A sex discrimination expert says more needs to be done to protect rural women at work amid continued stories of harassment and assault across various industries.
Almost two thirds of women working in the bush have experienced sexual harassment, a researcher says
The WA mining industry has been in the spotlight following the alleged assault of a female journalist at a forum
The WA Mines Minister has flagged cultural problems in the agriculture and hospitality sectors and called for quotas in mining
University of New England associate professor Skye Charry researches harassment in rural workplaces.
She said women experienced high rates of sexual harassment in country jobs, where isolation exacerbated outdated attitudes.
“Up to 73 per cent of people have experienced it at some point in their working lives in the bush,” she said.
“There are some attitudes that can get a bit stuck, like ‘women don’t belong in some places’ or that ‘you need to fit in with the way that we do things.'”
Dr Charry said women who were harassed in rural communities faced extra barriers in coming forward.
“The small size of the community might lead to feelings of wanting to avoid gossip, rumours of being a trouble-maker, or even social repercussions of reporting,” she said.
“[It can be easier] to grin and bear it rather than being seen to make a fuss.”
Skye Charry says rural women are especially vulnerable to workplace harassment.(Supplied: Skye Charry)
‘Chef would insist I hug him’
There has been a sustained media spotlight on the mining industry in Western Australia following a spate of stories of harassment and assault and a parliamentary inquiry into women’s safety in fly-in, fly-out (FIFO) mining.
But in recent months, the ABC has also heard reports of women harassed in local government and community sport.
Last week in parliament WA Mines Minister Bill Johnston pushed for quotas to get more women into mining and flagged cultural problems in the agriculture and hospitality sectors.
“The idea that this is only a problem for FIFO is not correct,” he said.
WA hospitality operator Caroline Jones echoed that sentiment and shared her own story of sexism at work in the city.
“I used to rock up to work … and the chef would insist I hug him — a full bear hug,” she told ABC Radio.
“If I didn’t do that I’d be called a ‘rude bitch.’
“It’s a society problem, it’s not just that industry.”
Dr Charry said no workplace was immune from sexual harassment.
“Agriculture, horticulture, meat, wool, tourism, policing — you name it,” she said.
Education needed — not ‘thicker skin’
Dr Charry said rural employers needed to prioritise safety at work.
“In one study that I conducted, more than two thirds of employers tended to see dealing with sexual harassment as relatively low on the priority list,” she said.
“[They preferred] people grow thicker skin and just get on with it.”
She said more education was needed in the country to change that attitude, through policy and culture.
“We need boots-on-the-ground leadership in organisations, and this means investing in rural education and training so that we achieve clarity at the top,” Dr Charry said.
“Employers should not only have a clear and meaningful workplace sexual harassment policy … [they also need to] take steps to engage with all staff about its real-life application and meaning on the ground.”