Tuesday 6 March 2018

In the lead up to International Women’s Day, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins said it’s important the momentum gained by the #MeToo campaign continues.

Commissioner Jenkins delivered the Pamela Denoon lecture at the Australian National University last night.

“International Women’s Day is a time to celebrate, but also to reflect on the challenges to overcome. This year, perhaps more than ever, I think there is a feeling that we still have a long way to go,” she said.

Commissioner Jenkins said the #MeToo movement has created an appetite for change and has given people all around the world a greater understanding of the scale of sexual harassment and of the harm it causes.

“The change we need is to create a society where this kind of conduct is unthinkable, and where sexual harassment at work is not something women simply have to put up with.”

Commissioner Jenkins also spoke about the Australian Human Rights Commission’s landmark Change the course report on sexual assault and sexual harassment at Australian universities.

The report found that one in five students was sexually harassed at university in 2016 and that 1.6% of students reported being sexually assaulted in a university setting in 2015 or 2016.

“Taking steps to prevent sexual harassment within workplaces and universities has the potential to effect change in Australian society more broadly.

“A shift in community attitudes – respectful attitudes to women, taking victims seriously, not trivialising behaviours or shifting blame, understanding that everyone has a role to play – will result in policies and complaints processes being followed more rigorously than they have been to date.”

Commissioner Jenkins said she hopes that #metoo marks the beginning of the end of a global culture which both permits sexual harassment to occur and prevents victims from speaking out.

“While it should never have been necessary for them to do so, the women and men who have spoken out publicly about these behaviours have shown incredible courage and strength. They are owed action on these issues.

“As the Federal Sex Discrimination Commissioner, I am committed to fighting gender inequality and the drivers of gender violence. I am working with leaders in media, sporting codes, universities and our defence forces to change the organisational cultures that allow sexual harassment and sexual assault to occur.

“By learning from the work already done in Australia, gathering data, engaging leaders and the workforce, changing attitudes, improving responses, advancing gender equality and holding ourselves to account, I am confident we can accelerate change,” Commissioner Jenkins said.

Pamela Denoon was a strong, passionate and committed feminist whose dedication to women’s rights in this country can be seen in the achievements that she fought for, such as the Commonwealth Sex Discrimination Act and Australia’s ratification of the UN Convention for the Elimination of All Forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW).