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Quiet Revolution: Helen Watchirs

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For our third magazine, the ‘Hidden Issue’, we wanted to shine the light on Canberra women on the forefront of social justice in our city. 

They’re the women bravely leading the charge against Canberra’s big issues: issues that while many are uncomfortable to talk about, are reaching devastating proportions in our city. With rising suicide, drug use and domestic violence rates, these women are fighting to ensure their cause doesn’t become another overlooked statistic. Meet six leaders starting their own quiet revolution.

Canberra is often praised for being an affluent city, but ACT Human Rights and Discrimination Commissioner Helen Watchirs believes it could actually be a detriment when it comes to human rights awareness.

“There are many hidden human rights issues in all societies, but in Canberra because we are relatively affluent and well-educated, the situation can be less obvious for us to see vulnerable people experiencing poverty, homelessness, and discrimination because of their disability, race, age, sexuality and gender diversity,” says Helen.

In particular, Helen believes sexual harassment is an under-reported issue.

In 2014-15 the ACT Human Rights Commission received six complaints about sexual harassment, and in 2013-14 seven complaints, but she is concerned that’s only the “tip of the iceberg.”

“Women experiencing sexual harassment may not make a complaint for various reasons, whether they prefer to keep the issue secret because they are ashamed, think that they won’t be believed, or they don’t have the time and energy to seek a remedy,” she says.

“We know from the National Telephone Survey about prevalence, nature and reporting of sexual harassment in Australian workplaces that about 33 per cent of women have experienced sexual harassment (and 9 per cent of men).

These statistics show that people are very reluctant to complain about sexual harassment, even though the process is relatively successful and quick.” Helen has made it her duty to empower vulnerable and isolated people to get a ‘fair go’ in society, and not go along with majority prejudice and stigma.

But how do we as a community overcome discrimination and human rights problems? Helen believes it’s important to know that they exist, make people feel safe to complain and improve enforcement and education about rights and responsibilities.

“It is also important that bystanders take a more active role in speaking out if they see something adverse happen, and offering support to the person who may feel too vulnerable to speak up for herself or himself,” she says.

We’ll be releasing the women of Quiet Revolution’s stories individually over the coming weeks. You can read the article in full in our latest Magazine, available for free at these locations while stocks last. 


Feature image by Martin Ollman

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