Remarks by the Head of College, Dr Donald Markwell, at Formal Hall, St Paul’s College, University of Sydney, 8 March 2018
From time to time, I will speak very briefly in formal Hall about a topic of interest or importance, either to share information or to stimulate discussion.
I have just come back from an event with our neighbours and friends at The Women’s College to mark something of importance to both women and men: today we, like the United Nations and so many people around the world, observe International Women’s Day. This is important for many reasons.
Women are grossly maltreated and discriminated against in many parts of the world, and it is widely believed that the most important way to contribute to alleviating poverty in the developing world is through improving women’s educational and employment opportunities. Within western societies, despite a century or more of progress towards equality for women, significant disparities remain, including unequal pay for equal work. In the last several months, as evident in the “#metoo” and “#timesup” movements and responses to such notorious cases as Harvey Weinstein, there has been a sharp focus around the world on issues of discrimination against women, sexual harassment, and sexual assault.
Studies such as those by Universities Australia and the Human Rights Commission arising from the Respect.Now.Always. initiative, and the Broderick review process in the University of Sydney colleges, in which we will be taking part this semester, have shown that these remain very real problems on our university and college campuses, even though some media reporting has been grossly unfair.
In the community at large, not only has there been a greater unwillingness on the part of women to accept how they are sometimes treated, but more and more men have become champions of what you will have heard me previously stress that the College is committed to – equality of respect for women and men alike.
We as College men must be part of the solution, not part of the problem, upholding our commitment to respect and dignity for all both in how we respect women, including in respectful relationships, and also in how we refuse to stand by when we see others act inappropriately. The College has made clear that it will not tolerate anything that is inconsistent with our commitment to equality of respect for all regardless of gender. Guest speakers including Brent Saunders and Christie Breakspear have spoken to our Freshers in O-Week for over 8 years now on the importance of treating women with equal respect and dignity.
It is appropriate that on International Women’s Day we reflect on these issues, and on what we can and should do about them.