Call for agriculture to take a stand on hidden issue

CALL TO ACTION: Tiff Davey said it was time for agriculture to do something about the issue of sexual harassment.
CALL TO ACTION: Tiff Davey said it was time for agriculture to do something about the issue of sexual harassment.

When Tiff Davey was 19, she landed her first real job in agriculture, as a jillaroo on an outback station.

She soon discovered that the boss on that station had told the jackeroos she worked with that the first person to have sex with her would get $1000.

"The night I found out, I told myself you know what, one day I will have a voice and I will be respected enough to be able to stand up and say actually that wasn't OK," she told the Australian Dairy Conference in Melbourne in February.

"And to make sure no other girls were ever made to feel like that again.

"I was young, I was fresh, I was keen, I was out there jillarooing, with the pretty Instagram pictures and everything else.

"I didn't realise that I was part of the culture within the industry.

"So my first real job and when I was told 'this is something you have to deal with', I was like 'Oh OK'."

It wasn't until a few years later that Ms Davey realised what had happened to her was part of a big problem within the Australian agricultural industry.

She was at an industry event where Dr Skye Saunders shared a statistic from a research paper she had released: 93 per cent of women working in agriculture had experienced sexual harassment at some point in their career.

"At first I was defensive," Ms Davey said.

"The agricultural industry is literally the industry I have devoted my life towards.

"So for someone to say that we are bad or that there is something bad within the industry, I was like 'how dare you, we are perfect'.

"Then I got to thinking."


Ms Davey said she realised that a lot of behaviour she had experienced when she had travelled around Australia working on outback properties was not OK.

"Some of the stuff I had experienced on these properties, I simply blew it off as 'this is just a part of working out here'," she told the conference.

"And it is something you are told: 'this is how it is'.

"And now I realise that's not good enough.

"It wouldn't be OK in an office environment in the city, so why is it OK out in the paddock or on a property?"

But in trying to help shine a light on the issue, Ms Davey found herself subjected to vicious online attacks.

She submitted her story to a national inquiry into the issue and it was later used as an example in a television interview on the ABC.

"Well the industry came back defensive, they came back hard," she said.

"So those within ag didn't like me for a while there, particularly on Twitter."

Comments included: 'What's so horrific about this, there's no rape', 'I am woman, here me whine', 'This sounds like a fantasy for a bit of publicity'.

Ms Davey, who at the time was working in the live export industry and travelling on ships, said the attacks were as extreme as those she was receiving from animal activists.

"I was being trolled as well by animal extremists," she said.

"Everything to being listed on the Aussie maps site to phone calls and death threats.

"But the extremists I could handle ... I have those conversations, I know what I stand for and I am proud of what we do," she said.

"But what I struggled with was the backlash from the industry.

"Farmers and ag professionals coming down hard and saying sexual harassment isn't a thing.

"I've stopped having the conversation now about how we got the 93pc and whether that's a problem or not.

"In my eyes, if 1pc of women came forward and said something had happened to me, we have an issue."

Ms Davey said it was time for agriculture to do something about the problem.

"As an industry, this isn't a man's problem, this isn't a woman's problem ... this is an issue we have to resolve together," she said.

"We need to rewrite the bush narrative.

"We need to call out bad behaviour, find ways to change.

"This movement isn't about man-hating or placing blame, it is about identifying the issue and putting the steps in place to rectify it."

As an industry, this isn't a man's problem, this isn't a woman's problem ... this is an issue we have to resolve together.

Tiff Davey

Ms Davey said the issue was like that of animal welfare - people knew of those who weren't doing the right thing, but by not talking about it, they allowed the bad stuff to be portrayed to the wider community.

"So it actually does affect all of us," she said.

"We've got to hold people accountable because it is not OK any more, and the majority of us don't think it is OK.

"But no one is being held accountable, so we're led to believe that it is."

This meant agriculture was missing out on a potential workforce.

"I know for a fact we are losing a workforce, a demographic of people too afraid to go out to these regional properties because this is what they see," she said.

Ms Davey said the only option people in agriculture had a present to deal with sexual harassment was to lodge a complaint with the Human Rights Commission or Equal

"As an industry, we can do better than that, so I think we should start now," she said.

She also called for people to be kind to each other, particularly online.

"It was a really, really hard place to be in at that point in time," she said.

This story Time to take a stand against sexual harassment in ag first appeared on Farm Online.