Yes, Peter V’landys, I seek attention – to get action on stopping rape and domestic violence

Peter V’landys, the chair of the Australian Rugby League Commission, went on record last week to emphasise his firm commitment to gender equality and women’s safety. Which is very heartening.

He was also quoted in this masthead expressing his concern that I was an “attention seeker”. In 2005, I was asked to take on a role as the NRL’s pro bono gender adviser by the then chief executive, David Gallop.

The commitment to my role has been renewed by every other incoming chief executive. But in the past two years there has been radio silence. The NRL now has no independent gender adviser. Clearly the game needs this work and there are lots of excellent women out there who can and would perform the role.

“Attention seeker” is a common insult levelled by men at women who speak out. Along with “hysterical” and “angry”. We need better insults, people. And like many women who have been told to get back in their box since kindergarten, I’ve heard them all.

So here’s why I seek attention. I want to get people to pay attention to why the treatment of women in Australia matters. To do everything they can to prevent and call out rape and domestic violence. Both remain huge issues in the NRL. But they are also huge issues across our society and they affect women from every class and from every background.

I have lost count of the number of people at middle-class dinner parties who have asked me why I work with “those animals”, meaning NRL players. Like V’landys I come from a working-class background. And I find comments suggesting that men from working-class backgrounds are somehow less trustworthy around women offensive.

We know that men in many male-dominated organisations rape and harass women. It happens in merchant banks, law firms, elite university colleges and even in our national Parliament. The men who do this are, of course, in the minority. But their behaviour changes women’s lives in profound ways.

Women deserve the right to work in safe workplaces and not to have to choose between their careers and their dignity. We deserve to walk the streets wearing what we want. When we want. We do not ask to be assaulted.

And let’s be clear here: there has been a lot of discussion about NRL players raping or allegedly raping women in the papers at the moment.

It should not matter what sport men play or don’t. They need the opportunity to be taught about gender equality and why sexual assault and harassment are serious issues.

And that’s why the NRL needs a gender adviser. It needs to find one swiftly. Trust me on this. I worked with the game for a very long time. I was invited to. I did it pro bono for one reason: I did not want to be a PR spin doctor. I’ve always been independent.

I’m looking forward to seeing V’landys roll out of the new gender-equality program for the NRL, which he has expressed his passion for. As he knows well and clearly cares about, women play the game, we watch the game, we decide whether our daughters and sons start playing the game. We are fans. We are mums. And we are serious about gender equality.

Images courtesy of: Peter V’landys from; Stadium image Markus Spike