At least half of all women in Australia have experienced sexual harassment, abuse or violence. That’s 1 in 2 that has been sexually harassed, 1 in 3 that has been physically abused and 1 in 5 that has been sexually abused. Let that sink in. With #FiredUp, Refinery29 Australia makes an ongoing commitment to spotlighting this serious and pervasive issue with the goal of dismantling gendered violence in Australia.
December is here, and for the Northern Territory Working Women's Centre (NTWWC), some very important decisions are looming.
The free frontline service – which provides NT-based women with support and advice on work-related matters including underpayment, wage theft, parental leave, bullying and workplace sexual harassment and assault – had its core federal funding taken away in December 2020 and has been campaigning to secure permanent government funding by the end of this year to avoid closing its doors.
In March 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission released 55 recommendations in its Respect@Work report (based on a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces) led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, that would see Australia “reclaim its position as leaders in tackling sexual harassment, provide employers with the guidance they need and victims the support and redress they deserve.”
Of the recommendations, number 49 referred to working women's centres, stating: "Australian governments provide increased and recurrent funding to working women’s centres to provide information, advice and assistance to vulnerable workers who experience sexual harassment, taking into account particular needs of workers facing intersectional discrimination. Australian governments should consider establishing or re-establishing working women’s centres in jurisdictions where they do not currently exist." Currently, there are only WWCs in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Queensland after NSW closed down in 2005, and Tasmania shut its doors a year later.
In May this year, the federal budget pledged $3.4 billion to support women, but only $200,000 was allocated to split between the NTWWC and its Queenslander counterpart, the QLD WWC. This was not enough.
In FY21, NTWWC had 3,470 contacts with women — a 29.6% increase from the previous year, as well as a seven-fold increase in the number of sexual harassment matters. Something needed to be done.
Nicki Petrou, the director of the NTWWC, told Refinery29 Australia in August that the NT government gives the centre $200,000 a year, but another $700,000 annually was needed to keep it open. If the federal government didn't commit to this funding by the end of the year, she feared being forced to make staff cuts and potentially closing doors come December.
As part of Refinery29 Australia’s Fired Up initiative, we launched a petition in August to urgently alert the House Of Representatives to this issue. Our petition was approved by the House of Representatives petition committee, it asked the House to allocate $700,000 per year of federal funds to NTWWC so it can remain operational and continue providing this vital service to some of Australia’s most vulnerable women.
Many of you signed the petition, and we landed it on the radar of important changemakers in Australian politics, including NT Labor MP, Luke Gosling who presented it to the House of Representatives in mid-October.
From there it was referred to the Minister for Women's Economic Security, Senator Jane Hume. Under the petition requirements, ministers have 90 days from presentation in the House to respond to a petition so we're hoping for a response from her by mid-January. We'll keep you updated!
But where does this leave the NTWWC now that we have reached the final month of the year? The service still doesn't have an ongoing funding commitment from the federal government, however, fortunately, some emergency provisions have been made to allow doors to remain open.
The reality is the systemic and cultural issue of workplace sexual harassment won't be stamped out in a month or two and emergency provisions are not a sustainable funding model for an essential service accessed by so many women in critical need.
The NTWWC has said important decisions will need to be made come 2022, but between now and us receiving a ministerial response to the petition, we can all continue to put pressure on the government to commit to urgent funding and the implementation of Recommendation 49.
The centre has listed NT and Federal members of parliament you can write to using the letter format guide on their website. You can also advocate your support on social media using the hashtag #FundtheNTWWC.
"It is not too late to support us," the NTWWC wrote on its Facebook page. They're right, it's not too late indeed.