“I don’t think the change proposed is severe enough to deal with the severity of the situation.”
In March the same group ran a survey to gauge young women’s career aspirations after reports of sexual misconduct and misogyny in Canberra.
It found 73 per cent of Australian women aged 18-21 (and 80 per cent of women aged 22 to 25) do not believe women in politics are treated equally and only one in 10 women aged 18-25 believe Parliament’s culture is “safe for women”.
Dr Katie Allen is one of three federal, cross-party MPs who met 20 young women activists wanting parliament made safer for young women.Credit:Simon Schluter
In the lead-up to their meeting with MPs Dr Katie Allen, Amanda Rishworth and Sarah Hanson-Young they issued a statement saying consent training must be mandatory for all Parliament House employees – not just politicians, but staffers, volunteers and media.
They also asked for “comprehensive and mandatory training that covers the root causes of harassment and assault … as well as understanding of the spectrum of violence and harassment” and a code of conduct overseen by an independent, confidential complaints body that can investigate current and historical allegations. (The Foster review assigned historical allegations to the finance department).
Labor’s Amanda Rishworth has added the recommendations to submissions to Human Rights Commissioner Kate Jenkins’ inquiry.
Former Liberal Party staffer Dhanya Mani says healthy relationships training and assessment should be annual in parliamentary workplaces.Credit:Janie Barrett
Former Liberal staffer Dhaya Mani, one of two to come forward with sexual assault allegations in 2019, backed the young women’s call for more widespread consent training. But she said it should be extended to “healthy relationships training” which would include understanding risk factors that enable sexual assault to occur.
“There should be a grading system to assess this, where you can fail the test and the test [and have to sit it again] and the test should be hard,” Ms Mani said. Assessments should be mandatory and annual and parliamentarians should also need to show what they have done to improve their workplace’s safety.
Margaret Thanos, a film-maker and equality activist, 21, was one of 20 young women who met cross-party MPs to discuss how parliament can be made safer in order to attract more young women to engage with politics.Credit:James Brickwood
Sydney film-maker and activist Margaret Thanos, 21, said she and her peers found it “really depressing” to observe events such as the elevation of government MP Christian Porter to leader of the House of Representatives despite the lack of a public investigation into claims made against him.
“There’s a lot of lip service and demonstrations of having meetings with people like Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, but I don’t see any forward-thinking action or change being made in our parliament and this is across party lines,” said Ms Thanos.
Ms Thanos said she hoped consent training would be made mandatory for all who worked in parliament well before her generation reached Canberra. Melbourne public servant and former Plan activist Ashleigh Streeter-Jones said if such measures were not implemented, young women would continue to avoid public office.
Ms Streeter-Jones, who founded Raise Our Voice Australia, a training platform to help young women enter public policy and decision-making bodies, said learning about the treatment of women in parliament via Ms Higgins, Julia Banks and others in the past 18 months has been “shocking” for those her group mentors.
“There’s been a perception of if we want to make change, and this is what it looks like to be in these institutions, why would we step into them?” she said.
She said young women with potential to go into politics were put off by what they had seen in recent years: “The way females are talked about publicly in terms of clothes, their role in society and female leadership generally is awful. There is lack of safety in the parliamentary buildings for candidates, and officers have also been attacked or treated badly.
“Ultimately these young women [whom she helps to mentor] are saying, ‘right, we want to make change, but is politics really the way for us?’ They’re choosing a different tool from the toolkit.”
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