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In the wake of the Women’s Safety Summit, leaders of key sexual harassment support services in South Australia, Queensland and Northern Territory express disappointment at the government’s empty words about the need for holistic approaches to prevent violence against women. Working Women’s Centres are specialist women’s services which provide holistic advice, information and support for women experiencing workplace sexual harassment.
Despite the Morrison government’s emphasis at the Women’s Safety Summit on the importance of holistic community services, the Government made no commitment to implement Recommendation 49 of the Respect@Work Report and fund Working Women’s Centres as a standalone funding line.
Recommendation 49 of the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Report states ‘[that] Australian governments provide increased and recurrent funding to Working Women’s Centres to provide information, advice, and assistance to vulnerable workers who experience sexual harassment.’ The Sex Discrimination Commissioner, Kate Jenkins, recognised the unique holistic support provided by Working Women’s Centres: “We found they were uniquely the most effective, victim-centric model that could deliver support, advice [and] advocacy to women [across a] range of issues in their work.”
Despite this strong recommendation from the Sex Discrimination Commissioner, the Federal Government has continued to ignore Recommendation 49 and the suite of recommendations put forward in the Respect@Work Report. Recommendations required to drive the necessary cultural shift towards providing safer workplaces and societies for female citizens, and for some of its most vulnerable members.
Last month, Working Women’s Centre directors again wrote to the Federal Attorney-General Michaelia Cash asking for an update as to the progress of prospective funding under Recommendation 49. In a letter from the Attorney-General received on the eve of the Summit Roundtable discussions, the Federal Government stated it has done its part funding Recommendation 53 in relation to legal services and recommended that Working Women’s Centres compete for this money.
While some Working Women’s Centres may be eligible to apply for funding out of a general allocation for legal services, not all Working Women’s Centres are legal centres. Working Women’s Centres are uniquely valuable due to their holistic approach, focus on prevention and advocacy work. Legal services are one part of the solution and the Attorney-General’s response fails to recognise the unique role that Working Women’s Centres play in the workplace landscape. By ignoring Recommendation 49, and instead asking Working Women’s Centres to fight it out for a portion of the funding allocated for legal services, the Morrison government has failed working women who rely on Working Women’s Centres’ services.
Last week, Labor announced that if elected, the party would fund Working Women’s Centres around the country. While the Coalition government has accepted Recommendation 49, the recommendation has not yet been implemented by the government, along with many other recommendations which remain ignored.
With the NT Working Women’s Centre just months away from closing, Working Women’s Centres leaders are calling for immediate funding for the NT and Queensland Working Women’s Centres, and for a bipartisan commitment to fully fund Working Women’s Centres around the country.
Quotes attributable to Nicki Petrou, Director NT Working Women’s Centre:
“It was made clear at the Safety Summit that local based services were best placed to respond to the unique need in their own backyards, and yet this is not new to those on the ground. Instead, we have seen cherry picking and unilateral funding commitments without discussions with the states or territories as to what is required, without an understanding as to what is happening on the ground, who is providing what, what is the need.
The NT Working Women’s Centre will continue to operate until the end of the year- that is all we can say at this stage without funding security.
We do not want to see Territory women the casualties of a political funding battle especially when every minute counts for us right now. The Federal Government’s response feels like a huge cop out, after stringing us along for months…especially when they know our situation.”
“The need for this funding is urgent: there has been a national outcry against workplace sexual harassment and assault that we know occurs in every industry. We cannot delay this. The NTWWC do not want to start turning women away especially when as a society we are now encouraging women to come forward and share their story, to say enough is enough but not provide the support that is needed when it is needed.”
Quote attributable to Abbey Kendall, Director of SA Working Women’s Centre
“We have been fighting for funding recognition for the last 8 months and we welcome Labor’s pledge to sustainably fund Working Women’s Centres and ensure that all Australian women can have access to our world leading model of service, no matter where they work and live. Sexual harassment in the workplace should not be politicised.
“We need funding action from the Federal Government and bi-partisan support for our services. This is a no-brainer, the Federal Government have an opportunity to make their mark in the prevention of sexual harassment, and they can do it by funding a holistic, professional and trauma informed service that has a proven track record of improving the lives of Australian working women.”
Quotes attributable to Claire Moore, Acting Director of Basic Rights Queensland (Working Women’s QLD)
“Working Women’s Centres have proven our worth over many years. We support women to understand their rights and have access to the system to achieve outcomes when these rights have been violated. The struggle for effective funding has highlighted the unmet needs of women and the impact on their lives, their workplaces, and their families. The Respect@Work report acknowledged the need for these services as an integral element of the response to the systemic damage to women who are damaged by harassment, discrimination, and isolation. Their voices need to be heard.”
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