Every so often, the world of politics can surprise you in a good way.

Usually that's when the politics actually falls away and we see people speak to the reasons they (hopefully) chose public life in the first place - to help people.

This past week has been one of those weeks as a line of MPs came forward to bravely share their personal stories of sexual harassment and assault and their colleagues have backed them across partisan lines.

Queensland MP Jonty Bush revealed her experiences of sexual assault. Picture: Supplied
Queensland MP Jonty Bush revealed her experiences of sexual assault. Picture: Supplied

Their moves have inspired countless conversations across the community, including from readers who have written in to share their own experiences, give their support and add their voices for change.

As thousands of women joined the March 4 Justice across Australia, something was breaking for so many - and that was their vow to stay silent.

"I just felt standing there yesterday, how on earth can we ask young women and girls to speak up and have a voice about what's happening to them if someone like me can't talk about what I've experienced?" Health Minister Yvette D'Ath explained after sharing her experiences as a child and a "shocked and shaking" 18-year-old in the workplace.

When I and my colleague, Domanii Cameron, reached out to female Government and Opposition frontbenchers following Ms D'Ath's comments and their stories too started trickling in, each was a blow.

Not because it was a surprise they'd had experienced the things they had.

But there is something confronting and uncomfortable about seeing it all in black and white in front of you, all collated like that - a two-page graphic of fear, confusion, disrespect and trauma.

Because when you start pulling back the curtain on this behaviour, we start to understand how insidious and far-reaching this is.

And perhaps that's what's been missing from this debate for too long.

That while women have understood these things are happening to their friends, society as a whole, especially the men who would never act this way, didn't understand.

We hadn't imagined it was happening to the Small Business Minister on a stage, at an awards night, with a crowd right there and the cameras rolling.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath shared her experinces of harassment. Picture: John Gass
Health Minister Yvette D’Ath shared her experinces of harassment. Picture: John Gass

We hadn't imagined it was happening to the Young Australian of the Year, perpetrated by a "recognised professor" and father figure on a woman who had already been burdened with the trauma of having two family members murdered.

Perhaps we didn't appreciate how it's almost standard that girls are faced with sexual assault and harassment from their childhood and teen years onwards, in a continual and tiring cycle.

By boyfriends, family friends, by their friend's dad, by some old dude in a shopping centre.

Perhaps we didn't understand that some women come to understand that going to work means they will have to swat back unwelcome advances, even wandering hands as a matter of course.

That colleagues they trusted will run their hands down their back, over their breasts, pin them against walls, try to kiss them while they wildly search for an exit.

That too many fear nothing much will happen if they report it.

And that when too few pluck up the courage to go to HR, they are let down again and have to work with their harasser having failed to have their voices heard.

Too often our political leaders don't fully understand the power they wield in leading important debates.

That's not the case right now in Queensland thankfully and that is powerful, as well as a comfort to many.

But it shouldn't stop there.

It's time for all workplaces to look at their HR policies and update them so that they are useful for a workforce who don't want to accept anymore that sexual harassment is just a fact of life sometimes - and a reason to look for another job.

It's also on the Palaszczuk Government to look to its own HR policies that are there to protect its substantial workforce.

The latest Working for Queensland survey found almost one quarter of the state's 82,000 public servants - about 18,000 people - had experienced bullying or harassment of some kind.

A massive 70 per cent of people who had been sexually harassed and more than half of those bullied didn't report it for fear nothing would be done or it would harm their careers.

Seventeen per cent were subject to "an unwelcome demand or request, either directly or implied, for sexual favours".

Of those harassed, remarks of a sexual nature were reported by almost three quarters and a third had experienced unwanted physical intimacy.

A colleague was the aggressor half the time and a senior manager was in 16 per cent of cases.

Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has dubbed sexual harassment and assault "very serious" and says they will be looked at as her government drafts a second tranche of public service workplace laws in response to the Bridgeman Review.

This is to be commended because there's no workplace that doesn't need to look at these issues.

Words are powerful. But actions are louder.

Enough is enough.

Originally published as Our brave female leaders can't be the only ones to step up



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