The newly formed Safety Respect Equity Alliance — led by 12 women, including Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Julia Banks, Christine Holgate, Chanel Contos, Larissa Behrendt, Yasmin Poole and Michele O’Neil — is calling for the government to take action to end violence and discrimination against women.
The group released an open letter on Sunday with nine key demands ahead of International Women’s Day.
But what are the demands — and how could they be implemented?
Preventing sexual harassment and bullying
The alliance called for the implementation of all 55 recommendations of sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins’ [email protected] report. The report was ignored by the government for over a year and only responded to following extensive outrage and coverage of Australia’s culture of sexual violence.
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While the government first said it would accept the report’s 55 recommendations at least in part or in principle, it soon backtracked on a few key recommendations, including introducing a positive duty on employers to prevent sexual harassment.
While the government said provisions already existed under workplace health and safety law, evidently these have failed — with a heavy onus on individuals to raise complaints and issues around the law’s focus on tangible safety measures, such as hard hats.
Introducing a positive duty would mean the equality sector — instead of the safety sector — would oversee workplace conditions and push employers to be proactive instead of reactive in introducing anti-discrimination measures.
10 days of paid family and domestic violence leave
Nationally, all employees are entitled to five days of unpaid family and domestic violence leave each year. Attorney-General Michaelia Cash has previously said allowing paid leave would lead to fewer jobs for women, and across the pandemic women fleeing violence were initially told to use their superannuation funds to get to safety.
In 2017, one in 10 women took time off work due to violence from a current partner, and one in five took time off due to violence from a previous partner, costing employers an estimated $2 billion a year.
The federal laws are poor and have led to companies introducing their own initiatives — one-third of organisations currently have paid family and domestic violence (FDV) leave for employees in their enterprise agreements.
Acting on the National Plan for First Nations women and girls
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women experience violence at 3.1 times the rate of non-Indigenous women. The Safety Respect Equity Alliance called for the seven recommendations of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani Report, released in December 2020, to be implemented. It’s one of many reports on how to improve equity among First Nations peoples, but once again the recommendations have been implemented slowly or not at all.
Ensuring effective employment programs for women with disability
Exactly how this demand will be met is a little unclear: as Crikey previously revealed, less than 1% of the jobseekers recruited into disability employment service (DES) providers in 2017 had landed a job for six months or more by 2019. The scheme costs over $713 million annually. Just 49.4% of women with disabilities are in the workforce compared with 57.8% of men.
Stronger, more consistent child sexual assault laws
Strengthening child sexual assault laws has been a cornerstone issue on Grace Tame’s platform — her foundation has called for child abuse to stop being “romanticised”, and has led to the ACT rewording the name of the crime “sexual relationship with a child” to “persistent sexual abuse of a child”.
Eliminating the gender pay gap including necessary legal reform
Australia’s gender pay gap currently sits at 22.8%, resulting in women earning on average $25,800 less a year than men. Men are twice as likely to earn more than $120,000 as women. One of the key drivers is the undervaluation of industries dominated by women, such as healthcare and social services.
Free, accessible and quality early childhood education and care
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, temporary measures were introduced to allow access to free childcare. The current subsidy sees many families face barriers, with many care centres charging above the cap for government subsidies. Others don’t meet the government’s National Quality Standard, while those in disadvantaged areas have less choice in what they can access — and afford.
Australian Unions are calling for $2.5 billion over three years to build new publicly funded not-for-profit childcare facilities, to keep childcare permanently free and to fund universal access of 15 hours of preschool education per week for children aged three to four.
The Greens currently support this initiative.
Expanding paid parental leave
Primary carers of newborns — usually mothers — can receive 18 weeks of paid leave. But this payment is only the weekly rate of the national minimum wage, and there are few incentives to encourage men to also take their entitlements.
Embedding respectful relationships and consent education
In her February National Press Club address, Tame called for more funding for “prevention education” programs in schools, pointing to the mere 11 cents spent per student per year on consent and sexual assault education.
Chanel Contos has also been pushing for improved education, with ministers of education from across the country unanimously agreeing to mandate holistic and age-appropriate consent education in every school, across every school year from foundation until Year 10.
It’s not just schools that need this training either — in response to Jenkins’ report into parliamentary workplace culture Set the Standard, parliamentarians and their staff also have to undergo respectful workplace training, but this consists of just one hour of face-to-face lessons.