(Image: Margot Saville)

Note: this piece discusses sexual assault

Virginia Gordon, 60: ‘Why does no one care for our safety?’

Gordon told Crikey she saw Susan Ryan transform the workplace with the Sex Discrimination Act in 1984 and watched her own workplaces implement sexual harassment training sessions and appropriate processes to report sexual violence across the ’80s and ’90s.

I am shell-shocked by the lack of action on the lack of safety for women at work, women at home and women in the community.

How can it be 2021 and workplaces do not have in place the policies, mechanisms and practices to protect women as has been shown by the political horror stories which sicken me to the stomach. I spend a lot of time in Canberra and know well the “away from home” culture that “excuses” so much. It’s a workplace above everything and the total lack of leadership takes my breath away.

Where are the presidents of the ALP and the Liberal Party? Where are the donors saying enough is enough? Where are the leaders of business who are saying not in my time, not in my company, not with my staff, not with my daughters and sons, not with my mother, my sister, my brother, my aunt, my uncle.

Why is it left to women, largely, and to community activists to have to take to the streets again as if it is still the 1970s?

I walk for those women who cannot. I walk to tell those who have suffered you will be heard, you are not alone. I stand on the shoulders of the women who have gone before me — the second wave feminists who changed so much of the world and should not need to yet again in their later years be back out doing the heavy lifting alongside women and daughters of all ages.

I march to end the horror, to stop the abuse, to give comfort to those who need it.

I call for Australia to ensure being an Australian of the Year is not just a photo op for the country but a sign of the change we need to be — and a sign we will change as a country. A sign we will listen to the Australian of the Year. Listen, reflect, learn and act.

Margaret Jones, 64: ‘We want to roar’

I am 64 years old. My 58-year-old sister is marching too. Like Grace Tame and Brittany Higgins, we want our voices to be heard. We want to roar. I am fortunate enough to have never been sexually abused (more good luck than good management) but I work every day with children and young people who have been sexually abused — primarily by males.

There are so many wonderful men; but they are suffering from the men, our leaders in Canberra headed by Scott Morrison, who wilfully, misogynistically, and arrogantly will not acknowledge the shame, degradation, pain, and ongoing trauma of victims of sexual abuse.

Here is a man who could not even be bothered reading the statement of beautiful Kate from Adelaide; who tolerates a minister who uses the term “lying cow”; who protects the highest law officer in the country who has been accused of rape.

Scott Morrison is a role model but for whom: the rich, the powerful, the entitled, the born to rule. Not too many women in that group.

Freja Leonard, 49: ‘I’m too old for this shit’

I’ll be there as a survivor of multiple sexual assaults who, even at the age of seven was made to feel like the crime was my fault. And it didn’t stop there. I finally had the last assault taken to court and the perpetrator pleaded guilty a couple of years ago and honestly I’m too old for this shit.

I’ll be there because as I near 50 years of age I’m increasingly wondering how much has been squandered by women being suppressed. Not just the talk over in meetings, the ideas not heard, the belittling and demeaning nature of patriarchal self-aggrandisement, but the unspeakable volume of women who live daily with anxiety, with second-guessing, who have held themselves back through the poverty of self-belief. Or even just the deeply permeated expectation that it will be the woman who will put her life to one side to care for others.

So much capital has been lost and we see that nowhere more starkly today than in the nation’s capital.

So that’s why I’m marching. I’m marching for the women throughout history who were burned, the women who are burned even today, and in the hope that the women who are to follow me and my generation have the path cleared for them to make their own contribution in their own way on their own terms.

Kaye Beckwith, 90: ‘Hear me roar!’

I’ve nearly 90 years of things to say about the culture of rape in Australia. Sadly I’m too old and too frail to join you marching but you will HEAR ME ROAR.

Patricia Ware, 66: ‘Anxiety and sadness’

I have been disheartened by the leadership of Australia on many occasions. Never before have I suffered a sense of anxiety and sadness at the way the political leaders have acted. With the words and actions currently on show, I feel afraid for the future women of this country. If I can do something to fight this I am happy to do so.

Julie Davey, 61: ‘My list of demands’

I will be marching (albeit a bit wonkily with the aid of a walking stick — I am a 61-year-old former senior health executive, now stroke survivor, consumer advocate and disability pensioner).

I’m angry after a lifetime of experiencing sexism; subtle and obvious gender discrimination in employment, sexual harassment within workplaces and in everyday life, and sexual assault. I’m over it!

The changes I want to see?

  • Immediately, the current government needs to apologise to all Australian women (and male victims) for any harm caused by their announcements, responses and statements over the last month
  • They need to say that they had a mistaken awareness of the depth, breadth and prevalence of sexism, misogyny, discrimination, harassment and sexual assault of women of all ages and children in Australia and the huge task that is before them to change the status quo
  • They need to acknowledge the rates of sexual assault of older women in Residential Aged Care, [reported at] 50 per week.
  • They need to acknowledge the rate of child sexual abuse in Australia
  • They need to back this up by initiating an independent inquiry into the rape allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter and acknowledging that this should have occurred two weeks ago

If you or someone you know is impacted by sexual assault or violence, call 1800RESPECT on 1800 737 732 or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au.

For anyone seeking help, Lifeline is on 13 11 14 and Beyond Blue is 1300 22 4636.

Peter Fray

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