Greens Want To Outlaw Catcalling Of Women On Australian Streets

Wolf-whistling and lewd comments on the street could be banned under a federal Greens push to address public harassment of women.

Larissa Waters, Queensland senator and co-deputy Greens leader, said the success of similar laws in France should give pause for Australia to consider the idea.

"It sends a message that street harassment isn't acceptable, and that it's behaviour that is being discouraged," she told 10 daily.

Photo: Getty Images

Under legislation enacted in 2018, catcalling on French streets and public transport can result in an on-the-spot fine of up to €750 ($AU1186). Australia has laws at state and federal level outlawing sexual harassment, but there are currently no laws expressly forbidding catcalling on streets.

The Greens' "equality for women" policy document includes a promise to:

Task the Sex Discrimination Commissioner with providing advice on the success of France’s cat-calling laws which ban street harassment, and whether a national approach could be taken in Australia

Waters did not outline exactly how a system would operate in this country, saying such a framework was for the commissioner to recommend, but expressed general support for fines as punishment for catcalling.

"It's worth finding out. The French laws are working ... it's a message we think is effective, not just because of the fine but as society saying this isn't how you treat women," she said.

"We think the concept is sound, and warrants to see whether it could work in Australia ... it deserves consideration."

Larissa Waters. Photo: AAP

A 2015 study from The Australian Institute found 87 percent of Australian women had experienced at least one form of verbal or physical street harassment in their lifetime. A 2018 study from PLAN International found that, of women harassed on streets in Sydney,  half avoided returning to the area alone and 12 percent never went back again.

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Waters said there was a spectrum of disrespectful and violent behaviour that started with less serious acts like catcalling, and ended with physical violence or death.

"It starts with catcalling, and if that's not discouraged or even encouraged by a peer group, which often happens, those cultural norms get reinforced and the mentality leads to gender inequality, objectification of women, and violence," Waters said.

"Women deserve to be safe. We're being killed in our homes, on the street, and not enough is being done to keep us safe ... if we can stamp out that behaviour that starts as a catcall and ends in a women dying, it's a worthwhile investment."

Waters said there was a spectrum of behaviour that linked catcalling and domestic violence. Photo: Getty.

Elsewhere in the equality policy, the Greens outline support for 'survivors grants' of up to $4,000 to help people fleeing domestic violence meet basic costs such as relocation expenses, bills and food; making abortion accessible and free; a dramatic boost to public and social housing; and a 10-year, $5.3 billion national state and federal government partnership on domestic violence and violence against women.

Waters described recent funding promises for these areas from the Coalition and Labor as "a step in the right direction", but wanted Australia to do more.

"It's not enough to keep every person safe. That should be our barometer, not just whether we can afford it. Let's raise the revenue that we need to keep every person safe," she said.

The balance of power in the Senate is up for grabs in the May 18 poll, with a half-Senate election meaning the Greens could effectively be battling it out with some right-wing parties -- such as One Nation and United Australia -- for the fifth and sixth seats in each state.

The Greens face an uphill battle to hold onto their Senate spots in NSW, South Australia and Queensland, with their Senators stoking fears they could lose their seat to the far-right party.

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Waters said she hoped more women would be in parliament following the May election.

"It's all linked. We need those senior role models in all facets of our society, from sport to parliament to boardrooms," she said.

"If we see women promoted, that allows other women to be inspired and get to a position of equality, which is what we need to stamp out violence."

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