Thousands protest for gender equality as Australia-wide marches begin

Sydney: Thousands protested in Australia’s Perth on Sunday, kicking off a nationwide campaign for gender equality as anger swells over rape accusations that have rocked the country’s halls of power.

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The Western Australian city launched the #March4Justice with a packed rally where people chanted “enough is enough” and held up placards demanding action to address sexual violence against women, local media reported.

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More than 40 protests will be held across the country Monday, including outside Parliament House in Canberra, where the government has been roiled by sexual assault accusations in recent weeks.

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Former government staffer Brittany Higgins publicly came forward last month to allege she had been raped by a colleague in a minister’s office weeks before the 2019 election and then treated like a “political problem” when she told her bosses.

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Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is from Perth, was then accused of raping a 16-year-old girl in 1988 when they were both students.

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He denies the allegations, which she took to police before her death last year, and the investigation has been closed.

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Growing public outrage at the cases, and a perceived failure by the government to address them, has prompted many to hit the streets calling for justice.

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Indigenous Noongar woman Dallas Phillips was among those who spoke in Perth, describing the “red-hot anger” of those who have suffered abuse.

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“I applaud Brittany Higgins and other young women for calling this out and making a brave stand,” WAToday quoted her as saying.

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“There is an epidemic of sexism, of misogyny, of male privilege and entitlement, of toxic masculinity in this country. Compared to this epidemic, COVID is trivial,” she said.

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Under growing pressure, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Sunday he was prepared to meet with a delegation from the movement, adding that his government was “very focused” on addressing their concerns.

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High priority

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“Right now, the issue of violence against women continues to be a very high priority of my government,” he told reporters in Sydney.

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Australia’s parliament has been repeatedly criticised for a “toxic” workplace culture that has allegedly spawned persistent bullying, harassment and sexual assault.

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The ruling coalition has been accused of not doing enough to support female party members, including after a spate of women quit parliament ahead of the 2019 election, with several citing bullying as a factor.

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Porter remains on medical leave in the wake of the allegations, as is Defence Minister Linda Reynolds, who is accused of mishandling Higgins’ case.

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Morrison has ordered an independent inquiry into the workplace culture at parliament.

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