30 April 2024

Did Albo's gender violence rally response just prove a point?

| Hayley Nicholls
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protestors against gendered violence outside Parliament House on Sunday, 28 April 2024

Thousands rallied across the country on the weekend to protest against violence against women. Photos: Hayley Nicholls.

The stoush between the Prime Minister and the organiser of Canberra’s rally against gender violence, not-for-profit advocacy organisation What Were You Wearing founder Sarah Williams, was all a bit familiar.

A little too ironic, to quote one prominent feminist voice of my generation. It brings to mind the familiar dynamic of most arguments between men and women.

Long-suffering woman attempts to air grievances in order to achieve resolution. Man feels attacked. Man gets defensive and deploys a few tried and tested techniques to get out of the situation.

First, be dismissive.

In multiple states, it was reported that MPs and other government officials left swiftly after (or even halfway through) the initial address. They came, they walked with the people, and they left before they were forced to listen and respond in a more meaningful way.

After his address, our Prime Minister made a swift exit – and with him went the media.

Then, a touch of gaslighting.

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The dispute between the Prime Minister and Sarah Williams is around whether the PM and government ministers attending the rally could speak.

Standing on the side, Mr Albanese asked: “Do you want me to speak or not? I’m the prime minister.”

When he took the microphone, he told the crowd he’d been asked not to speak, prompting Ms Williams to start weeping as she cried out that his comment was “a flat-out lie”.

When asked on a morning talk show for his response to Sarah Williams’ statement, the Prime Minister simply acknowledged it was an “emotional” day (and managed to effectively dismiss her accusation under that banner) and that he was “focused on the issue”.

Finally, shift the blame.

The Prime Minister opened his response by reminding the crowd that “Society, and Australia, must do better”.

He reminded attendees: “We have to change culture. This isn’t something that requires a one-off action. This is something that requires concerted action from all levels of government, from the media, from all levels of society, to change culture.”

While not necessarily shirking responsibility, there was a definite air of disbursing and redirecting the outrage.

protestors against gendered violence outside Parliament House on Sunday, 28 April 2024

Gendered violence takes many forms; all of them are horrific in their own way.

I respect Anthony Albanese for showing up and facing a frustrated crowd who were demanding answers. Unfortunately, he did not bring them. Then he left with the media pack and some great content for socials.

Inadvertently though, it feels like Albo somewhat helped prove part of our point. Women need to be heard to achieve change. But traditionally, we are dismissed, belittled, lied to (and about), avoided and embarrassed. This treatment comes from our abusers, the police, the legal system, the media and, evidently, the government.

And if this is an argument that mirrors those being had behind closed doors across Australia, the final technique employed to silence us would be violence. I suppose this is what Scott Morrison alluded to when he gently reminded protestors that they were lucky not to be met with bullets.

After the leaders of our country and the major media left, we heard the personal accounts of multiple victim survivors, as well as the practical requests for support from professionals working in the field of domestic and family violence.

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As put by Hannah Ferguson from Cheek Media as she addressed the Sydney rally with an inspiring warcry: “New Media in this country and Advocacy in this country will end Legacy Media that refuses to hear our voices and report accurately.”

Gendered violence takes many forms; all of them are horrific in their own way. Personally, the stories that boggle my mind most usually include women who took all the ‘right’ steps to keep themselves safe. However, the systems in place currently do little to nothing to keep these women from harm.

A man can have an evidential track record for violence, openly tell a woman he intends to kill her and there is practically no effective protection available for her. We have seen how this often ends. There a glaringly huge holes in our systems.

protestors against gendered violence outside Parliament House on Sunday, 28 April 2024

Gendered violence is a huge societal issue that starts small.

Thirty-two women in this country have died at the hands of men this year, and 27 per cent of women in this country have experienced violence or abuse at the hands of a partner.

These are big stats. However, another key point raised on signs across Australia this weekend was that gendered violence is a huge societal issue that starts small. If we hear someone make a joke that is rooted in the casual disdain for women, we need to call it out.

These jokes are tired and unfunny, but they’re also seeds that grow a socially acceptable disregard for the safety of women. For my part, I’m going to stop quietly rolling my eyes at these tired “jokes” and start telling people to evolve.

One final, personal observation was made at Sunday’s rally outside Parliament House. Before the rally was called to a close, a minute’s silence was held for the 32 women who have been killed by men this year in Australia.

From where I stood, I watched a hush fall over this crowd of impassioned people who came here to be so loud. In the background, I watched the uniformed officers standing between us and Parliament House. Clearly unaware of what was going on at the microphone, they continued to chatter, joking and gesticulating enthusiastically.

It was so off-putting and so poignant. They were there to provide protection. Protection to the men of Parliament House, not the women sitting in front of it. Or the women lost, whose names were being read.

It is not the officers’ fault, of course. They were too far away to hear what was going on, and ultimately, their orders came from elsewhere.

Hayley Nicholls is a Canberra native and business owner, and has worked with not-for-profit and peak organisations. She is concerned about homelessness, gender equality and animal welfare.

Original Article published by Hayley Nicholls on Riotact.

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