ONE in three Victorians have witnessed sexism and discrimination against women during the past 12 months, but fewer than half said or did something to stop it, a VicHealth research report shows.
As more Ballarat businesses are being encouraged to take part in the local initiative Act@Work, which aims to help organisations challenge sexism, discrimination and violence against women, the VicHealth research showed one in 10 Victorians also said they wanted to intervene after witnessing these incidents, but did not say or do anything to show they disagreed with sexist attitudes.
The More than Ready report involved a survey by the Social Research Centre of 600 Victorians about their willingness to speak up against certain situations of sexism, harassment and discrimination of women.
It looked at whether people were more or less likely to step in at work, on the job or at the sports club.
Lead author Dr Anastasia Powell, a lecturer in sociology at La Trobe University, said the research was a reflection of the serious issue and prevalence of gender inequality in the community.
“Sexist, derogatory and discriminatory behaviour is upsetting for the person who experiences it, but it also impacts the people who witness it, particularly when they feel powerless to act,” Dr Powell said.
“But the reality is, if we stay quiet, then what we are saying without words is we agree with that behaviour.
“We like to believe we live in an equal society, but the truth is women are still treated unfairly. If we feel someone is being treated differently on the basis of their gender, we should be able to say enough is enough.”
VicHealth’s Preventing Violence Against Women Program manager, Renee Imbesi, said the recently-released research sent a strong message to employers and community leaders to act when sexism occurs.
“This world-first research shows us people take notice when women are being treated unfairly, but not enough of them are taking action,” Ms Imbesi said.
“Every day, there are thousands of bystanders who stand up for respect and equality in the community. It only takes one person to speak up to make someone else think twice about their attitude.”
Ms Imbesi added that 98 per cent of the people surveyed said employers had a responsibility to ensure women were not harassed at work and 94 per cent agreed employers should take a leadership role to promote equality on the job.
Two Ballarat workplaces are taking the lead to educate their staff about sexism, discrimination and violence against women through the Act@Work program.
Ballarat Community Health and The Courier have already signed up to the program, an initiative of Women’s Health Grampians. However, more local workplaces are being encouraged to take part.
Act@Work is designed to help businesses and organisations build capacity, develop policies and procedures, and provide the practical tools employees need to play a role in preventing violence against women and children.
Employees undertaking the program will focus on what they can do to change attitudes that support violence and gender inequality.
They will learn that the benefit of a healthy and respectful workplace extends far beyond an office or factory, influencing families and the broader community.
With two organisations already signed up, Act@Work is now looking for two regional businesses outside Ballarat to work with in 2014.
WHG is hoping to find businesses that are male dominated, have between 30 and 100 employees and a desire to tackle this issue within the workplace.
Jaclyn Reriti, from WHG, said the program encouraged workplaces to speak up and denounce violence against women.