Women feel like intruders – new book reveals extent of sexual harassment in the rural workplace

Associate Director of ANU Legal Workshop and researcher, Dr Skye Saunders. Photo: Tim Grainger, ANU.

Despite global efforts to help promote gender equality, women in regional and rural Australia continue to face persistent, often relentless, sexual harassment in the workplace on a daily basis, according to ANU College of Law expert, Dr Skye Saunders.

In her new book Whispers from the Bush - The Workplace Sexual Harassment of Australian Rural Women to be launched on 11 March, Dr Saunders details the experiences of rural women, how they adapt to deal with harassment and the attitudes of employers towards the reporting of harassment.

“Sexual harassment isn’t unique to rural workplaces but it’s particularly problematic for women in the bush as they tend to work in relative isolation and they live in smaller communities where patriarchal behaviours and values are often more deeply entrenched,” Dr Saunders said.

“It’s important to recognise there are some fabulous men in the bush who actively respect the important contributions women are making in workplaces that have long been regarded as male-dominated.

“Unfortunately, however, there are still many men who continue to think it is okay to use sexual harassment as a tool to perpetuate ‘male dominance’ as a norm in these workplaces today.  

“This means a significant number of rural women are being subjected to unwanted sexual touching and attention, pornographic imagery and sexualised banter which ultimately make them feel as though they are ‘intruding’ in their own workplaces.

“I grew up in the Central-West of NSW and it was my own experiences with sexual harassment as young worker that in part sparked the national research project that is behind this book.

“I am hoping my book can be a springboard for new initiatives that change the understanding in the bush about what the law says is acceptable behaviour in the workplace and the serious consequences of ignoring those laws.

“It is important employers understand that the law holds them accountable for the sexual harassment that takes place under their watch. They must also communicate regularly and clearly about workplace sexual harassment policies. We need strong leaders on the ground who are prepared to call out offensive behaviour when they see it and adopt zero tolerance towards sexual harassment.

“I am hoping what we are starting here will lead to significant changes in the work environment of women in the bush,” Dr Saunders said.

The book draws on 107 interviews conducted with employees and employers located in regional Australia and their experiences and observations of sexual harassment at work.

Dr Saunders will launch the book on 11 March at Legal Aid ACT with the Women Lawyers Association of the ACT, the Women's Legal Centre and the Legal Aid Commission ACT.

BY LYN LARKIN

Dr Skye Saunders

Honorary Associate Professor

Updated:  10 August 2015/Responsible Officer:  College General Manager, ANU College of Law/Page Contact:  Law Marketing Team