Cultural change is needed to stop sexual harassment and that means starting education about respectful relationships from primary school, Tanya Plibersek says.
The deputy opposition leader believes cultural change can be achieved in the same way it’s led to reduced smoking rates – with tougher laws and conversations about the benefits of change.
There are pockets of cultural resistance to change, she told the National Press Club on Wednesday, pointing to university campuses where reports of sexual harassment are much higher than in the wider community.
“We have to be working with young people from school age to talk about respectful relationships,” Ms Plibersek said.
We can’t do everything from legislation. You have to change culture and I really think … (we) can learn from the way we’ve had cultural change in rates of smoking.”
Lessons need to be age-appropriate and rather than talking to four-year-olds about sexual harassment and domestic violence it should start out with lessons on how to play nicely and share with friends, she said.
But it’s not an overnight fix and something that Ms Plibersek believes can be achieved over generations.
“It’s long and detailed and difficult work but we know … sexist attitudes about men and women’s roles in a relationship is an indicator that there’s more likely to be violence in a relationship,” she said.
“We need to teach kids from an early age about equality.”
A number of states including Victoria, NSW and Queensland have introduced respectful relationship lessons as part of their primary or secondary curriculums.
Ms Plibersek also highlighted the importance of promoting existing laws, including the extension of protections for workers being harassed by customers.
“You’ve got women working in all sorts of industries who just cop it. They’re just doing their jobs and copping sexual harassment from people who walk in off the street,” she said.
She said few employers knew about or enforced those protections.
“If those protections aren’t enough then we have to be up for a conversation about further legislative protections,” she said.