SINCE the revelation of the extent of sexual harassment in the United States entertainment industry, the scope of sexual harassment in all industries across Australia has really come to light.
Following the #MeToo and #TimeIsUp movements, the Rural, Regional, Remote Women’s (RRR) Network hosted a luncheon to open the doors for a conversation about sexual harassment in WA rural and regional industries.
Held last week in Perth, the luncheon named #UsToo brought 180 industry leaders and people together to take a stance against sexual harassment in WA rural and regional workplaces.
RRR Network chief executive officer Jackie Jarvis said for a long time people have simply dealt with inappropriate behaviour but it also has a major effect on business.
“In the past people have just thought ‘oh well, I’ll just put up with it or change jobs’ but it’s actually a big productivity issue for businesses because if people aren’t talking about it and are leaving employment, it has an impact on businesses,” Ms Jarvis said.
“It is also important to talk about this issue because we need to normalise it and not make it this horrible, shameful thing (for victims).
“And bearing in mind, sexual harassment is a really broad range of behaviours, so it could be something at one end of the scale with a person being terribly offended by something someone had said to them or feel embarrassed or humiliated by someone, and of course it goes right to the other end of the scale which is sexual assault.
“If people don’t talk about it they might just assume that it’s one end of the scale or the other.”
Ms Jarvis said there has been is a common attitude of ‘just getting on with it’ and ‘being one of the boys’ which has contributed to normalising behaviour that is deemed as sexual harassment.
“I think that perhaps a lot the people who are the subjects of complaints, mainly men, perhaps don’t even realise that their actions are so hurtful or embarrassing to women,’’ she said.
The day’s keynote speakers included NOW Australia co-founder Tracey Spicer and former Rural Woman of the Year Catherine Marriott, Broome.
As a high profile journalist, author and broadcaster, Ms Spicer has a strong passion for voicing the rights of women and girls.
Since October last year, Ms Spicer has been a key figure for amplifying the #MeToo movement in Australia.
Ms Marriott is well known for her work throughout regional and rural WA but she was put in the spotlight when her confidential complaint against former deputy prime minister Barnaby Joyce for sexual harassment was leaked to the media.
After eight months, she has become driven to use her story to create change for women who end up in similar situations.
Her presentation at #UsToo was the first time she spoke about the issue since her story unravelled.
Skye Saunders, who has been another influential voice in the sexual harassment discussion, also spoke at the luncheon.
Dr Saunders dedicated her PhD research, titled ‘Whispers from the bush: Sexual Harassment in Rural Australian Workplaces’, to the subject.
The study involved Dr Saunders interviewing 107 women from country Australia and found that 70 per cent had experienced sexual harassment in rural and regional workplaces and even more shockingly, 93pc of women working in agriculture had endured sexual harassment.
It was the first time the RRR Network has hosted such an event or that an event focussed on combating sexual harassment against women in the WA rural and regional industry has been held.
“There were 180 people who heard some amazing stories and listened to some amazing women so it absolutely raised awareness and it allowed us to bring it all out in the open,” Ms Jarvis said.
“There were women nodding in agreement and there were men in the room who I think looked a bit shocked by the stories they heared.
“It just opened the conversation because it is something that happens a lot behind closed doors.
“Often when someone makes a complaint, companies go into lock down and no one talks about it, which can add to the trauma and it also isn’t good for the person who has been subject to the complaint because then they have a shadow hanging over them as well.”
Many high profile politicians made their appearance including The Nationals WA leader Mia Davies and colleagues Terry Redman, Colin deGrussa and Jacqui Boydell and from Labor, Agriculture and Food and Regional Development Minister Alannah MacTiernan, MP Simone McGurk and senators Louise Pratt and Sue Lines.
Other high profile industry guests were WA Cricket Association chief executive officer Christina Matthews and Royal Flying Doctor Service WA chief executive officer Rebecca Tomkinson.
With the luncheon being so well received by attendees, Ms Jarvis said the RRR Network would would #UsToo an annual event.