Councillor, Sandy Grekas, on gender abuse and harassment in local government

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Female councillors have today spoken out about how the toxic workplace culture inside federal and NSW Parliaments is replicated at a local level and is a disincentive for women to enter local government.

According to The Sydney Morning Herald, female councillors face a barrage of gendered abuse and harassment from their council colleagues, politicians and the public, including bullying, verbal abuse and intimidation.

One of these females is independent Georges River Councillor, Sandy Grekas. She told the SMH that with council elections due in September, she expects the verbal abuse and online harassment she has suffered to continue “and probably get worse.”

“When other women see the rubbish that I’ve gone through, it completely puts them off from running for council,” she told the media outlet.

Georges River Councillor, Sandy Grekas.

Fewer than one in three councillors in NSW are women compared to 43 percent in Victoria.

Researchers found gender abuse and harassment was rife in Victorian councils, with 23 percent of women councillors “very often” experiencing negative behaviour that affected them personally, compared to 3 percent of male colleagues.

More than one-quarter of local government workers experienced sexual harassment on the job, Victoria’s auditor-general found in 2020.

Cr Grekas told the SMH that some male councillors spoke aggressively to and over female councillors and staff, “and there’s no way in the world they would speak that way to men.”

A neighbour’s fence was graffitied with the words “F—in’ Snitch” after a meeting at which Cr Grekas called on two councillors facing corruption allegations to stand aside. A supporter’s car was also vandalised.

Cr Grekas said she had suffered verbal abuse in council meetings and a campaign of online abuse. “There’s been all sorts of nonsense published about me; that I’m a bully, that I’m an alcoholic,” she said.

In response, Local Government Minister, Shelley Hancock, said it was unacceptable for any woman to feel harassed, abused or bullied. She said the model code of conduct had been strengthened and any councillor found to have breached their obligations, which includes bullying or harassment, faced suspension or disqualification from civic office.

“I am appalled and horrified hearing accounts of abuse,” Ms Hancock said. “This type of behaviour has no place in any council or in society more broadly.”

Source: Sydney Morning Herald.

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