Spot­light on dis­crim­i­na­tion

Countryman - - NEWS - Melissa Wil­liams

Sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion are key is­sues fac­ing Aus­tralia’s young ru­ral work­force, ac­cord­ing to lawyer and aca­demic Skye Saun­ders.

The Aus­tralian Na­tional Univer­sity As­so­ciate Pro­fes­sor of Law was a key­note speaker at a Ru­ral, Re­gional, Re­mote Women’s Net­work of Western Aus­tralia event in Perth yes­ter­day.

La­belled #us­too, the meet­ing at­tracted about 180 del­e­gates, who also heard from NOW Aus­tralia co­founder Tracey Spicer and past WA Ru­ral Woman of the Year Cather­ine Mar­riott.

Dr Saun­ders out­lined ma­jor find­ings from her PhD project that in­volved sur­vey­ing 107 young work­ers based in ru­ral and re­gional ar­eas across the na­tion from a range of in­dus­tries, in­clud­ing agri­cul­ture, health, min­ing and emer­gency ser­vices.

She said 73 per cent of re­spon­dents re­ported ex­pe­ri­enc­ing sex­ual ha­rass­ment or dis­crim­i­na­tion in the pre­ced­ing 12-month pe­riod and this rate climbed to 93 per cent those work­ing specif­i­cally in the agri­cul­tural sec­tor.

Th­ese rates are widely re­ported to be about three times higher than the av­er­age for 18-24-year-olds across all in­dus­tries in Aus­tralia and glob­ally.

“Ex­am­ples put to me ranged from deroga­tory com­ments and in­ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour to se­ri­ous as­saults,” Dr Saun­ders said.

“A com­mon re­sponse was that in­ci­dents were so fre­quent that work­ers felt they were hav­ing to choose their bat­tles in terms of speak­ing-out. But it be­came ap­par- ent to me that if they did not re­port the reams and reams of smaller in­ci­dents, they risked nor­mal­is­ing this be­hav­iour.”

Dr Saun­ders said some of the ma­jor fac­tors un­der­pin­ning high rates of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion in agri­cul­ture in­cluded a preva­lence of male­dom­i­nated work­places, an of­ten en­trenched cul­ture of “blok­i­ness”, a blur­ring of lines for ap­pro­pri­ate be­hav­iour and lack of ro­bust re­port­ing sys­tems.

“The so­lu­tion is not about lay­ing blame, but to make ev­ery op­por­tu­a­mong nity count in build­ing a fresh and thriv­ing work­place cul­ture,” she said. “We have good laws and le­gal frame­works in place in Aus­tralia for em­ploy­ees and em­ploy­ers; it is more about mak­ing cul­tural changes.”

RRR Net­work chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer Jackie Jarvis said rates of sex­ual ha­rass­ment and dis­crim­i­na­tion among young work­ers in agri­cul­ture and those based in re­gional ar­eas were alarm­ingly high and this week’s #us­too event was part of the group’s re­sponse to tack­ling this is­sue.

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