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Sex discrimination, violence and gender equality

15 May 2015

Elizabeth Broderick Diversity And Overall Winner 1

After nearly eight years in the job of Sex Discrimination Commissioner (SDC), Elizabeth Broderick (above at the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence awards in 2014) is retiring in September 2015. The longest serving holder of the role, Liz has come to the conclusion that: “Men’s violence against women is Australia’s most significant gender equality issue. It is both a cause and a consequence of gender inequality.”

She’s also adamant that if we can’t get the women and caring balance right in family, community and society, then we’re in for a very hard slog, because ‘sharing the caring’ is the only way forward for both men and women to achieve equality.

Anne Summers, best known as a leading feminist, editor and publisher, and formerly Australia's First Assistant Secretary of the Office of the Status of Women in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, has written an in-depth piece for her Reports magazine on Elizabeth Broderick.

Anne uncovers a number of “depressing” conclusions about equality in her piece with Liz - along with a whole lot of positive strategies employed by the SDC to solve them. Liz Broderick is relentlessly enthusiastic about what can be done and how much we have achieved.

Recently, Liz, who is an Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence winner (and a past Ruby of the Month), was featured in Conversation with Anne Summers in Sydney. She now shares that public stage with the likes of former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, actress Cate Blanchett, Australia's former Army chief Lt General David Morrison, and AFL player Adam Goodes.

Questions about Liz’s statement on domestic violence came up early in the interview and were examined in depth, especially when two of Liz’s Male Champions of Change (MCC), Macquarie Group Chairman Kevin McCann, and QANTAS CEO Alan Joyce, joined the Conversation with Anne and Liz.

MCCs are all at top levels in Australian business. The MCCs have been brought together by Liz to work with women to progress equality in the workplace and in leadership. Liz believes that the closer we get to economic power the further women are away. By getting these men working with women to elicit change in business, she believes we have a much greater chance of successfully bringing about diversity and equality.

Liz also believes that domestic violence and the women who experience it can no longer remain invisible. Left ignored and hived off from other workplace equality issues, family violence festers in the shadows, unresolved, affecting us all.

Using her Head to Heart tactic – a tactic she employed with Army chief Lt General David Morrison, and which opened up the armed forces to tackle sex discrimination in its ranks – Liz’s plan has been to have her Male Champions of Change listen to people who have experienced family violence.

Her reasons: when you experience the humanity of the issue it can no longer remain something you just read about.

(In the case of David Morrison, she convinced him to listen to women in the Army’s ranks talk about sexual harassment and the personal cost of doing their job. That experience played a big part in spurring him on to do something about it.)

The MCCs met with Rosie Batty and Kristy McKellar, two women who have lived family violence.

“They spoke about what it is to hold down a job while living it, to experience violence every day, the reality,” explains Liz of the almost three-hour encounter the MCCs had in late in 2014 with the two women.

At the end of it the MCCs were convinced that this wasn’t someone else’s problem or a family matter outside their jurisdiction, it was their problem. Many of the businesses had new policies and strategies coming into place but Liz has noted that there was and still is a flurry of activity around the issue.

Today, about 20 per cent of the complaints made under the SDA relate to sexual harassment. According to a recent report from the SDA’s office, discrimination around pregnancy is rife, especially in larger businesses and corporations, and discrimination around sex, even though a law exists outlawing it, remains an issue.

The audience reaction to points such as these was visceral, as it was to the analysis of Liz’s career, her achievements and her transparency around how much still needs to be done.

Liz’s buoyant, positive outlook – resilience – was evident throughout the interview. It reminded many in the audience that resilience is important if we are to create an equal society and achieve gender equality.

Of the many questions fielded by Liz on the night, a number came from young women, and girls at school, about the inequality they experience already and whether there are effective strategies to counteract gender discrimination.

Her thoughts – we have to start young with unpicking unhelpful gender stereotypes - are further support for the work organisations such as Young Vagabond are doing with school children.

Finding an answer to discrimination, Liz acknowledged, is not easy, and many levers need to be pulled. Certainly, the consensus on the night was that gender stereotypes and roles are unhelpful and changes in the way we role model need to be made.

The Victorian-based organisation Young Vagabond’s goal is to begin this process. It recently appointed its first fulltime staff member and, with Westpac support, has rolled out its gender stereotype workshops in Victorian public schools with NSW to follow. The Young Vagabond online magazine for women – which tells stories of positive reinforcement – has now hit the streets in hard copy and the organisation has begun publishing an online magazine, called Hinton, for young men.

Young Vagabond has also secured the rights to show two films, which examine the topic of gender stereotyping, to audiences: Missrepresentation (which Ruby has spoken about on the site before) and The Mask You Live In.

Missrepresentation “explores how mainstream media contributes to the under-representation of women in influential positions by circulating limited and often disparaging portrayals of women”.

The second film examines how narrow definitions of masculinity, repressed emotions and popular gender stereotypes are harming boys and men - and unveils what we can do about it.

Finishing the night with Liz, Anne acknowledged that her guests are not paid a speaker fee but the business does give a donation to a charity of the speaker’s choice. Liz chose to give the donation to Rosie Batty - personally. An unusual request, but one, as Anne explains, that makes great sense.

As Australian of the Year, Rosie is asked to do a lot of speaking and appearance engagements. The position and the work are unpaid. Rosie, who believes she must make a difference, accepts as many engagements as she can - so many she is actually unable to work her day job. Donating to her personally, Liz believes, is well and truly warranted.

Most recently, Rosie spoke out about the lack of support in this year’s Federal Budget for crises measures as well as prevention and early intervention programs to combat family violence. As some have noted of the website Destroy The Joint’s compiled statistics on women killed this year, if that amount of people were killed in another way – not at the hands of partner or ex-partner - there would be a national outcry and funding.

White Ribbon – Australia’s Campaign to Stop Violence Against Women keeps in touch with fundraisers and their events around the country. The recent Walk a Mile in Her Shoes event in Victoria, which has now gone national, has earned more than $105,000 to go toward White Ribbon’s Breaking the Silence in Schools Program for critical prevention work amongst young boys and girls to drive generational change in attitudes towards violence and develop respectful relationships.

DV Awareness Walk Victoria

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