Stilettos and platform heels aren’t typical attire for your average male real estate agent, but on 31 August those very shoes were the most important piece of clothing for Harcourts agents.
At six locations around the country more than 500 Harcourts real estate agents, of both genders, teetered down busy main streets as part of the annual Walk A Mile In Their Shoes campaign.
Held in partnership with White Ribbon Australia, the walk raises much-needed funds and awareness of the national tragedy that is violence against women.
It’s a campaign that has proved a huge success, with Harcourts receiving the Contribution to Community Award at the 2017 REA Excellence Awards for the eye-catching walk.
Walk A Mile In Their Shoes founder and Harcourts Victoria chief executive officer Sadhana Smiles said the idea for the walk came to her following the murder of Jill Meagher in 2012.
“I was one of the women in Melbourne demanding safety and it was perhaps the first time the issue of violence had come to the forefront,” she said.
“I was sitting at home one night and saw men in Canada walking in high heels saying ‘no’ to violence.
“I took the concept to our stakeholders in Melbourne and in 2013 we held our first Walk A Mile In Their Shoes.”
The walk became a national Harcourts Foundation event in 2015 and last year grew to international proportions when a walk was held in South Africa.
Over the six years the walk has raised more than $500,000 and has seen thousands of agents, their families and friends taking part in the event.
Violence in the home
Domestic violence statistics on the White Ribbon Australia website show that over a year, on average, one woman is killed every week by a current or former partner.
One in three women have experienced physical and/or sexual violence perpetrated by someone known to them and one in four children have been exposed to domestic violence.
The figures also show that a woman killed by her partner is most likely to be killed in her home and intimate partner violence is the leading cause of death, disability and ill-health in Australian women aged 15 to 44.
“This issue is at crisis point despite the work of people such as Rosie Batty and the numerous recommendations at state and federal level,” Sadhana said.
“Domestic violence is the biggest cause of homelessness in Australia for women and children.
“We walk because the issue of violence is not just for women to resolve, men have to stand with us.”
Harcourts Foundation National Coordinator Julia Eyles said over the years the event had consistently raised more than $100,000 per walk and 100 per cent of the money was donated to White Ribbon Australia to help fund its Breaking The Silence program.
An award-winning professional development program for school students, Breaking The Silence provides teachers with the foundational knowledge, tools and strategies to ensure cultures of respect and gender equality in schools and to work with the next generation to stop men’s violence against women before it starts.
“On average one woman a week dies from domestic violence and that is unacceptable,” Julia said.
“There are many charities that address the different stages women and children go through in the domestic violence cycle and we wanted to focus on creating generational change.
“We want to change attitudes at an early age before children become cemented in them.”
Since its inception in 2009 the Breaking The Silence program has reached more than 314,000 students and 23,800 teachers in more than 560 schools.
“We work to examine the root causes of gender-based violence, challenge behaviours and create a cultural shift that leads us to a future without men’s violence against women,” White Ribbon Australia chief executive officer Libby Davies said.
The program is provided to schools free through support from donors including Harcourts, Myer, Suzanne Grae and other supporters.
Making a difference
White Ribbon Australia executive manager of corporate partnerships and business development Mitchell Watson said the funding from Harcourts was “absolutely vital”.
“Without that, we would not be able to reach as many schools and as many students as we do,” he said.
Harcourts International managing director Mike Green said it was an honour to be recognised at the AREAs for the campaign and partnership with White Ribbon Australia.
“This is an issue that affects up to one in five Australian women and through our work with White Ribbon we know that engaging men to make women’s safety a men’s issue too is imperative,” he said.
As a White Ribbon advocate who has spoken at various schools, Sadhana said the actions of today’s youth had filled her with hope for a less violent future.
“When young men stand up and say to their classmates ‘we will walk with you, we will stand by you and we will protect and respect you’, I realise and see the changes the next generation will create,” Sadhana said.
“However, we cannot just depend on generation changes and this is why what we do is important, bringing attention to an issue that is dark and violent.”
Julia said while agents wore corporate attire during the walk, its aim was not about creating brand awareness for Harcourts.
“It’s important to give back, it’s that simple,” she said.
“In 2008 management asked how we could better support the local communities that support us in our careers and that was the reason the Harcourts Foundation was established.”
Since then the Harcourts Foundation has raised more than $5 million and given 933 cheques to 686 recipients in 311 locations.
“Together we are in a position to make a real difference and we know that being a caring member of the community ensures a better quality of life for everyone,” Julia said.