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Amid an ongoing violence against women crisis across Australia, the promise that #March4Justice protests once held is being tested.

Around Australia, including in Geelong, Victoria, where this image was taken, women marched alongside non-binary people and allies to demand change. : Flickr: Matt Hrkac of Free to use with attribution Around Australia, including in Geelong, Victoria, where this image was taken, women marched alongside non-binary people and allies to demand change. : Flickr: Matt Hrkac of Free to use with attribution

Amid an ongoing violence against women crisis across Australia, the promise that #March4Justice protests once held is being tested.

Three years since the #March4Justice social media hashtag ignited across Australia, a raft of legislative reforms can be traced back to that protest movement.

The then Coalition government’s perceived failure to take issues of sexual violence seriously may even have contributed to its loss at the 2022 federal election.

But amid an ongoing violence against women crisis, the promise that #March4Justice protests once held is being tested.

Australia has made some attempts to address violence against women and the silencing of victim-survivors — but despite recent undertakings from the Labor federal government, we still have far to go in order to realise the true potential of the #March4Justice movement.

How the movement started

In March 2021, the movement erupted against a backdrop of Grace Tame speaking out as a public survivor of child sexual abuse and the #letherspeak campaign, Brittany Higgins’ revelations about being raped in Parliament House and political machinations she alleged operated to silence her, allegations of sexual assault made against then Attorney-General Christian Porter, and a political culture that was increasingly revealed as hostile to women.

The story of #March4Justice became the rallying motivator to demand progressive legal change, with its collective narrative demonstrating a strong desire that the law should responsibly “hear” the voices of women.

Tweets and articles urging the then-PM, Scott Morrison, to listen, are emblematic of an emotional narrative that demands that lawmakers pay attention.

This narrative followed a pattern of rephrasing and endorsing similar experiences of anger justified by a well-founded shared dissatisfaction with the current legal system. For example:

In the face of such pervasive violence — and a complacent political culture — women were united in protest via social media, through tweets and articles, calling for readers to: “Take a selfie with a sign saying #EnoughIsEnough & #March4Justice & #FedUp and spread it far and wide at 12noon.”

On 15 March 2021, more than 100,000 women, non-binary people and their allies in more than 200 cities and towns across Australia protested against pervasive violence against women and the refusal of governments to take meaningful action.

Meaningful impact agsinst inaction

The movement galvanised women voters fed up with regressive gender ideologies across a range of social and political issues.

Many of these protesters further mobilised after Morrison responded to the #March4Justice movement in a range of seemingly unsatisfactory ways.

He refused to meet the 4,000 women protesting outside Parliament House in Canberra. He was also criticised for describing it as a “triumph of democracy” that women could protest without being “met with bullets” — a comment that “stunned” one member of a UN committee about discrimination against women.

In the mind of some voters, Morrison ultimately came to embody his government’s regressive gender ideologies, complacency regarding violence against women and, above all else, failure to listen.

It is widely believed that women’s mass protest voting influenced the routing of the Morrison government in the May 2022 Federal election.

Social media posts suggest some Australians were actively motivated to vote it out as a result of the issues raised by the #March4Justice movement.

Unified in ferociousness, strength, and courage, the #March4Justice narrative confidently asserted that the collective voice cannot be ignored. In contrast to the silence and passivity historically associated with victims of violence, the use of #March4Justice demanded that women be acknowledged, respected and heard.

Our research reveals connections between a desire to amplify collective voices and a political shift necessary for transformative change.

Tweets like these reveal the clear link within the #March4Justice campaign between mass protest, voting and action on violence against women:


Despite the government’s dismissive response at the time, #March4Justice led to significant legal and political reform.

It triggered five different inquiries into workplace culture at Parliament House within a month, including an Independent Review of Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces led by then-Sex Discrimination Commissioner Kate Jenkins.

#March4Justice also forced the government to respond to the Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work Report — which had been triggered by another social media campaign protesting violence against women, #MeToo — and its recommendations to address sexual harassment in Australian workplaces.

Having sat on the Respect@Work Report for more than a year, the Morrison government released its ‘Roadmap for Respect’, which implemented some aspects of the Respect@Work Report, within weeks of #March4Justice.

Reflecting an ongoing refusal — or inability — to listen, however, the Morrison government refused to implement the most important legal reforms: a positive duty on employers to reasonable and proportionate measures to eliminate sex discrimination, sex-based discrimination and sexual harassment from workplaces, and empowering the Australian Human Rights Commission to investigate and enforce the positive duty.

Will Albanese’s government do better?

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese’s government was elected on a platform of commitment to women’s workforce participation, violence prevention and strengthened political representation.

Above all, the incoming government pledged to do what the previous government had not: listen to women and treat them as experts in their own life experience.

Our research reveals that listening is critical to law and policy reform that can meaningfully address violence against women.

The new government realised that was, perhaps above all, the desire to be heard and the failure to listen that had triggered the #March4Justice protests.

Three years on, however, that promise is being tested.

In 2024, Australia is facing up once again to the reality of violence against women. This time, however, violence against women is taking centre stage — not only on social media but in a noticeable increase in mainstream media coverage.

On the surface at least, this government appears more willing to listen to women.

The Albanese cabinet has more women than any Australian cabinet before. It responded to #March4Justice by passing legislation to implement the central recommendations of the Respect@Work Report — the positive duty to prevent sexual harassment, and empowering the Australian Human Rights Commission to enforce it — within six months of taking office.

In March 2024 the Minister for Women Senator Kate Gallagher announced a 10-year strategy for gender equality, targeting gender-based violence, the care economy, workforce participation, health and leadership and representation. Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has asked the Australian Law Reform Commission to conduct an inquiry into justice responses to sexual violence, which will be informed by a lived experience expert advisory group.

Yet the Albanese Government’s willingness to listen to women is inconsistent.

After thousands of women rallied against domestic and family violence in April this year, Albanese convened a National Cabinet meeting on gender-based violence and declared it a national crisis. Unlike his predecessor, Albanese met the protesters outside Parliament House.

Yet in the annual budget the following month, his government refused to listen to calls from the domestic and family violence sector for investment in increased and secure funding for refuges and other support services.

Albanese then convened a ‘Rapid Review’ panel into best-practice approaches to prevent domestic and family violence. The panel has been widely criticised for failing to include First Nations women, whose constant call to be heard and listened to remains largely unheard.

Providing a platform for speech is only the beginning. What matters just as much is how governments listen.

#March4Justice was not only about speech; it was about the failure to listen.

The Albanese government has now asked women to turn out in droves to share their voices; the question remains whether and how the government will listen.

Dr Cassandra Sharp is a Professor of Law at the University of Wollongong. Cassandra’s research draws on cultural studies, literary theory, and legal theory to interrogate public interaction with legal consciousness, and she is the author of Hashtag Jurisprudence: Terror and Legality on Twitter (Edward Elgar, 2022); and the co-editor of Cultural Legal Studies and Law’s Popular Cultures and the Metamorphosis of Law, Sharp, Cassandra and Leiboff, Marett (eds)(Routledge, 2015).

Dr Sarah Ailwood is Senior Lecturer and Academic Program Director in the School of Law at the University of Wollongong. She researches and publishes in the field of feminist legal theory, both historically and in the present day. Her current research explores women’s legal testimony, listening and law reform in the #MeToo era, and workplace sexual harassment law.

Originally published under Creative Commons by 360info™.

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