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Shivani Gopal

Shivani Gopal

August 14, 2022
| Womens Advocacy

Founder’s Weekly: Missing Chairs, Some Reforms & More Discussions: We’re all going “erhm”.

Here’s what you need to get up to speed on.

Fellow remarkable women,

Bias can sometimes be as obvious as a missing chair and this week it was. 

A lot has happened as we continue to witness the unfolding of deliberate acts of gendered power plays with EU-Turkish relations that have left us all going “erhm” (and one of the most powerful women in the EU left standing!). On the homefront, there have been continued, but rather inactionable, discussions around women and children’s safety with a notable win in regards to parental leave. Yet, we’ve seen some minor but welcomed measures announced in response to the Respect@Work report released last year.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen left standing

During a meeting in Turkey, European Commission President, Ursula von der Leyen, was literally left standing while European Council President, Charles Michel, and the Turkish President, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, comfortably sat on two gilded chairs placed at the head of the ornate room. 

von der Leyen was left saying “uhm” or “erhm” with her hands out signifying that she “was clearly surprised, and that is something which you can see from the video” said EU commission chief spokesman, Eric Mamer. "The important thing is that the president should have been seated exactly in the same manner as the president of the European council and the Turkish president".

You can watch the video here.

In the world of diplomats and protocols, Michel’s position has more power but this has never resulted in the three titles sitting together with von der Leyen, an opportunity that has been afforded to von der Leyen’s predecessors. There has never been a representational and protocol hierarchy in the history of EU-Turkey relations so the question is what changed? Gender.

Cue Sophie in ‘t Veld’s evidence: 

This is clearly bias in action. Another way women are left out of the conversation, discriminated against or shown they are seen to be of lesser importance. The fact is, not all women experience such an overt display of bias, but the results of feeling ostracised from the table and the conversation are the same, whether they’re playing out on the world stage, the boardroom or even the humble team huddle.

The political world is still clearly struggling to plug the leak of misogyny and gender inequality. How much more will we witness and women have to bear before world leaders, politicians and governments realise that gender equality, representation and women’s rights are not trends but harrowing social issues that need political action alongside cultural and social action? 

At the end of it all, von der Leyen chose not to mention the incident and instead expressed deep concern about Turkey’s withdrawal from the Istanbul Convention.  “I am deeply worried about the fact that Turkey withdrew from the Istanbul Convention”. “This is about protecting women and protecting children against violence. And this is clearly the wrong signal right now.”

A wrong signal on so many levels, indeed.

National women’s safety summit announced & the Fourth action plan for the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women

In Australia, the Federal Minister for Women’s Safety, Anne Ruston, announced a national women’s safety summit on 29th & 30th of July this year after Annastacia Palaszczuk request. 

The expiration of the current 12-year National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children next year heads this announcement where the summit will discuss an “ambitious blueprint” in achieving a domestic violence tally of zero. 

We support this summit but this summit MUST lead to action. As domestic violence statistics are increasing at alarming rates (currently at an increase of 35% in regards to women seeking help) and simultaneously the need for funding relevant services, we need to ask the question: will this lead the government in actioning tangible outcomes and policy reform? 

Annastacia Palaszczuk would like the summit to address broader issues concerning women and children specifically saying “to look at economic inequality, to look at action to address the gender pay gap, actions to address the superannuation gap, addressing issues of affordable childcare”.

In addition to this, consultations for the 4th action plan has commenced where any Australian can participate in a national online survey to share their experiences concerning domestic violence and safety. In hoping that these insights, from a deep and vulnerable side of Australians, will be used to create strategies sooner rather than later, the $328 million dollar resolution to 88 bipartisan recommendations is running out and the cries of family, violence and safety related services have still not been comforted by an adequate amount of monetary support. 

From what feels like a lifetime of incoherent, ignorant and mindless rantings from Australian politicians on women’s safety and equality, we have no clear change to show. $328 million dollars that’ll run out at the end of the year, an insubstantial task force and now a women’s summit that at face value may not achieve people before politics. 

We applaud this announcement as a small step in the right direction but we  desperately need real, and adequately funded change to come with it. 

NSW public sector to offer paid parental leave

From the 1 July 2021, 14 weeks of paid parental leave will be available to primary carers who are public sector employees in NSW within the first year of their child’s life. 

“This gives families more choice about how they’ll care for their new child. But it also means women will be able to more readily return to work once they’re ready, knowing that the other parent also has access to paid parental leave,” said Stewart Little, General secretary of the Public Service Association NSW. 

This is an incredibly positive outcome for not only families and health but also for gender equality. There is still much to do in terms of breaking male stigmas and stereotypes regarding children and family and with this reform the key here is both parents. Having the leave option for both men and women means that we now need to foster a supportive environment that role models from the top down where men taking parental leave is ok, is normal, and is encouraged. This cannot just be yet another HR policy that flounders on the intranet, never to be actually utilised. 

Studies have shown that men want to take time off to spend time with their kids but refrain from doing so from fear of facing the same stigma women face. Right now in Australia, only 1 in 20 men take paid parental leave compared to the 95% of women. This is saddening where further research from Harvard Business School shows that 40% of men (to 25% of women) agree that “caregivers are perceived to be less committed to their careers than non-caregivers”. So what gives? Why can’t both men and women prioritise their family without being cold-shouldered by the workplace? That’s a discussion we all need to be having. 

This reform to parental leave is the start of that discussion. “There is no silver bullet to addressing gender inequality in our workplaces. But universal parental leave paves the way for significant cultural shift” said Little. And we can’t help but urge us all to become part of that cultural shift. 

Finally, a response to the Rescpect@Work report

It’s been a year since the Respect@Work report was released and still no reform on what Kate Jenkins, Sex Discrimination Commissioner, called “endemic” in regards to the prevalence of sexual harrassment in Australia. 

The March 4 Justice petition (from this year) demanded a full implementation of the 55 recommendations in the Respect@Work report and yesterday Scott Morrison’s government responded with a  plan called, "A Roadmap for Respect: Preventing and Addressing Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces " which references the Respect@Work report. 

In a positive light, a change in measures include:  

  • Extending the sexual harassment complaint time limit from 6 months to 24 months 
  • Making parliamentarians and judges subject to sexual harassment complaints under the Sex Discrimination Act...erm, its about time!
  • Immediate dismissal can be warranted from sexual harassment - a serious misconduct

Otherwise, throughout the report we consistently see words and phrases like “noted”, “will research”, “consider”, “ will ask” in response to most recommendations. Again, we need action, not consideration. 

 If sexual harassment is endemic in our society, we need an eradication plan now! 

Until next week, 


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