Spotlight on discrimination
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.