliament, and allegations of sexual assault by a sitting Cabinet Minister, have greatly affected me and many other women.
As a new member of government, I recognise that this is a moment of reflection, a moment to ensure our workplaces are safe places for women, young people and people with different abilities.
The ACT Legislative Assembly is a very different place from Parliament House and I am deeply thankful for this. A female-majority parliament and a long history of female leadership on all sides have fundamentally shaped its culture for the better.
This is a workplace where people finish work and go back to their own homes, where sittings do not extend into the late hours of the night, where there are workplace policies and strategies that support work health and safety.
However, I know there is more we can do.
No political party is immune. This is not just an issue for one side of politics or one part of the community; it is an issue we all must confront to demand and do better.
We, the ACT Greens, faced this in 2016. It was deeply confronting to realise that not only had we failed to keep a young volunteer safe but our response to it had likely led to further trauma and distress.
I do believe that the changes we made – in governance, complaints processes, health and safety initiatives and culture – have made our political party a much safer place.
As political leaders, we need to lead. We need to set the standard. We need to demonstrate that we hear and care for the many women who have experienced sexual harassment and abuse.
One of the most powerful reasons people remain silent is the reality that, across the board, Australian society has not responded well to allegations of sexual harassment and abuse.
We cannot stand idly by and let defensiveness, deflection and denial set the standard for Australia and Australians.
Rather than hoping allegations die with the media cycle, the time has come to validate the courageous women who speak up against their alleged perpetrators.
We need to develop new pathways that ensure women are safe to disclose their abuse while holding people to account for their actions. This will not break the rule of law – it will enhance it.
This is a moment of choice and opportunity for our nation.
Lean in, Prime Minister, and show us that women and their stories matter – especially those who have survived abuse and harassment.
The ACT Greens MLAs have written a joint letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison calling for an independent inquiry into the allegations made against Attorney-General Christian Porter. You can read that letter here.
Rebecca Vassarotti is a Greens MLA and Member for Kurrajong.