Christian women join rallies to end gendered violence

Christians joined tens of thousands of campaigners taking part in 40 “Women’s March 4 Justice” events around Australia today, “demanding justice for gendered violence in workplaces, including Parliament”.

Among an estimated 7000 to 10,000 people rallying outside Sydney’s Town Hall, is Kylie Virtue, a Christian lawyer and chairperson of activist group Collective Shout, which campaigns against the the objectification and sexualisation of women and girls.

“There’s a lot of complex issues wrapped up in this [protest] today, but it all starts with disrespect,” Virtue tells Eternity over the tide of clapping and chanting behind her.

“At Collective Shout, for the past ten years we’ve been calling out the objectification and sexualization of women and girls in the media, popular culture and advertising.

“There’s a lot of things that the government and different people can do to address this, including individual people taking responsibility. One thing the government could be doing is regulating the age verification of online pornography. That’s a fundamental problem that is contributing to a lot of this, the lack of regulation – the fact that little kids stumble on it [pornography] all the time. We’ve been calling that out for some time, writing submissions to government and the like.

“I believe we have a calling to shine a light for Christ, [to show our world] that there is a better way to do life.” – Kylie Virtue

“The other thing, which might be seen on a lesser scale, is the fact that you go into any of these Westfield shopping centres that are so called family friendly and we are confronted with floor to ceiling pornified images of women in Honey Birdette gear [a lingerie brand]. Little kids are in there, and it’s just been normalised to see women portrayed in that way. We’ve been calling this out for years. There’s a petition going around with 77,000 signatures.”

When asked her opinion on why the church should be involved in the cause behind today’s March 4 Justice rallies, Virtue replies:

“I believe we have a calling to shine a light for Christ, [to show our world] that there is a better way to do life. It’s a matter for other people that make up their minds, but I think it’s important for us to embrace the issues that confront our society to try and make it a better world.

“We are trying to bring ‘your kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven’. We’re never going to get to perfection here on earth, but I think it is our duty, our obligation, our calling to try to bring some of that to the earth where we are living now.”

Meredith Wagstaff and Kylie Virtue from Collective Shout

Meredith Wagstaff and Kylie Virtue from Collective Shout

A friend arrives to march alongside Virtue, director of Collective Shout board and counsellor Meredith Wagstaff, who is also joined by her husband.

Wagstaff describes today as “an Esther moment”.

She explains: “I mean we have been prepared individually for such a time as this – to have resources, to amplify the people who have suffered injustice and to shape society in a way that brings about the kind of changes called for by the men and women gathered here today.”

The March 4 Justice events were organised by Melbourne academic Janine Hendry, in response to what she describes as “growing frustration” and a sense of outrage about three recent events: the government’s response to rape allegations made by former Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins and those made against the Attorney-General, Christian Porter, as well as the thousands of testimonies of sexual harassment and assault from schoolgirls collected by student Chanel Contos.

Following a social media post about the possibility of action, Hendry thought she might only attract a few of her “mates” to stand “outside Parliament with our little placards”.

However, thousands of women and men have taken to the streets, and signed an online petition calling, among other things, for “full independent investigations into all cases of gendered violence” and the implementation of 55 recommendations made in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s “[email protected]” report.

Among the speakers at the events, 2021 Australian of the Year and sexual assault survivor Grace Tame spoke at the Hobart rally, while Brittany Higgins, the former Liberal staffer whose rape allegations sparked the debate about workplace culture at Parliament House, spoke at the rally in Canberra.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison declined to attend the rally in Canberra, instead offering to meet with Hendry and other organisers personally, an invitation she declined.

“It was a very generous offer and I thank the Prime Minister for extending it to me. But today at 12 noon, a hundred thousand women are coming out to have their voices heard, and I can’t speak for those hundred thousand women,” Hendry told 10 News this morning.

“We’ve come to his doorstep,” Hendry motions to the steps of Canberra’s Parliament House behind her. ” … I’m asking him to come out of his office, walk across the forecourt and listen to the voices of these women.”

Hendry also “ambushed” Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack this morning at Parliament House, but he also declined the invitation to attend Canberra rally because he has “meetings all day”.

Some of the Women's March 4 Justice crowd outside Sydney's St Andrew's Cathedral

Some of the ‘Women’s March 4 Justice’ crowd outside Sydney’s St Andrew’s Cathedral