Women lead cultural account as allegations of sexual abuse, sexism besieges Australian government

Cascade scandals of alleged rape, sexual misconduct and discrimination in the Australian Parliament have destabilized the Conservative government as accused ministers are sidelined and assault victims, women’s groups and women politicians demand a shake-up of what they describe as an endemic culture of ‘toxic’ masculinity in politics.

Repeated reports of sexual harassment, abuse and harassment of women by Australia’s political elite have sparked the largest mass meetings the country has seen. Using the hashtag # March4justice, hundreds of thousands of women across the country gathered in a second wave of #Metoo moments that galvanized women – from very young to older – and from all political stripes.

On the march to the capital, the wives of former Prime Ministers Malcolm Turnbull and Kevin Rudd stood hand in hand in a demonstration of solidarity with Australian women, despite their loyalty to opposing political parties.

Australia’s sex discrimination commissioner Kate Jenkins said she had “never seen such a moment”.

But on Monday, the rage erupted during the March 15 demonstrations that boiled over when Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that two of his ministers caught in the eye of the storm in the Canberra accusations – Defense Secretary Linda Reynolds and Justice Minister Christian Porter – would lose their high-profile portfolios but remain a part of the cabinet.

The PM’s decision not to force the ministers involved to resign has played a role in public opinion about a legitimate political class.

Professor Catharine Lumby, a researcher and consultant on workplace cultures at Sydney University, says that Australia, like many countries, has major problems with sexual abuse and harassment that have been ignored for decades despite women consistently addressing them.

“Unfortunately, there is a culture of masculinity in this country that can be toxic,” says Lumby. There is what is called a ‘rape myths acceptance’. What it’s about is that men accuse women of their decision to sexually abuse, and think ‘Well, she deserved it, she was drunk or wearing provocative clothes.’ is that there is a deeply rooted female quota among our so-called leaders and it is born out of a culture of rights and privilege. ”

Lumby’s assessment is reflected in the shocking and widespread allegations of abuse and mistreatment of women that have emerged from the country’s highest political office.

The allegations describe a series of abuses from the use of the Parliament’s chapel for sexual relations, the signing of sex workers in Parliament, to a ministerial assistant after videos appeared of him masturbating over the desk of a female minister’s desk and to the story of a woman who committed suicide after have reported to the police a historic rape involving then-Federal Attorney General Christian Porter. The woman had claimed that the assault occurred when she was 16 in 1988, when both were still students.

Porter has denied the allegations and initiated defamation against Australia’s public broadcaster ABC, which first aired the allegations.

Another MP, Dr Andrew Laming, who over the weekend was accused of “driving” and other inappropriate behavior towards women staff and voters, has agreed to undergo empathy training.

But that was the story told by a former young government official, Brittany Higgins, who first blew up the bubble that protected Canberra and the several male ministers and staff whose transgressive behavior had become uncontrolled. Higgins was released on February 15 with allegations that a senior colleague had raped her in a government ministry in March 2019.

Higgins, who was 24 years old at the time of the alleged rape, said she did not receive enough support after she reported the incident and that she was called “a lying cow” by then-Defense Secretary Reynolds. The minister was forced to apologize and pay damages to Higgins. Since Higgins went public, three other women have come forward to accuse the same man of sexual assault or harassment.

The accusations prompted PM to make an emotional apology in which he credited his wife for giving him “perspective”: “She told me, ‘You have to think of this as a father. What would you like to happen if it were our girls? Morrison told a press briefing.

His remarks caused a general backlash and led Mrs Higgins to issue a statement saying that “the continued victim-blaming rhetoric from the Prime Minister is personally of great concern to me and countless other survivors”.

In comments he made later, Morrison said he had heard stories in which he learned that men in power do not see women as equal. He said he had “listened carefully” to female colleagues and friends “about the issues and the traumatic things they have had to deal with”.

“I have heard that women are overlooked, discussed by men, whether in boardrooms, meeting rooms, staff rooms, in media conferences, in lockers or elsewhere,” he said.

Many read the Prime Minister’s statements as a sign of a political class without contact with complaints about inequality, sexism and casual misogyny, which women say are systemic in politics. A former Conservative MP, Julia Banks, went so far as to describe the workplace culture in Parliament as “the most insecure in Australia”.

“It’s a problem when men have to delay women to explain [that] Rape is wrong and sexual harassment can ruin women’s careers, ”says Lumby about Morrison’s admission that he consulted his wife to better understand Higgins’ rape allegations. “Women are not here to explain to men why this is wrong.”

Virginia Haussegger says that women’s collective actions are a crystallizing moment that affects every single woman in Australia.

“It’s about all of us,” said Haussegger, founder and chairman of the 50/50 Foundation until 2030, at the University of Canberra. “The great failure of the Prime Minister and every minister in his cabinet to understand that point is frankly breathtaking.”

She said she could barely read some of the heartbreaking testimonies from women who just keep coming “in texts, online posts, phone calls and even official emails from the boss addressed to” Dear Colleagues “.

Those who have shared their experiences of discrimination, inappropriate behavior and the seemingly pervasive ‘toxic’ culture in the middle of the corridors of power in the capital are among Australia’s oldest and most respected past and present politicians, including former Conservative Deputy Foreign Minister Julia Biskop. and Australia’s youngest formerly elected federal minister, Kate Ellis.

Ellis, who in 2007 became the youngest serving federal minister at the age of 30, is the latest female former minister to reveal details of the harassment she was subjected to and collect stories from other female politicians for her book “Sex, Lies and Question Time”.

“I had only been a member of parliament for a couple of weeks and we were looking for drinks and this liberal [conservative] employee said quite aggressively just, “Kate, the only thing anyone wants to know about you is how many fights you fought to get into parliament.”

The weapon is gossiping

Ellis says the gun gossip was designed to track her career in Parliament. She said she had to defend herself against false claims that she and her female co-workers had sexual relations with a male government adviser. A parliamentary insider had fed the rumor to a major newspaper that would publish the false story and claim that Ellis’ love triangle “destabilized” the government.

“I would feel like a slut and someone who’s not really ready for the job,” Ellis told ABC’s Australian Story.

Green Senator Sarah Hanson-Young describes the atmosphere in Australia’s parliament as one of “deep tribalism” and “aggression”.

“I have been given names of men with whom it was rumored that I slept whispered to them as they passed me [parliamentary] when we sit down to vote. All the things that are designed as mind warfare, the senator said.

The level of impunity that her male colleagues gave rise to in June 2018 during a heated debate on a proposal for violence against women. A male colleague shouted at Hanson-Young from across the Senate floor: ‘You should stop snatching men, Sarah’.

Hanson-Young sued for defamation and won. Yet there is obviously a culture of impunity.

“When you begin to unpack the systemic, intentional, and persistent power of women and girls, remove the female woman beneath it; when you begin to see it in stark contrast to the privilege of being a man, well, you cannot ignore. Is it really weird that women are angry? ”

Gillard’s misogyny

Revelations of misogyny in Australian politics were famously flagged in a burning speech by former Prime Minister – and the first woman to hold the post – Julia Gillard. In October 2012, Gillard countered her opposition to the opposition, Tony Abbott, over his misogynistic attacks on her and attempts to undermine her leadership.

Gillard was humiliated on the lawns of Parliament ten years ago when Abbott was photographed giving a political speech in front of anti-Gillard posters reading “Ditch the Witch”.

Gillard’s women’s issue has become a global appeal to a new generation of feminists after teenage influencers resubmitted her speech, mimicking her words against a rap-inspired soundtrack and sharing her versions on Tik Tok.

The beleagured prime minister is under ever-increasing pressure to fix the ‘toxic’ culture that runs counter to politics and has already promised a workplace review by parliament as well as on Monday, announcing that seven women would occupy cabinet roles, a record number for the current government.

Morrison insists that the accused should not be tried in court, but that all investigations are subject to due process. As for his own political survival, it will certainly be up to the court of public opinion. A poll conducted for the Australian newspaper on Monday showed that the Prime Minister’s popularity had dropped to 55%, the lowest level in a year. If an election were to be held suddenly, his government would probably be rejected from power.

Lumby favors mandatory quotas and supports the Prime Minister’s measures to get more women in leadership roles. But, she says, there is no easy fix. “Cultural change is slow. Much more than raising awareness is about embedding the concept that women play a role and that they have the same human rights as men. “

“There is a real cultural count. The good news is that women are angry and what is changing is that women are saying out loud, “We have had it and this must stop”. The pot is boiled over and women do not cook. ”