Already this month, eight women in Australia have lost their lives to violence at the hands of a partner or someone they knew. Eight women in ten days. And October is not over yet. This is not an anomaly - frighteningly, one woman in this country dies every week at the hands of a current or former partner.
As part of the wider strategy around reducing this horrific statistic, the Government has introduced Stop it at the Start, a three-year campaign to tackle violence against women and children. A primary prevention campaign, it hopes to speak to parents and adults who influence children aged between 10 and 17 with the aim of creating attitudinal change around respectful relationships and gender equality.
When it comes to respect, every adult influences a child’s idea of what is right and wrong. Simple things like reactions and phrases, such as “boys will be boys” and accepting disrespectful behaviour can have a huge impact on what children believe about how others should be treated, and ultimately shape the type of adult they become. Essentially, each of us can make a difference by questioning our attitudes and behaviours, things that may seem harmless, or that we might repeat without thinking.
For Australia’s Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins, nothing could be more important. As a direct consequence of the #metoo movement, Jenkins has unveiled a national inquiry into workplace sexual harassment — an experience that has sadly affected way too many women. “While it is confronting to come to terms with these ugly realities about our society, this has been a long time coming and it does feel like something of a turning point,” says Jenkins.
As a part of showing support for the Stop it at the Start campaign and making big generational change with small individual steps, Jenkins has penned a letter to her younger self. Below, she reflects on what she learned was acceptable behaviour as a girl and teenager growing up, and the importance of never tolerating disrespect.
Hello from the future.
So many important things are happening in your life right now, in your work, and the world. The last few months have been hectic. You’re leading a national inquiry into sexual harassment in Australian workplaces – a world-first (crazy to think, but there it is). You also addressed the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women about how women’s rights are tracking in Australia. Things are changing, as you always knew they would, but slowly.
You couldn’t imagine the appalling statistics for sexual harassment in Australia in 2018. Nearly 72 per cent of people have experienced sexual harassment at some point in their lifetimes, including in the workplace. This is more than four in five (85 per cent) for women, and over half (57 per cent) of men over the age of 15. Sadly, it’s young people aged 18-29 who are most at risk.
There’s still so much to do to prevent harassment and violence against women from happening in the first place, and achieve gender equality. That’s why I wanted to share some advice with you, all these years later.
First – we’re all equal. I don’t have to tell you that men and women are different. But what I want you to understand is that we are completely equal; we can be good friends and work and socialise together. Friendships and relationships between men and women don’t have to involve fear or power. Respectful relationships are between equals, where roles are not defined because of gender.
Second – I hope you learn a little earlier not to tolerate disrespect. You don’t have to ignore disrespectful behaviour, or live with it just because you’re a girl. It’s not normal. You don’t have to accept it. Surround yourself with people that are respectful – respect them, and be respected in return.
Last, but not least – be determined. When you’re deciding what to do in your life, think carefully if people try to direct you to a profession or activity because of your gender. Dream big. While it might seem to you that more boys play football and become engineers in the 1980s, and more girls play netball and become nurses, that’s not the true picture – and it shouldn’t determine your choices. Reflect on what you hear and see, challenge those things that seem ‘normal’. Be true to yourself, be courageous. And if anyone tells you otherwise – or that you can’t do something because you’re a girl – be even more determined to pursue your dreams.
Be brave. Be kind. Treat others as you would want to be treated. Life has lots in store, but for now, enjoy your teenage years with your friends and family.
Keep doing what you can to get us to where we are now.
Your older self.
For more information, visit respect.gov.au