OPINION

Kate Jenkin's report: Appalling behaviour needs to be changed from the top

Changing appalling behaviour starts at top

Unsolicited sexual advances, catcalling, inappropriate workplace conduct and prejudicial treatment.

These are just some of the appalling behaviours that have been surfaced in Kate Jenkin's report released last week.

Set the Standard revealed one in three staff in federal parliament experience some form of sexual harassment while at work, reminding us yet again of the scale and severity of disrespect and violence against women.

This issue is not unique to Parliament House.

The report's findings are reflective of the experiences of women right across Australia, with almost one in two having experienced sexual violence in Australian workplaces.

And it does not stop there.

The MeToo movement highlighted that every day at work, at home or in the streets, women are subjected to unwanted sexual advances - lewd comments about their bodies, inappropriate touching or pinching, being talked over, sexist jokes and criticism, and the fact they are often overlooked for leadership positions in favour of blokes named Peter or John.

Women's fatigue and anger reached fever pitch earlier this year as thousands of women and men around the country marched through the streets to demand a woman's right to be safe, respected, and equal as part of the March 4 Justice rallies.

They marched for an end to the high rates of violence against women in Australia, that sees, on average, one woman a week murdered by her current or former partner.

They marched for an end to coercive control, dating violence, workplace sexual harassment and street harassment.

We know from a series of national and international research that violence exists on a continuum and that it is driven by gender inequality and disrespect for women.

We know from a series of national and international research that violence exists on a continuum and that it is driven by gender inequality and disrespect for women. We also know some women experience gender inequality in addition to other forms of discrimination.

We also know some women experience gender inequality in addition to other forms of discrimination such as racism and ableism.

Gender inequality in the workplace is evident in the stagnant gender pay gap, the disproportionate representation of men in leadership positions, the continuation of non-flexible working arrangements in some industries and a severe lack of fathers taking up parental leave.

For all these reasons, women's average lifetime earnings are far lower than men's and retired women are more likely to live in poverty.

In 2020, the findings of the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's Respect@Work Inquiry were released and provided a comprehensive set of recommendations for readdressing sexual harassment in the workplace.

One of the recommendations for adoption included introducing a 'positive duty' on all employers to take reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sexual harassment, and victimisation in their workplace.

This means employers would be required by law to take practicable and reasonable steps to ensure that their workplace is safe and free from sexual harassment.

This would bring Australian federal law into line with other jurisdictions, such as Victoria and the United Kingdom.

Our Watch's Workplace Equality and Respect is also a great resource for workplaces wanting to ensure that gender equality and respect are at the centre of all their work practices.

It gives workplaces freely available standards, processes, and tools to identify and reform organisational practices that devalue, exclude, or marginalise women and to support an increase in the number of female leaders.

While it is promising to see greater acceptance of some aspects of gender equality, such as attitudes towards women's full participation in the workforce, we must dial up our efforts right across society and stay the course.

There is some great work being done to promote gender equality to prevent violence against women, but we need all hands-on deck - whole communities, all levels of governments, workplaces, sporting clubs, universities, schools, and TAFEs.

We must act now because women in Australia should not have to fight for the right to be safe, valued, equal and respected when they are fundamental human rights.

Whether it is in the corridors of power in the highest office in the land, or workplaces across the country, women deserve better.

  • Patty Kinnersly is the CEO of Our Watch.
This story Changing appalling behaviour starts at top first appeared on The Canberra Times.