Sounds like a Greek tragedy and in many ways it is. The outpouring of grief and outrage at the brutal rape and murder of Eurydice Dixon in Princess Park in north Melbourne has been remarkable. And rightly so. The response was partly assisted by Lisa Wilkinson’s emotional piece to camera on The Project making her point that women have the right to walk at night without fear of violence. Confronting stuff indeed.
So that was one of two things that happened last week that left an impression on me. The response at the vigil, which my daughter who now lives in Melbourne attended, made sure that this event will linger longer in both my and the public consciousness. The other was attending a seminar about modern slavery. It might seem strange to link the two but in doing some research on Eurydice I discovered that in her stand-up routine on the very night she died, she quipped.
“I’m trying to be more optimistic, so I’m like ‘a slave society … that means no one has any rights. We’ll finally have gender equality. Equally shit – still equal.”
Funny, edgy; it was by all accounts how she lived her life.
The modern slavery seminar I attended was a precursor to legislation that will come into force later this year in Australia that requires companies with turnovers greater than $100m to report on modern slavery through examining their supply chains to ensure that slavery does not feature. It’s based on the lead taken by the UK recognising that slavery didn’t die with Wilberforce. In fact, around 40 million people today live in some form of slavery. Confronting stuff indeed.
Like most Dad’s I’m sure, after the news of Eurydice Dixon’s tragic death I checked in with my daughter to ask her not only about her safety, but also how she feels when she is confronted with being out at night in public. It’s not the first time we’ve spoken about this, but this time her answers seemed to pack greater punch. My daughter has been followed at night to the point where she has been genuinely fearful on a number of occasions. She has been openly approached for sex a number of times including being offered money. These events have occurred in those transition areas between public transport and the streets beyond, a known danger area and a place where women start to feel on edge. They have occurred in public toilets they have occurred on a university campus. Confronting stuff indeed.
When you do not feel free to walk through parks, be it in the day or night, or are wary knowing you may be approached by men with inappropriate intentions on or around public transport, then to a degree your freedom is being curtailed. In a philosophical and arguably actual sense there is an element of slavery here. Confronting stuff indeed.
Some, particularly the Victorian Police, argued that women need to be more vigilant especially in our public parks at night and this drew the ire of Lisa Wilkinson. Not so, she passionately opined. Rather, she said it was time men stood up and spoke to their sons to tell this that this behaviour towards women is unacceptable. No-one can argue with this. Some of us are doing that and trying to lead by example and we should ensure that this gets recognised and modeled by others. Let’s not have this as a divisive gender debate where the agenda isn’t firmly fixed on a solution. In that sense the diatribe of Dr Caroline Norma from RMIT does not appear to be overly helpful in this space, in my opinion.
Not only though do we need to show right-minded leadership to our young men, but as fathers and, yes, employers – where we manage young women- I think we also have a responsibility to mentor young women so that what happens to them on a frequent basis doesn’t become regarded as some sort of norm. The old adage ‘nothing was meant by that, it’s just the way we are around here’ holds no validity.
While we may not be able to police the streets, we can manage the corridors -as it were – of our workplaces, where behaviour on a misogynistic spectrum can and should be stamped out. Melbourne-based feminist Clementine Ford put it in her very straightforward way.
“It isn’t up to women to modify our behaviour in order to prevent violence from being enacted against us. It’s up to society to work together to dismantle misogyny and the particular kind of male rage that informs these acts of aggression.”
I’m a fan of Ford’s. In fact when young women leave our employ her book ‘Fight Like A Girl’ is my departing gift to them. It is no longer acceptable to have what used to be euphemistically called ‘locker-room talk’ in our workplaces. Long bow maybe, but this exists on the same spectrum that ends up in aggression and violence against women.
As I have often blogged about before, you cannot just leave matters of cultural shifts and norms to our political classes. Employers are now playing a much greater role in setting value standards, mindful always that reputations tarnished have direct impacts to the bottom line. Look at the recent spate of sexual harassment claims against partners in the big-end of town law firms for example. In fact many times the business world is in front of our law makers and social reformers. Take the case of ex Deputy PM of Australia, Barnaby Joyce where he had an affair with a staffer in his office. Such behaviour has been ‘outlawed’ in many businesses for quite some time before the government brought in its own policy. Funnily enough this hasn’t impacted on the level of sexual harassment though in firms with those policies around office affairs.
Looking inward to raise such standards is always good, but we should be mindful that our behaviours through recruiting and procurement might well be adding to modern slavery another toxic form of abuse. I just want to bring to your attention some of the stark facts with respect to this issue that many thought had gone away:. Currently in the world:·
- There are 15m in forced marriage;
- 25m in forced labour;
- 5m in sex slavery,
- 4m in state imposed slavery;
- 16m in private sector imposed slavery; and
- It is the second most profitable criminal industry to the drug trade.
There are some industries that are more vulnerable to having modern slavery in their supply chain than others. These are:
- Construction; and
Fortunately, in general, the national rate of murders is in decline at around one victim per 100,000 people. Still this is one too many each time and we need to do all we can to ensure that we are not part of the problem. Unfortunately modern slavery is on the rise so we again, as business leaders, have a responsibility to interrogate in an authentic and thorough way our supply chains to make sure that there is no exploitation of workers. Maybe one can learn from the other.
Perhaps one of the ways of improving the culture and environment for the young women in our cities and towns is to interrogate our own ‘supply chains’ identifying those areas that are falling below society’s expectations and bring about changes at each level? As I heard at the modern slavery seminar…”be impatient – there is much to do”. I think this is apt for violence toward women as well.
In her final clip Eurydice has some lines where she says ‘I can’t stop worrying’. Until we stop worrying these problems won’t go away. Confronting stuff indeed.