Towards true gender equality

I grew up in Central Western NSW and feel the spirit of the bush in my blood. It’s because of this passion that I have devoted my research to situating the complexities of sexual harassment in rural and remote Australian workplaces.

In the course of my work, I’ve travelled the country to meet with more than 100 rural women to talk about their experiences of sexual harassment in their relatively isolated workplaces.

Set against the backdrop of isolation and male dominance as a norm, I found that 73 per cent of these women had encountered unwanted behaviour of a sexual nature in the course of their rural working life. The figure was even higher for the women on cattle stations and shearing sheds, with 93 per cent having navigated sexual harassment as part of their workplace experience.

Sexual harassment is but one manifestation of misogynous practice designed to suppress women’s equality and value. For generations, the Australian bush has been saturated in masculine tradition and ethos and rural women have adopted daily survival mechanisms by default.

However, we are witnessing a revolutionary new phase in the international movement towards true gender equality. The recent 62nd session in New York of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) took place in an unprecedented global climate of women’s courageous public advocacy.

The Commission is the primary global body focused on achieving gender equality. This year the priority theme was ‘The Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls’, the topical importance of which was floodlit by Dr Mary Ellsberg of The Global Women’s Institute. Speaking to her qualitative interviews with men and women throughout South Sudan, Dr Ellsberg summarised the horrific statistics of sexual violence against rural women and girls and explained the tragic reality in the region that “If you are born a girl, you are born a problem.”

The CSW review theme was about women’s access to the media and communications technologies as instruments for empowerment. This dynamic combination of CSW themes is timely in relevance, given the current global climate where the collective strength of women’s voices is ringing with profound clarity.