|The Mount Eden War memorial Hall: Where SWAG made history this week!|
This week, the Screen Women’s Action Group (SWAG) held two forums for women in the screen industries, in Auckland and Wellington. I went to part of the Auckland forum, where a large group of women from the screen industry filled the Mount Eden War Memorial Hall. I long for a War Against Women Memorial Hall, for this battle for our safety to be *over*, but these forums are a huge step forward, as for the first time screen women begin to speak publicly about their experiences, without fear of being blacklisted.
Again, congratulations and warm thanks to SWAG for what they’re doing and the thorough, heart-warming and inspiring way they do it. The group’s accessed impressive support from various government agencies and NGOs and presented a carefully considered programme with a diverse and engaging panel to introduce us to some key people and ideas, in a safe environment: there was a counsellor on hand and food to keep us all going at the end of the day.
I particularly enjoyed the panel’s emphasis on the intersectionality of the issues and at least one reference to the need to address bullying as well as sexual harassment (NZ has the second-highest rate of workplace bullying in the world and it affects one in five of us).
"The Screen Women’s Action Group (SWAG) held the forums to ‘break the silence’ around this issue, and we found a profound sense of frustration that the current policies are ineffective," says SWAG spokesperson Emma Slade.
“There was a lot of anger and a lot of pain, but there were also a lot of fantastic constructive ideas for industry-specific initiatives that would make difference."
The meetings heard from women across the industry that unacceptable behaviours – from creepy comments and jokes through to sexual assault – were part of a culture that must be changed.
"Pieces of paper and clauses in contracts have failed to stop sexual harassment. We need a raft of initiatives to deal with it before it happens, when it happens and after it happens.
Many industry women didn’t know the law or their rights. But even when they were told, the power structures in place are huge deterrents for anyone taking wanting to take action except against the most criminal end of offending.
Women asked us how do they stop the smaller stuff, the constant innuendo, the pornographic images, and the colleague who gets 'handsy'? We think it requires an awareness campaign that helps people understand exactly what sexual harassment is and how damaging it is."
"This is about being safe at work. Until now complaining about sexual harassment has been risky in terms of no clear processes and the risk of women being blacklisted. Solutions to change the culture and prevent sexual harassment suggested at the meeting included robust education for everyone, sexual harassment being part of all health and safety briefings on film sets, sexual harassment officers trained in supporting safe behaviour, and independent specialists to investigate complaints and awareness campaigns to change attitudes.”
A snapshot survey SWAG is running alongside their forums (STILL OPEN!) has shown so far that 60% of respondents have either witnessed someone else being sexually harassed or experienced it themselves, usually from a person senior to them at work. I was initially surprised by the high percentage, attributing it to the self-selected responses. But then I read this, about a US survey that shows that *94*% of women in the US industry have experienced 'sexual misconduct'. (I also heard that in Aotearoa New Zealand sexual harassment may be more pervasive in projects that come in here from overseas, a new and plausible idea for me.)
"We will be writing up the recommendations from the forums and expect swift, united and coherent action from industry leadership to implement widespread change," says Emma.
"Thirty years ago people didn’t think it would be possible to make our workplaces smoke-free. There was a lot of gnashing of teeth over that too, but look how successful it’s been. We can begin the process now to change attitudes to make our workplaces sexual harassment free."
A few days later, on its Facebook site, the group posted–
"From our forums we heard how some women particularly in post production, digital content, in writing situations or with all male crew on locations were often isolated and vulnerable.
We were recently made aware of an app developed by a woman to help other women working in situations where they felt unsafe. The app has a check in buddy system with a HELP alert and an 'at risk' button so you don't need to ring or text. You can alert friends, family or other crew to your situation. Some women may find this useful."
I watched the video below and read the Verisafe site and YES Verisafe is amazing. For any time we're vulnerable. Or someone we care about is.
And then SWAG posted this.
We can all use this template to contribute our ideas, on their Google doc.
Go SWAG! Excited to learn what happens next.