Angela Budai: Sexual Harassment is not dead

Angela BudaiAngela Budai posts:
Earlier this year a feminist conference was held in Sydney, the largest in 15 years with over 500 people in attendance from all over the country. It was sold out. The diversity in age and background of attendees put paid to reports in the media that feminism is dead. In fact feminist Anne Summers pointed out that “there are more male and female feminists today than at any other time in Australian history”.
And just as well.

In a week that saw the historic introduction of the first Paid Parental Leave scheme in Australia we also witnessed the fall of a CEO who had made sexual overtures to at least one female staff member. Thankfully the days are long gone where women workers found themselves routinely subject to sexual harassment, but Australian workplaces are a long way from perfect.
Women earn over 15% less than men, if they’re lucky, and one in five has been subjected to sexual harassment. If you’re a young woman working in finance the pay gap is much larger, and you’ll find yourself earning only 67% of your male colleagues. Indeed the finance industry is one of the worst for sweeping cases of sexual harassment under the carpet and that’s only those cases where women are prepared to make a complaint. The reality for most victims of sexual harassment is that they either put up with it or resign in search of a safer work environment.
It’s not good enough for our society that we’re prepared collectively to put up with this sort of behaviour. And put up with it we do. Every worker who has ever described a male colleague as “flirtatious” and his female victims as “oversensitive” is complicit. Every worker deserves the basic human right to be able to go to work and leave at the end of the day without being subject to sexual harassment.
The David Jones Board should be commended for acting as they did but it has to be said that pragmatism was at play here. With both their customer base and the majority of employees being women they did not have the luxury of merely turning a blind eye. They did what needed to be done. It wasn’t particularly brave, and with only a single woman sitting at the boardroom table it certainly can’t be argued that they are at the front of the pack when it comes to smashing glass ceilings. The Board has been widely applauded for taking decisive action so quickly – but it sat on the information for a week. McInnes was not a simple employee – he was the CEO. He broke the law. One can only wonder if a mere sales assistant would have been given a week between such an admission and learning of her fate?
It’s time for the record number of feminists around this great country to take action. Every single one of us needs to decide where we stand on this issue. We need to refuse to be complicit. When we see unwanted behaviour we need to say something, not sweep it under the table. If you think it takes courage to say something, just imagine the courage of Kristy Fraser-Kirk. She will no doubt be vilified as a result of her decision to stand up for her right to work free of harassment. You can begin by defending Kristy the next time someone you know suggests that she has done the wrong thing or has ulterior motives.
Clearly the feminist movement still has a long way to go.
Angela Budai has worked as a union official for 10 years and is currently on parental leave with her second son. She has been active in the campaign for the introduction of paid parental leave, both appearing and making written submissions to the Productivity Commission Enquiry on this subject in 2008.
She has been an elected member of the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and is one of the founding members of Jews Against the Occupation. Angela is involved in the work of North Shore Temple Emanuel’s Social Justice Committee and is a graduate of Shnat Netzer. In her free time she is a civil marriage celebrant.

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