Earlier this month, long-held rage at systemic sexism boiled over into the powerful #March4Justice movement around the country. Community campaigner Mads De Jong attended the march in Canberra, and shares her experiences, her observations as a parliamentary staffer, and her belief that things may be different this time.
By Mads De Jong
CW: This article references sexual assault, abuse, and violence against women.
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I want to start this article by telling you how incredibly sorry I am if you’ve experienced abuse in any form. From cat calls to violence, it’s never OK, and I want you to know that there are massive groups of survivors and allies who are with you in solidarity in every single moment.
I saw this powerful and fast-growing movement first-hand last week at the #March4Justice rally in Canberra, and I wanted to write a little bit about it for everyone who couldn’t attend.
We know these rallies have been spurred on by lifetimes of anger, oppression, and violence. And before I really dive in I wanted to reiterate how important it is to note that every single bit of sexism and misogyny - from that first small sense of unease, to being looked over for a promotion, to a violent incident of assault - exist on the same spectrum of abuse.
This movement is underpinned by a huge concern that this concept just does not seem to be understood by broader society, and the men in blue suits who are supposedly leading it.
I think this deep running societal and systemic sexism leads to pretty much everything else, because it’s never truly acknowledged by those wielding enough power to change it.
And it’s because of this power gap that women have become completely used to being ignored and scrutinised. We’re used to being dismissed, and we’re even unsurprised when called a lying cow.
For generations this sense of powerlessness has become a part of our daily routine: get up, try not to put too much makeup on, avoid eye contact with men on the train, and hope you don’t leave the office late enough to walk home again in the dark.
But thanks to a couple of incredible women coming forward with harrowing accounts of assault in the highest profile building in this country, our voices finally seem loud enough to catch some attention. It shouldn’t have taken this kind of revelation to have brought this conversation to Parliament or the media… but it’s a very good thing that we’re uncovering these issues in such a big way.
Infuriatingly, we still have to beg our country’s leaders to believe us… something this government doesn't seem willing to do without the encouragement of their wives.
This week the Prime Minister had tears in his eyes as he spoke about his family and asked women to stand with him. He passionately and emotionally claimed that he wants women to have total equality… yet continues to completely refuse to independently investigate assault claims against a senior member of his team.
I guess we might be expecting too much from the government here though. Why would they investigate anything properly, if they’re even refusing to simply meet with women who travel to Parliament’s doorstep to rally?
It was so empowering to be able to attend that very rally last week. Thousands of women and allies stood or sat on the lawns of Australia’s Parliament House, and as a colleague and I tried to find a spot to stand we were surrounded by cries of “I am strong, I am invincible, I am woman” at the most incredible volume.
We heard seriously powerful speeches from First Nations women, disabled women, young women, survivors, and allies. Each one was as emboldening as the last.
Then, as we were expecting to wrap up, to applause and tears, Brittany Higgins appeared to speak. It was an amazing and unexpected addition to the day’s list of speakers, but it felt right to have this movement’s catalyst close out the protest.
She clearly reiterated the key theme underpinning the entire #March4Justice: “the system is broken.”
Later, as the rally quietened and we headed back inside, reality hit us all too quickly. Our placards, signs, and posters were removed by male security guards as we headed inside.
We were asked to move along, and as we walked back to our office the Canberra bubble was so clearly still there.
I think it’s straining, though.
As a white, able bodied, employed and housed woman, I have only seen part of this picture. We need to remember to make sure that when this bubble pops, it pops for everyone.
First Nations Women have experienced abuse at the hands of ongoing colonisation for over 200 years. The non-stop colonial themes of Australia are as harmful and abusive as they were generations ago.
Disabled women are literally twice as likely to experience sexual violence. This is such an appalling statistic, and one that doesn’t come from disabled women being inherently vulnerable, but from people in positions of power being too often exploitative.
For our feminism to succeed, it has to include everyone. To be good feminists, and excellent allies, we must acknowledge that we can participate in rallies and moments of action because we are privileged to do so.
I’m grateful that I could take to last week’s rally in Canberra with a massive platform: Senator Jordon Steele-John, who I work for, handed me the keys to our Instagram stories for the day. I hope this meant that women from around the country in situations that prevent them from taking actions could be there even just for a moment.
I hope that wherever you are, you’re working to dismantle those power dynamics and bubbles because I think it’s fair to write that the behaviour we’ve seen in the news is a very public example of what happens in every single workplace around this country.
Whatever the reason for your activism, and whether it’s in person or virtually, whether for yourself or on behalf of someone you love, whether on the day or quietly now as you read this article, I want to finish by saying thank you.
This movement needs all of us to continue. It’s because we’re coming together in our thousands - survivors and allies alike - that our voices are loud enough to be finally heard.
Eventually, these broken systems, bubbles, dynamics, and patterns will be gone because we were finally listened to, stood by, and believed when we said, “enough!”
Mads De Jong is a Community Campaigner in the Office of Senator Jordon Steele-John.
Hero image: Mads De Jong.