Tens of thousands of people marched across Australia on Monday to protest sexual violence, harassment and gender inequality in the country after a wave of sexual assault allegations tied to Parliament.
The March4Justice demonstrations, which were scheduled for at least 47 locations across Australia on Monday, come as the government has been reckoning with allegations of supporting a "boy's club" misogynist culture following recent claims.
The march came as advocates in the United Kingdom were also calling for government officials to do more to protect women following the killing of 33-year-old Sarah Everard, who was killed in London as she was walking home earlier this month.
Australia's Attorney General Christian Porter has been embroiled in a 1988 rape allegation. Earlier this month, he revealed that he was the subject of a claim alleging he raped a 16-year-old girl when he was also a teenager. He has strongly denied the allegation. The victim died by suicide last year.
Brittany Higgins, a former staffer for Australia's governing center-right Liberal Party, came forward last month to report that she was raped in a minister's office in 2019. The party has since come under scrutiny for the way it handled her case and for the way officials, including Prime Minister Scott Morrison, have responded to her accusations.
Since Higgins came forward, four more women have said the same unnamed man raped them as well.
Higgins appeared Monday at a March4Justice demonstration in front of Australia's Parliament, where she spoke of her rape claims.
"This isn't a political problem. This is a human problem," she told the crowd. "We've all learned over the past few weeks just how common gendered violence is in this country. It's time our leaders on both sides of politics stop avoiding the public and side-stepping accountability. It's time we actually address the problem."
"I speak to you today out of necessity" --— 10 News First (@10NewsFirst) March 15, 2021
Brittany Higgins addressing the #March4Justice rally at Parliament House, calling out significant failings in the power structures in Australia's institutions #auspol pic.twitter.com/YOq77jFHw0
Call to action
March4Justice submitted a petition on Monday addressed to Morrison asking that the government take immediate action following the protests.
They demanded independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence; for the country to fully implement recommendations made in the Australian Human Rights Commission's National Inquiry into Sexual Harassment in Australian Workplaces 2020; more funding for gendered violence prevention; and a nationwide Gender Equality Act.
Morrison invited a delegation from the organization to meet in Parliament House on Sunday, but protest organizers resisted. They argued that he and other government officials should meet with them during the rally.
March organizer Janine Hendry tweeted Monday, "We have already come to the front door, now it's up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us. We will not be meeting behind closed doors."
Morrison also made comments Monday that were criticized, and were perceived by some as a threat, as the protests continued outside of Parliament.
He said it was "right and good" that people can participate in peaceful protests in Australia, adding, "Not far from here, such marches, even now, are being met with bullets, but not here in this country."
Participants are hoping Monday's events represent a turning point in Australian society.
Victoria's Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams said it showed women were no longer willing to be silent about the way sexual violence affects their lives.
"What we're seeing now is the community sending a message that they're ready to have this conversation publicly. More than ready, they're eager to have the conversation now," she said.