How Workplace Sexism Is Roiling Australian Politics

Jason Scott and Rebecca Jones (The Washington Post)

When it comes to judging someone’s words or deeds, Australians often resort to a casual barometer known as the “pub test.” If the locals are OK with it, then it’s deemed socially or culturally acceptable. By that standard, people across the country delivered a resounding verdict -- no -- in response to allegations of sexual harassment that reached into both the government and Parliament.

The biggest crowds in decades -- tens of thousands of women and men -- rallied in March to demand greater female representation in politics and serious action against sexual violence and discrimination. Whether a tipping point has been reached in a long history of sexism in the workplace depends in part on how conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison handles the fallout.

1. Are complaints of sexism in politics new? Hardly. In 2012 Prime Minister Julia Gillard, the nation’s first and so-far only female leader, drew global attention when she stood up in Parliament House and launched a blistering attack against what she called the misogyny of then-opposition leader Tony Abbott. Among the things she cited were signs at a rally he attended labeling her a “witch” and an expletive that rhymes with it. When foreign minister Julie Bishop quit politics two years ago, she said had put up with male behavior that wouldn’t be “tolerated in any other workplace across Australia.”

2. What’s the broader record?

While Australia quickly followed New Zealand in extending suffrage to women around 120 years ago -- almost two decades before the U.S. did the same -- the following century saw only incremental improvements to women’s rights. For instance, it wasn’t until 1973 that an equal minimum wage was granted. Even pubs were segregated until the 1960s. A 2017 government report cataloged Australia’s mixed record on gender equality. Women still earn 13% less than men. According to a survey, one in six women has experienced violence from her partner; a similar ratio of women have been sexually assaulted. Still, the figures regarding gender pay gaps and sexual violence are similar to those found in comparable liberal democracies such as the U.S.


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