Screen Women’s Action Group

2018 –

Screen Women’s Action Group

2018 –

Theme: Performing arts

This essay written by Cherie Jacobson was published online in Women Together: a History of Women's Organisations in New Zealand in 2019.

The Screen Women’s Action Group (SWAG) was founded in January 2018 as a local response to the international movements Me Too (also known as #metoo) and Time’s Up. These movements highlighted women’s experiences of sexual violence related to their work, following allegations made by high-profile female screen actors against American film mogul Harvey Weinstein in October 2017.

Formed by a group of New Zealand women working in the screen industry, SWAG was driven by their belief that more could be done to address sexual harassment, discrimination and power imbalances in New Zealand’s own screen culture. While these issues were being discussed by industry groups, SWAG’s founders felt that ‘coordinated, specific and effective’ action, involving those working in the industry at a ‘grassroots’ level, needed to be taken immediately. [1]

SWAG’s early initiatives included a basic online survey, open to all genders, to gather data on sexual harassment within the screen industry, and two women-only ‘Reframe’ forums in Auckland and Wellington. The results of the survey indicated that sexual harassment was indeed prevalent in New Zealand’s screen industry: two-thirds of the 476 respondents reported that they had either experienced or witnessed sexual harassment while working. The majority had not reported the harassment to the production company because they felt it would impact negatively on their career. More than 170 women attended the two forums to discuss the biggest issues in the sector and contribute ideas for making a difference.

SWAG advertisement

Screen Women’s Action Group

An advertisement for the first of two women’s forums on safety in the screen industry, held by the Screen Women’s Action Group in 2018.

SWAG then worked with sexual harassment specialists and educators to draft recommendations designed to create both immediate and long-term change within the industry. Released for public consultation in May 2018, the recommendations included: the creation of a universal screen industry sexual harassment policy; a short online education course about sexual harassment for all screen industry workers; the provision of multiple contacts during each production for the disclosure of sexual harassment; a zero tolerance statement for inclusion in daily health and safety briefings; and the involvement of Intimacy Coordinators whenever sexual content or nudity was required in a production. [2]

These recommendations were drawn from a real-world understanding of industry practice. Many were able to be implemented within the existing health and safety requirements and guidelines formulated by ScreenSafe, the organisation established to support and promote health and safety in the sector. After further engagement with sector funding bodies and guilds, SWAG presented their recommendations to the Sexual Violence Prevention Advisory Board in August 2018, in partnership with ScreenSafe. The Advisory Board supported SWAG’s application to the Accident Compensation Corporation (ACC) for initial implementation funding, which was granted in early 2019.

Just over a year after its formation, SWAG’s single-issue, action-focused approach delivered results. In May 2019, SWAG and ScreenSafe announced that they would collaboratively run a series of training sessions throughout the country. These were designed to prepare health and safety officers and heads of department in the screen industry for updated health and safety standards relating to sexual harassment. By 2020 these standards would be a condition of funding for all New Zealand productions, as well as all overseas productions filming in New Zealand. Online tools and resources would also be released, as part of a wider health and safety initiative to address bullying, eradicate sexual harassment and make the workplace safer for all those in the screen industry. [3]

By placing the right to work in an environment free of sexual harassment within the broader health and safety framework, and engaging with workers as well as industry bodies, SWAG successfully found a way to effect meaningful and practical change. While an early newspaper article on the group’s formation had reported that SWAG did not intend to become a ‘permanent fixture in the industry’, [4] there were clear indications that no matter when SWAG decided to wind down, the change it instigated would live on.

Cherie Jacobson

Notes

[1] See Dominion Post, 30 June 2018; SWAG, press release, 9 March 2018.

[2] SWAG, 2 May 2018.

[3] SWAG, ‘Announcement’, 20 May 2019.

[4] Dominion Post, 30 June 2018.

Published sources

Dominion Post, ‘Group formed to fight sexual harassment in New Zealand's screen industry’, 30 Jan. 2018, https://www.stuff.co.nz/entertainment/film/101007387/group-formed-to-fight-sexual-harassment-in-new-zealands-screen-industry

New Zealand Film Commission, ‘Annabelle Sheehan's Speech to the Big Screen Symposium 2018’, 27 Nov. 2018, https://www.nzfilm.co.nz/news/annabelle-sheehans-speech-big-screen-symposium-2018

New Zealand Herald, ‘Directors hiring intimacy co-ordinators to monitor scenes’, 20 Jan. 2019, https://www.nzherald.co.nz/entertainment/news/article.cfm?c_id=1501119&objectid=12188685

SWAG, ’Screen Women Demand End to Sexual Harassment at Work’, press release, Scoop Independent News, 9 March 2018, http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO1803/S00149/screen-women-demand-end-to-sexual-harassment-at-work.htm

SWAG, ‘Report and Proposed Recommendations for Creating Culture Change Around Sexual Harassment in the Screen Industry’ [consultation document], 2 May 2018, https://www.wiftnz.org.nz/media/322722/swag%20consultation%20final.pdf

SWAG, ‘SWAG needs your feedback to help tackle sexual harassment in the screen industry’, Women in Film and Television (WIFT NZ) webpage, 23 May 2018, https://www.wiftnz.org.nz/news/2018/5/23/swag-needs-your-feedback-to-help-tackle-sexual-harassment-in-the-screen-industry.aspx?filterby=WIFT%20NZ%20News&page=1

SWAG, ‘Announcement’, Facebook post, 20 May 2019, https://www.facebook.com/screenwomensactiongroup/photos/a.1992093731054382/2291278874469198/?type=3&theater

Further sources

Screen Women’s Action Group (SWAG) Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/screenwomensactiongroup/

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