The release of Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ damning review into the workplace culture of Parliament House has underscored the systemic gender inequality and misogyny entrenched within the Australian political system, yet its findings are “unsurprising”, according to charity for girls’ equality Plan International Australia.
Set the Standard, which was tabled in Parliament yesterday, revealed a raft of alarming statistics. One in three parliamentary staffers who responded to the inquiry say they have been sexually harassed, while more than half have experienced at least one incident of bullying, sexual harassment or actual or attempted sexual assault.
A quarter of those who said they were sexually harassed said it was done by a parliamentarian, and nearly two-thirds of female politicians reported having been sexually harassed.
Plan International Australia supports Ms Jenkins’ recommendation that a new code of conduct and training for federal MPs and their staff be implemented immediately and enforced by an Independent Parliamentary Standards Commission, which would also ensure safe reporting and investigation options.
The inquiry signals a step in the right direction, however it is now critical that the Government adopt all 28 of its recommendations.
These include eliminating sexist language and behavior, implementing targets to achieve gender balance, strict alcohol policies, a centralised office with standardised HR policies and important healing processes, such as ensuring the Speaker and other parliamentary leaders make a formal acknowledgement of the harm caused to staffers and politicians from bullying, sexual harassment and assault in parliamentary workplaces.
“The accounts that have emerged from the so-called Canberra bubble and on to the pages of this landmark inquiry are deeply upsetting. Parliament should be setting the standard for workplace culture around the country. The toxic, misogynistic and dangerous environment of our nation’s most powerful workplace is unacceptable,” said Plan International Australia CEO Susanne Legena.
“However, the best outcome of the Jenkins review is the identification of the specific risk factors in the Parliament environment that need urgent addressing: the power dynamics and the deeply political nature of the work and the loyalty provided to political parties; the gender inequity and the fact that there are so few women leaders and the lack of diversity overall – this all creates a perfect storm for harassment, bullying and sexual assault. Add alcohol and you have a dangerous cocktail for abusive behaviour.”
Earlier this year, a Plan International Australia report revealed just one in 10 Australian girls and young women surveyed said they believed the culture in our nation’s Parliament is safe for women.
On top of that, 43% young women believe that discrimination towards women in politics holds back young women like them from pursuing political careers while 81% of young women aged 18-25 have never considered or aspired to be Prime Minister.
The report, We Can Lead, included powerful recommendations from young people on how we make Parliament equal and free from misogyny. These formed one of the 302 written submissions to the Jenkins review.
More than 1,700 individuals working in Parliament took part in the review through surveys, submissions, focus groups and interviews.
“I feel empowered by Kate Jenkins’ work and this report. Reading the findings and recommendations encourages me to continue to advocate for gender equality and female rights,” said youth activist and We Can Lead contributor Olivia.
“As the year comes to an end, this report sheds light on what truly happens inside Parliament. Australia’s political sphere is permeated by sexism and misogyny, and serious change needs to be implemented. This issue is severe, and needs to be addressed by severe action.”
“I agree that working towards towards true gender equality is the key.”
Plan International Australia recognises and commends the strength and courage of all victims who have come forward with accounts of sexual harassment and bullying within parliamentary offices and any workplace.
“I think we should acknowledge the bravery of Brittany Higgins in bringing this issue to the fore and for demanding change. And the hundreds of people who shared their lived experience to paint the picture of the culture,” said Ms Legena.
“The hopefulness I take from this is that the report has a clear road map for change and the support of all political parties.
“It is now incumbent on all of them to get on and do something about it. We can’t get a more diverse parliament that reflects the Australian community unless we work hard to make it a safe place for all people to work. We look forward to keeping the Parliament accountable for the actions.
“Young women in particular know that everyone deserves the right to live and work in an environment free from harassment and violence, and they are telling us loud and clear that enough is enough,” said Ms Legena