Rage Erupts in Australia as thousands of Women March4Justice

On March 15th, thousands of women across Australia took part in a March 4 Justice to take a stand against gendered violence and gender inequality. The country saw over 40 rallies taking place at all major cities such as Canberra, Melbourne, and Sydney and in regional areas.  The protests came in response to the recent allegations of sexual assault and abuse in the Australian Parliament.  The protestors in Canberra marched to Parliament House and delivered a petition with over 90,000 signatures requesting immediate action on gendered violence. Earlier that day, Prime Minister Scott Morrison refused to attend the rally in person and issued an open invitation for a delegation from the women’s march to meet with him. The organizers declined the invitation urging the Prime Minister to meet them publicly rather than “behind closed doors”.

The case of Brittany Higgins, an ex-political adviser who in February alleged that she was sexually assaulted in a minister’s office in 2019, and allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter in a separate incident had triggered nationwide outrage. 

March4Justice Organiser Janine Hardy said she was angry at how the allegations were handled by Prime Minister Scott Morrison and decided to protest at Parliament House in Canberra. When Ms. Hardy sent out the angry tweet asking people to join, she expected a few friends but not an entire country outpouring their rage. Brittany Higgins, the former liberal staffer speaking outside the Parliament house at the Canberra March said it is unfathomable that women are still fighting the same battle. “There is a horrible societal acceptance of sexual violence experienced by women in Australia and my story was on the front page for the sole reason that it was a painful reminder to women that if it can happen in Parliament House, it can truly happen anywhere,” said Ms. Higgins. There has been no response from the Australian Government in response to the country-wide march. However, on the same day, the Prime Minister in Parliament acknowledged the frustration of women and reiterated that “that all cases of gendered violence should be referred to the authorities.”

It has been almost two years since the world was swept with the #Metoo movement which saw millions of women who were survivors of sexual assault and sexual violence coming forward with the names of their perpetrators. However, no one expected the trail of rage that Brittany Higgin’s allegations in February left for Australian women. Ms. Higgins claimed she was raped by a male colleague in March  2019 at the Parliament House in Canberra in a government minister’s office. Moreover, three more women came forward accusing the same man of sexually assaulting and harassing them.  Since then several people have come forward with similar allegations against Australian politicians and political staffers. 

While women were internally stewing at this point, the Federal Police were notified of an anonymous letter that was sent to the Prime Minister’s office in late February that detailed an alleged historical rape by an unidentified man who is now a cabinet minister. In a press conference, Attorney-General Christian Porter revealed himself as the subject of the allegations in a press conference and denied the allegations, and refused to step down from his position.  The lack of response by the Prime Minister and the lack of action has had Australian women saying “Enough is Enough.”  For many survivors, the allegations that have been circulating in the media have not only been distressing but have felt personal. For many women who couldn’t come forward, the march was their safe space and a way for them to show support for other victims. The appalling toxic workplace behavior needs to be addressed and reformed immediately. 

Moreover, the government is in the possession of the 2019 report on sex discrimination in Australian workplaces, which clearly entails the need for a change. The Scott Morrison government should do whatever they can to make sure that the 55 recommendations of the report are taken up. 

This protest has woken up the silent fire and has rekindled the questions that Australian women ask themselves regarding their safety not only in the streets but in their homes and workplaces. Meanwhile on the other end of the globe women in the United Kingdom are protesting for better safety regulations for women after the recent murder of Sarah Edvard. The two protests on opposite ends of the globe are something governments around the world should pay attention to as they call for the same thing: Guarantee the safety of women in the streets and in workplaces, action against gendered violence, and believe victims who come forward.

 

Karuna Balasubramanian
Follow me at

Related