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.
Workplace sexual harassment is shockingly common in Australia. A 2018 National Inquiry revealed that two in five women in Australia (39%) had experienced sexual harassment at work in the past five years, noting that people with a disability, LGBTQI and Aboriginal people were far more likely to be targeted.
Let that sink in for a moment.
In March 2020, the Australian Human Rights Commission released its Respect@Work report, a product of the 18-month inquiry led by Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins. The report outlined 55 recommendations that if implemented, 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 is perhaps one of the most straightforward to implement, as it requires funding rather than changes to policy. It states: "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."
Working Women's Centres are not-for-profit, community organisations that provide essential support for women navigating issues in the workplace, including bullying, underpayment and sexual harassment. They offer free, confidential services for women who are not represented by a union, their own lawyer or another advocate. Many states, including New South Wales and Tasmania, have seen these centres close down due to lack of funding, while Queensland has had to cut services to three days a week.
Despite the Commissioner's recommendations, the few centres that remain are at risk. The Northern Territory Working Women's Centre (NTWWC) had 3,470 contacts with women in FY21, a 29.6% increase from the previous year. They also saw a troubling seven-fold increase in the number of sexual harassment matters. However the organisation's core federal funding ceased in December 2020, and without government support, it is facing inevitable service and staff cuts next month, and closure by December 2021.
Two out of five of us is too many. We're calling on you to help us demand support for women that need it. Because if the government isn't doing enough to prevent sexual harassment, at least it can help the victims who experience it.
As part of Refinery29 Australia’s Fired Up initiative, we've launched a petition to urgently alert the House Of Representatives to this issue. We are asking 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.
We can’t do this alone, and every signature counts. So please, help keep their doors open by signing this petition — it takes less than 2 minutes but will have a lasting impact.