I was interested to read that Senator Sarah Hanson-Young will give a speech today to the Women in Leadership summit on her decade-long battle against sexism in politics. The Guardian report on her speech said that she will touch on problems women experience in the Greens.
Good on her. That’s a challenging subject. Greens parties in a number of states have or still are dealing with complaints from women about men associated with the Greens who sexually harassed or assaulted them.
I think the big challenge the Greens face is how do we hold powerful men accountable. Richard’s statement a few months back that the women who are abused must be believed has helped to reassure many. But how does that play out in practice? We have to not only say we believe women but we have to mean it and act on it.
The Young Greens in NSW recently released their membership figures. At the end of the membership year in June this year they had 629 members under 31 years. As of mid-October the number of members that had renewed dropped to 426 members. The current Young Greens office bearers attribute the large number of young people who have resigned or not renewed their membership to their frustration with the Greens’ failure to act on complaints about the actions of high profile men in the Greens towards women.
These issues are not new. The NSW Young Greens have had two of their female co-convenors in successive terms resign because of sexism in the party.
Political parties have some striking similarities to churches, youth groups and charities who have come under scrutiny for failing to act when faced with misconduct and abuse within their ranks. We all believe we have virtuous missions to make the world a better place.
People put their trust in us and in our power. Our organisation can be intolerant of internal criticism and hostile to external scrutiny. This can create an atmosphere where power is not checked and where criticism is not heard.
This is why we need to act, not just in parliament but also in our own organisations, to ensure that victims are heard and respected and misconduct and abuse are not repeated.
I will be interested to read Sarah’s speech. Men who derive their position and power from the Greens and abuse the privilege and influence that come with it should not be protected by a misplaced emphasis on the Greens “good name”. If we don’t speak up it is not just women who will suffer, our party will experience long term reputational damage.