Thursday, 18 October 2018
Plan International: The State of the World's Girls
As many people in this chamber know, every year since 2007 Plan International has published a State of the World's Girls report. I think every year I have commented on their reports in this place and it has covered a wide range of issues, including domestic violence, education and access to services.
This year it is in a new format. The format of the Plan report this year is Unsafe in the city: aresearch report on girls' safety across five cities in the world. The cities are Madrid, Delhi, Kampala, Sydney and Lima. They are vastly different cities. This project engaged with young women living in these cities about their personal safety and how they think that their city should be safer for them. The purpose of the report is quite clear. It is to shine a light on the relentless sexual harassment and abuse that is a daily norm for so many young women and girls on our city streets. We made this statement, but more importantly this is a statement that young women have made to us. They believe there is a relentless process in their cities, in their homes, that causes them to be unsafe, that causes them to make decisions that are not those which they want to make, but they feel that they are not safe.
Unsafe in the city is the first in a new series of State of the World's Girls reports from Plan International, and it shines a light for all of us. It presents a worrying rise in intimidation and insecurity, which is stopping girls from realising their true potential in our urban spaces. This is particularly important, because we look at this issue as we're considering SDG5 across the world, looking at safety, the importance of women and achieving gender equality. If young women—women of all ages, but particularly at this time young women—do not feel safe, they will not be able to feel equal. I so often talk about that major SDG theme of making sure that no-one is left behind. When young women are unsafe, they will be left behind and we will have no way of making sure that we have genuine equality.
We heard similar stories in these five cities—as I said, different places. Young women are frightened for their very physical safety, and they are angry and frustrated because their voices have not been heard or taken seriously. Harassment should never be seen as part of a normal life for girls and young women. It is not harmless fun. It is frightening, it's disempowering and it's completely unacceptable, and we can make a change.
The way the program was introduced was through working on a Free To Be online map-based social survey tool which was developed and piloted in Melbourne. The findings in the 2016 pilot in Melbourne highlighted blatant inequalities in that city, which caused many to sit up and take notice. As a result of these studies, Plan International commissioned a further study, extended to the five cities which we have now, using the methodology and using the partners CrowdSpot, a digital company specialising in map based data collection, and XYX Lab, based at Monash University in Melbourne. Digitally mapping the process of letting the young women involved make indications of where they feel safe and what's causing their issues, and being able to record this digitally so that the results can be counted, gives people the chance to be involved and to reinforce the point that all girls have the right to feel safe in their city. The Free To Be methodology provides the evidence to present to city bosses and planners to encourage them to work with girls and young women to bring about genuine change in the cities.
This aspect around sexual harassment fits in with a number of studies which have been conducted in Australia. Only earlier this year, our 2018 sexual harassment survey, which was conducted with the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, indicated there was a range of fear and concern about sexual harassment across Australia. In September this year, Kate Jenkins, the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, presented a paper called 'Everyone's business'. This particular paper reinforced what happened in the sexual harassment survey and talked about exactly the same issues that were raised in the Plan survey across the five cities internationally—exactly the same indications of feeling unsafe, exactly the same frustration and exactly the feeling that their voices were not being heard and that people were just not understanding the issues of harassment and, even more importantly, the fact that this is everyone's business and that together, as a community, we can put an end to this scourge, which has clearly affected so many lives. When the Sex Discrimination Commissioner presented the paper to the National Press Club, she said:
The most common reasons people said they didn't report their experiences were:
If that is the reaction that young girls have when they are feeling afraid and isolated—that the reason they won't tell someone about it, the reason they won't go to people in authority, is that they just don't think anything will change—indicates that we have a significant problem in our community. There was also a deep concern that there wasn't an understanding about the impact of harassment. There needed to be a genuine acceptance that there is something seriously wrong and that, together, we could make a difference.
Out of both the Plan International paper and the Sex Discrimination Commissioner's paper, there are a number of things we see that, together, we could do. One of them, and this is one of the clear recommendations of the Plan paper, is that we must institute behavioural change. We have to challenge the sense of blame in our culture, and listen to and act upon the stories of women and girls. And sometimes this means challenging the definition of masculinity. This leads to another aspect of the whole discussion. This is an issue that affects women and girls, but it must engage men and boys, and it must engage our whole community. The intent of these surveys is to shine a light on this behaviour, and, if we are going to change the culture, it must be done together. We also need to ensure that the voices of young women, and of the young men who support them—because there must be a desire for change among young men as much as young women—must be involved in the decisions that are made. You identify the issue. You identify the areas where people feel most vulnerable.
One of the ones that come up consistently is public transport. Women feel that on public transport they are not safe. They will be harassed. They will be touched inappropriately. Comments will be made which will be inappropriate. They are fearful about using a public service, something which governments provide to help communities. Public transport is one of the most dangerous areas that have been indicated in five cities across different continents, and also in Sydney. One of the areas that came up was Sydney public transport.
We can make a difference. These surveys have not been done necessarily to cause us to be frustrated or cause us not to take action. The rationale behind them is to make us take action and to indicate to each other that we can make a difference. And we can. Following the Sexual Harassment Survey, there has now been instituted a national inquiry through the Human Rights Commission to look at issues of sexual harassment in the workplace in Australia. The first round of those hearings has already begun, and the Human Rights Commission are calling upon people across Australia to submit their own views, their own concerns and their own experiences to this exercise, and also to take part in the community hearings. We know a large number of people have already done that.
I am really hopeful that the work that Plan International has done, particularly in Australia, in Sydney, will stimulate more young women and girls to get involved in the public hearing process that's now being done by the Human Rights Commission, because if we can continue to gather the evidence, if we can break that element where people don't report because they don't think anything will change and no-one's listening, and get involved, then we can make plans into the future to make our communities safer. If our young women feel as though they will not be harassed in public, that will make a stronger community for all of us. I am hopeful that the work that has been done will have that result.
Senate adjourned at 18:09