Brittany Higgins held back the tears at she described the moment she was allegedly raped inside parliament house during a speech at the March 4 Justice protest.
Tens of thousands of women are expected to march across 40 metropolitan areas in Australia from midday on Monday to demand an end to gendered violence, inequality, and misogyny in the workplace.
Ms Higgins claimed in February that she was raped by her colleague in 2014 and, on Monday, took the the stage to address protesters in front of Parliament House in Canberra following a powerful introduction by The Project host Lisa Wilksinson.
When speaking about sexual violence endured by one in five Australian women and her alleged rape, the young woman told the cheering crowd: ‘If it can happen in Parliament House, it can happen anywhere.’
Pictured: Brittany Higgins speaking at the March 4 Justice rally in Canberra on Monday afternoon
Pictured: Brittany Higgins hugs channel 10 presenter Lisa Wilkinson at the March 4 Justice rally on Monday
Pictured: Protestors are seen outside Parliament House on March 15 in Canberra at the March 4 Justice rally
Ms Higgins described the way her friends and colleagues behaved after the alleged rape, claiming they were more concerned with ‘what it might mean for them’.
‘Suddenly they treated me differently. I wasn’t a person who had just gone through a life changing event, I was a political problem,’ she said.
The former Liberal staffer urged Australian women to speak out about sexual violence and discrimination to stop gendered attacks.
‘I am cognizant of all the women who continue to live in silence,’ she said.
‘Who do not have the economic stability or the confidence to share their truth, those who are sadly no longer with us due to the shame and stigma of sexual assault.’
Ms Higgins alluded to allegations against Attorney-General Christian Porter, who is accused of raping a 16-year-old on a high school debating trip in 1988.
The alleged victim took her own life last year, but Mr Porter has vehemently denied the allegation.
Ms Higgins’ speech followed a powerful introduction by channel 10 presenter Lisa Wilkinson (pictured)
Pictured: Protesters in Canberra rally in response to the treatment of women in politics following several sexual assault allegations
Pictured: A rally against discrimination and violence against women and justice for victims of sexual assault is held in Melbourne at the Treasury Garden
Ms Higgins’ speech followed a powerful introduction by channel 10 presenter Lisa Wilkinson, slamming parliamentarians for ‘hiding behind steam-cleaned suits’ in the wake of the allegations.
‘If everything Brittany told us is true, Parliament House appears to the be the easiest place in this country to rape women and get away with it,’ she told the crowd.
‘None of of were shocked when behind the scenes Brittany was branded a lying cow,’ she said, referencing Ms Higgins’ then-boss Defence Minister Linda Reynolds who made the slur within earshot of colleagues in her office.
‘Brittany feels those forces have done everything they can to take her power away, but Brittany Higgins will not be silenced,’ Ms Wilkinson said as the crowd roared.
Pictured: A protestor holds a sign which reads ‘enough’at the women’s rights rally in Brisbane
Pictured: Women wearing face masks at the March 4 justice rally in Brisbane on Monday afternoon
Despite claims against parliamentarians, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, opposition leader Jodi McKay and the state and federal ministers for women Bronnie Taylor and Marise Payne will not go to the rallies in Canberra or at Sydney Town Hall.
Organiser Janine Hendry believes the leaders decisions to forfeit the demonstration is akin to saying women’s right are not important.
‘In light of what’s happening, not only in Parliament but other major institutions, when our very own representatives don’t want to hear our voice, what does that say about how they really think about women?,’ she told the Sydney Morning Herald.
‘It’s saying we don’t matter, and they don’t want to hear our voices and that’s not OK.’
A petition by protesters, which has more than 22,000 signatures, calls for full investigations of gendered violence and for the full list of 55 recommendations by the Sex Discrimination Commissioner report to be implemented.
NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay will not attend the women’s rights event in Sydney on Monday
Liberal candidate for Bass Bridget Archer (pictured) is the only female MP to say she will march alongside Australians
Ms Payne told organisers she will receive the petition ‘via correspondence’ rather than in person.
A spokeswoman for the minister said she was not invited to join the Sydney rally, but that she is is ‘always keen’ to meet with women and discuss their concerns.
The only female Liberal politician to confirm attendance is Tasmanian MP Bridget Archer, who was asexually abused as a child, will march alongside Australians in Canberra.
‘I have pledged to do more to address violence against women,’ she said, according to the publication.
‘It is time for change – as a parliamentarian I want women to know – I hear you, I see you, I am listening to you.’
Pictured: Women marching in Perth while holding signs on Sunday at the historic March 4 Justice rally
Ms Hendry rejected a private meeting with Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday.
‘We have already come to the front door, now it’s up to the Government to cross the threshold and come to us,’ she wrote on Twitter.
‘We will not be meeting behind closed doors.’
Mr Morrison also said on Sunday that he would not be attending the events.
‘I won’t be going out to the march,’ Mr Morrison said.
‘I will be happy to meet with a delegation from the group that is coming to Canberra.’
He said the issue of violence against women continues to be a high priority of his government.
Pressed on why he won’t attend the march, Mr Morrison said: ‘I don’t have a habit of going to any marches when I come to Canberra because as prime minister when you are in Canberra it’s a very busy day.’
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus will attend the march in Canberra and said the event will be the biggest in Australian history. Pictured: Protesters in Perth
Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack is also too busy to attend.
‘I’ve already got commitments that I will meet, and I believe if you make commitments, then you should stick to those,’ he told the ABC on Sunday.
KEY DEMANDS OF MARCH 4 JUSTICE ORGANISERS
* Investigate gendered violence within parliament
* Stand down politicians who perpetrate violence
* Implement recommendations of Australian Human Rights Commission’s Respect@Work report
* Ratify Convention on Eliminating Violence and Harassment in the World of Work
* Strengthen Sex Discrimination Act so parliamentarians and judges are held to account for sexual harassment and discrimination
* Create code of conduct for federal MPs that includes prevention of gendered violence
* Mandate annual gendered violence and sexual harassment training for federal MPs and their staff
* Enact federal Gender Equality Act and conduct a national gender equity audit of all parliaments
* Lift public funding for gendered violence prevention from one per cent to world’s best practice standards of nine to 12 per cent of the federal budget
* Ensure all Australian parliaments are gender equal by 2030
‘I appreciate that this is an important issue and I understand, part of democracy, that people have their right to march and protest.’
ACTU Secretary Sally McManus will attend the march in Canberra and said the event will be the biggest in Australian history.
‘Women are saying ‘enough’s enough’,’ Ms McManus told 9 News.
‘We’ve had enough, and these marches, as you can see, are happening right across the country. I think this will be the biggest uprising of women that Australia’s seen.’
Michele O’Neil, president of the Australian Council of Trade Unions, told the network that movement is needed to protect women.
‘In workplaces all over the country, women are being harassed, they’re being assaulted, and even in some cases raped,’ he said.
‘And we know the answers to this. The government knows the answers to this. And they just refuse to act. So we’re here, with thousands of other women, to make sure the government can’t ignore the call to act.’
Labor leader Anthony Albanese will also be attending the event in Canberra.
‘I think the issue of women’s rights is one that, absolutely, I’m not surprised that it’s being campaigned on, he said.
The rallies are being held to protest the ‘unacceptable’ treatment of women in the workplace and the community and the right of women to feel safe.
They come as the Morrison Government is under a cloud over the alleged rape of a former Liberal staffer by a colleague and rape allegations dating back to 1988 levelled at a federal minister, which he strongly denies.
‘Enough is enough. This is a national reckoning,’ Fair Agenda executive director Renee Carr said in a statement.
‘Women and girls around the country are completely grief-stricken by the federal government’s failure to respond to this crisis, and intervene in the systems that enable gendered violence across our communities.’