The Australian Government has been slammed as failing to do enough to address sexual harassment, with warnings that lack of support for women could have fatal consequences.
The Government last week announced its response to the Respect@Work report, more than a year after it was released to them, but the measures detailed in the response have been described as toothless.
The Government agreed wholly, partly or in principle with the 55 recommendations in the report.
One of the major recommendations was to require employers actively seek and stamp out sexual harassment in workplaces, rather than push the burden of reporting and following up onto the victims. However, the Government announced no firm action on this recommendation.
“The Federal Government must act on the Sex Discrimination Commissioner’s recommendation that employers are obliged to tackle the underlying causes of sexual harassment at work which includes addressing gender norms in society,” the co-director of the 50/50 by 2030 Foundation Professor Kim Rubinstein said.
“The Government and employers need to identify policies to ensure and encourage men and women to equally share the load: unpaid caring/domestic roles, share the benefits: gender pay gap and gender responsive budgeting, and share the power: equal participation in all decision making.”
Fair Agenda executive director Renee Carr said the Government’s response has “massive gaps” that place women in danger.
“We all deserve a safe workplace – whether we’re working in the halls of Parliament, cleaning an office, or waiting tables. That won’t happen unless the Government meaningfully implements all of the changes recommended - including requiring employers to provide safer workplaces, and providing justice for those affected,” she said.
She said the Government needs to address men’s gender-based violence, and to do that it needs to properly resource services, deliver law reform and address sexual harassment at work.
“Anything else is a decision to leave women in danger and to deny survivors justice.”
‘Unprecedented increase’: 70 per cent jump in women at risk
Outside of the workplace, women’s services are also struggling to keep up with the problem of domestic violence in Australia.
Women’s Legal Services Australia (WLSA) has reported a 70 per cent increase in the number of ongoing legal cases for at-risk women, and a 14 per cent increase in turnaways.
The WLSA is calling on an annual $25 million funding increase, arguing it can’t help the surging number of women at risk if it has no funding.
“In every corner of Australia, from capital cities to the most remote areas, women are reaching out in unprecedented numbers to seek help escaping violence,” said Janet Taylor, managing principal solicitor of Central Australian Women’s Legal Service.
“Last year we advised the Federal Government our services needed $25 million to meet the demand, but we received no response. Our legal system can’t protect women if they can’t access it.”
She said women’s legal services require significantly greater investment due to the complex nature of the services provided.
Many of their clients have experienced coercive control, which features isolation, monitoring and financial abuse, in addition to physical violence.
The types of abusers involved in these cases are also more likely to kill their partners.
“For these cases, generalist legal assistance isn’t enough. Women’s legal services are specialised. We understand these forms of violence and the dangers involved for both women and their children. We work collaboratively with other services and we ensure risk assessment and safety planning is central to the legal pathways taken.
“Without specialist legal services in combination with other supports, women cannot safely leave their abuser or protect their children. In the worst cases, the result is fatal. $25 million is a small ask in the context of a Federal budget, but it will save lives.”