International Women’s Day 2022: Women are speaking and we need to listen to them

International Women’s Day 2022: Women are speaking and we need to listen to them

Across the country on March 8, and in the days that preceded and followed, Australians heard countless activists outline their experiences as women in the current climate and the ways our gender ecosystem needs to change. (Image: Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona)

By Sophie Holder | @SophieHolder26

As the week of International Women’s Day closed, I felt elated that women were coming to the forefront of mainstream media, but simultaneously acutely aware that there is still so much progress to be made.

The official theme of International Women’s Day (IWD) 2022 was #BreaktheBias. The theme refers to the importance of eliminating biases against women that result in inequalities in pay, leadership, healthcare and much more.

Women such as Grace Tame, Brittany Higgins, Chanel Contos and many others are speaking, and louder than I have ever heard before.

In Australia, not only is there a significant call for biases against women to be broken, but many women that have faced injustices due to their gender are calling specifically for systemic change to achieve this.

This notion of systemic change has been extensively discussed by 2021 Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, and has been further developed by her involvement in the establishment of the  Safety. Respect. Equity. campaign. This campaign was created in conjunction with a number of other influential women, including Brittany Higgins and Christine Holgate, to “end the injustice and inequity for women in our country”.

But what actually is systemic change?

It is not enough to ensure women are treated equally in positions of management, or that women do not face gender-based discrimination at home or in their workplace. Systemic change requires gender-based issues to be rectified at all levels: legislative, judicial, executive, corporate, educational, and social.

I recently listened to The Reckoning with Jess Hill and Grace Tame at Adelaide Writers’ Week, and was blown away by these women and their stories. Both Hill and Tame used the word “ecosystem” to describe sexual harassment in the workplace and persistent sexual abuse of children respectively. Since listening to these women, the idea of an ecosystem has stuck in my mind in reference to systemic change.

Tame described the sexual abuse she faced during her teenage years, stating that – in her case – it was “not just a single act of abuse, it’s an entire ecosystem of abuse”.

Hill similarly used the term to describe sexual harassment, particularly within the arts and media industry. She described the “the ecosystem in which [sexual harassment] happens” as one that cannot be resolved by picking and choosing issues to fix, but rather by disrupting the entire ecosystem by implementing the entire cohort of recommendations made by reviews such as the Respect@Work: National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces.

The use of the word ecosystem is representative of what systemic change truly means. To better the ecosystems that allow gender-based violence and sexual harassment, we cannot just alter one element of the ecosystem, as the rest of the ecosystem condoning abuse will continue to thrive.

Please play your role in dismantling the ecosystem that underpins gender-based violence and discrimination and allows it to continue to be virulent in our society.

Although IWD has passed, we must continue to keep women’s issues at the forefront. An element of systemic change is societal change, which can only occur when we listen, understand and support women.

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