Thousands of people march across Australia to demand justice for women | New women

Melbourne, Australia – Tens of thousands of people demonstrated across Australia amid widespread shock over allegations of sexual misconduct in the country’s federal parliament and growing concern that the legal system is failing women victims of abuse and violence.

People took to the streets on Monday not only in the capital Canberra, but in other cities and major cities, including Sydney and Melbourne.

In recent weeks, former parliamentary staff Brittany Higgins has alleged that she was raped by an MP, while historic rape allegations against Australia’s Attorney General Christian Porter have also resurfaced.

Allegations have also been brought by six women against senior parliamentary assistant Frank Zumbo, drawing attention to what many critics are calling toxic culture of masculinity within the country’s federal parliament.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison continues to refuse to hold an independent inquiry into the allegations against Porter and also refused on Monday to meet with protesters on Parliament’s lawn in Canberra.

While Morrison instead invited protest leaders inside to discuss the matter, the move was seen as yet another example of the secretive and hidden nature of the government’s dealings with the sexual assault allegations in the hallways. power.

‘Boys Club’

Melbourne protester Tory, who preferred to be known only by first name, told Al Jazeera that she herself was a survivor of a sexual assault.

She said Scott Morrison’s lack of response was “a lack of respect for women.”

“We want to send a voice and a message to everyone higher than we have enough.”

Tory joined the protest in Melbourne [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]
Summer, Stephanie and Olivia joined the protest in Melbourne to demand more respect for women and an end to the ‘boys’ club’ in politics [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]

She agreed there should be an independent investigation into Porter’s conduct.

“This poor woman is dead now. They need to investigate [Christian Porter]. He must be removed from his post, ”she said. “Look at what’s going on in New York right now. They ask him to resign because of a sexual assault. We don’t do anything.

Stephanie, who only wanted to share her first name, said she joined the march in Melbourne to “make some kind of a change”.

“It looks like we’re going to do this in 20 years. As long as there is no systemic change and women can enter parliament, we will continue to do so. “

Summer, who also preferred to share just one name, said: “The Morrison government has to come out. [We need to] get some representation of women. This is the only way it will change. “

“The system is a boys’ club,” admitted Stéphanie. “We want our rights to be heard. It is not about hating men. It’s just about being equal.

The government has appointed Gender Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins to lead a review of the work culture of Parliament. She is expected to table a full report by November.

‘Toxic culture’

In the last election in 2019, women made up just 23% of the ruling Liberal Party’s MPs and Senators, despite making up over 50% of Australia’s population.

Speakers at the Melbourne protest included former Liberal MP Julia Banks, who left politics in 2018 after raising concerns about the harassment and intimidation of women in what she called a ‘toxic culture’ .

During the Melbourne protest, she told the crowd that when she was first invited to speak at the protest, she said no.

“I said no because I was scared and I was scared,” she told the crowd. “I have seen what those in the center of power will do if you speak up. They are trying to silence you. They create fear.

Banks has previously said he was the victim of personal attacks and defamatory allegations by former Liberal Party colleagues.

Yet, on stage at the protest, she told the crowd that she decided to speak on behalf of the “thousands and thousands of women who cannot be here.” [and] or the thousands and thousands of women who cannot speak, who continue to be silenced and who have been silenced for too long for fear of losing their jobs, their health, their safety, their well-being or their life.

Protesters gathered outside Sydney Town Hall in response to the treatment of women in politics following multiple allegations of sexual assault [Jaimi Joy/Reuters]

Besides a much lower representation, women politicians have long been discriminated against in the Australian parliament.

The country’s only female prime minister, Julia Gillard, made her “misogynistic speech” against then-opposition leader Tony Abbot in 2012, denouncing the toxic culture and sexism that directly affected her.

Safety concerns

Along with what is seen as the sexist and misogynistic culture of the federal parliament, the protest also addressed broader concerns for women’s safety.

Organizers called on protesters to wear black as a symbol of mourning, in memory of women who have been raped and murdered or who have been victims of domestic violence.

On average, a woman is murdered per week by a current or former partner, while about 17% of women have been sexually assaulted, according to Our Watch, a group that aims to prevent violence against women and children. .

List of hundreds of women and children killed in gender-based violence at Melbourne protest [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]

Jamila Rizvi, author and creative director of Future Women, told the crowd in Melbourne that the current legal process is failing women.

In Porter’s case, the alleged victim committed suicide last year, which means the case cannot be prosecuted by police.

As such, Rizvi said that “there is no clear forum” to investigate such allegations and “one needs to be created.”

Rizvi also said that too often women are not believed when reporting rape and sexual harassment and that this attitude is also present in parliament.

“Believe the women,” she told the crowd.

The protest ended with a minute’s silence for women who were killed as a result of gender-based violence.

Australian government’s lack of response to allegations of sexual misconduct in parliament infuriated women [Ali MC/Al Jazeera]

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