Published: 2021-03-15 13:01
Last Updated: 2021-05-06 00:03
Monday, thousands of protesters gathered outside Australia's Parliament in Canberra as pressure mounted on the conservative government over its handling of rape allegations.
Former government staffer, Brittany Higgins, who alleged last month that she was raped by a colleague in a minister's office in 2019, delivered a powerful speech to the crowd.
Since Higgins came forward with the allegations, she has become an advocate calling for change to the "toxic culture" inside parliament.
The #March4Justice rallies were held in around 40 Australian cities and towns, with the most major demonstration held in Canberra.
Dressed mostly in black, the crowd gathered outside the Parliament House while holding signs which said "You're Not Listening," "How Many Victims Do You Know?" and "I Believe Her."
A protester, who identified as Kathryn Jamieson said she was fuming with rage. She traveled from Melbourn to take part in the demonstrations.
"I wanted to be at the heart of the matter, I've completely had enough (...) We need immediate change -- I'm sick of women not being believed."
Notably, earlier this month, Attorney General Christian Porter adamantly denied accusations that he had raped a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when they were both students.
Rhe controversy at hand has placed pressure on the Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who critics say has fumbled the government's response to the allegation scandals.
He told parliament Monday, "Not far from here such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country" -- drawing furious interjections from opposition politicians and stunned reactions online.
In response, the public grew furious with rage at Morrison's government which was reflected in a new opinion poll Monday, showing voter support has fallen to unprecedented levels not seen since 2019 when he vacationed in Hawaii as massive bushfires engulfed Australia.
The Austrlian government ordered an independent inquiry into the parliament's workplace culture in light of these events. Additionally, they established new staff support services, however, activists say systemic change is now "a must" -- not just in politics, but across Australian society.
During the protests Higgins told the crowd that her story was "a painful reminder to women that it can happen in Parliament House, and can truly happen anywhere."
"We fundamentally recognize the system is broken, the glass ceiling is still in place," she said.
- 'Toxic' workplace culture -
None of the government ministers attended the protests, and organizers of these rallies refused the Prime Minister's offer to speak in private, claiming that a private meeting would be "disrespectful" to the victims.
"I think the prime minister, if he really cared about women, really cared about our voices... he (could) open the door, walk across the forecourt and come and listen to us," organiser Janine Hendry told the ABC.
The #March4Justice is demanding a handful of measures including independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence, a boost in public funding for prevention of these incidents, and the implementation of recommendations from a 2020 national inquiry into sexual harassment in the workplace.
Australia's parliament has been repeatedly criticized for a "toxic" workplace culture that has allegedly resulted in bullying, harassment and sexual assault.
Notably, local media reported that women in the opposition Labor party recently set up a Facebook page that details alleged sexual harassment by male colleagues and politicians.