March 15, 2021 — 12.10am
Today, Australians from all walks of life in big cities and tiny country towns are expected to attend scores of March4Justice rallies as they demand action against gendered violence, sexual discrimination and the lack of federal government action on issues affecting women.
There is widespread frustration (indeed, incredulity) among women and after millennia of discrimination and sexual tyranny, despite generations of protests, and notwithstanding decades of legislative and cultural changes to improve women’s places in workplaces and the community generally, this government still does not get it.
There is real anger, especially, about the manner in which Prime Minister Scott Morrison has dismissed serious allegations of rape levelled at Attorney-General Christian Porter. And there is anger, too, at Mr Morrison’s astonishing admission that he did not recognise the gravity of rape allegations by a former Liberal staffer until his wife prompted him to consider his response if such an outrage were perpetrated on his own daughters.
That speaks to a moral vacuum of sorts at the nation’s highest level of leadership. But the concerns raised by the March4Justice movement focus on issues beyond Mr Morrison’s response and his decision not to hold an independent inquiry into Mr Porter’s fitness to hold office.
It’s fair to ask where the Coalition’s female leaders are in all this. As political editor Peter Hartcher noted on Saturday, they are “all but invisible” as, behind the scenes, they engage privately in fatuous and flippant self-congratulations via a WhatsApp message network.
Late yesterday, it emerged that Mr Morrison and the Minister for the Status of Women, Marise Payne, had agreed to meet the protest organisers. Words are one thing; action matters most.
Of course, Labor is not blameless either. On Sunday news.com.au reported a Facebook group of current and former female Labor staffers had warned MPs and male staffers “accused of sexually harassing them at Parliament House that they will ‘no longer keep their secrets’.” Both sides of politics have much work to do.
These protests represent a critical cultural moment. They come in the wake of the global #MeToo movement, which highlighted the prevalence of sexual assaults. And March4Justice follows the extraordinary protests across the United States and in Europe in early 2017, when almost 5 million women turned out to denounce sexual violence and assault following Donald Trump’s inauguration as president of the United States.
On Saturday, thousands of women rallied in central London to honour a young woman who was abducted and brutally murdered on her way home at night. Women are angry that they should feel afraid walking at night, that they are disrespected and abused, that their friends (daughters, sisters, lovers and more) are raped, assaulted and murdered in their own homes.
They are furious that they cannot enjoy the expansiveness of male privilege, and wearied by the perception that, despite all else, women somehow end up being afterthoughts in a male world.
How big will today’s protests be? Hundreds of thousands turned out for protests against the Vietnam War and in the ’80s, the anti-nuclear movement attracted up to 350,000 supporters across the nation. In 2000, some 250,000 Australians in Sydney walked in support of reconciliation with the nation’s Indigenous people, and as many as 300,000 turned out in Melbourne. In 2003, more than 500,000 Australians, including about 250,000 in Sydney, protested the Howard government’s plans to join the United States in a war against Iraq.
However many turn out today, here is something Mr Morrison, Anthony Albanese and other MPs cannot ignore: each one of the thousands of women attending today’s rallies, or watching from afar, are daughters. Most of them will vote at the next election, and for years to come they will tell their daughters where they were on this day.
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