"You don't have to smile for anyone" was the message at the second annual March4Justice on Sunday.
Bendigo women and allies gathered once again in Rosalind park, joining a nationwide call for action to address systemic gendered violence.
Last year, the first ever March4Justice saw over 110,000 protesters take to the streets in the wake of rape allegations against former attorney-general Christian Porter, as well as separate allegations by former Liberal Party staffer Brittany Higgins that she was raped by a male colleague.
This year, the event comes in the midst of the federal election, following 2021 Australian of the Year Grace Tame's vocal criticisms of the government's handling of women's safety issues.
Sundays march saw less protesters than the 2021 rally, however those present were in full spirit - bearing signs that read "I believe you", "Let's smash the f*cking patriarchy" and "Boys will be boys held accountable".
Among the speakers was Mount Alexander Shire deputy mayor Rosie Annear, who spoke of her lived experience of gendered violence.
"I was taken from a club here and drugged and assaulted, there are things my ex partners have done too," she said."
"But what we're really calling for is this: we want not to be targeted by men, not to be dismissed by men, we don't want bad things to continually happen to women and girls because men think that it's okay. We want actual action."
Ms Annear said she was concerned that not much had changed off the back of last year's protests.
"It's disappointing that there hasn't been more change in the last year," she said, "this all came off the back of the Brittany Higgins incident and yet we are still seeing so much of the same stuff."
Also present at the event were state member's for Bendigo West and East Maree Edwards and Jacinta Allan.
Both politicians spoke of their commitment to creating tangible change within political structures in order to protect and empower women.
"Both Jacinta and I are working hard within the government to make sure women's voices are heard," Ms Edwards said.
Ms Edwards reflected on her own experiences of gender bias, as she recounted a story to the crowd.
"Just before Christmas I was asked if I was going to re-contest the election in November, to which I replied I was," she said.
"And the question that got put back to me was 'I didn't think you would do that now that you're a grandmother.'
"Firstly, that assumption wouldn't have been made if I was a man, secondly I was pigeonholed as a mother and as a grandmother and it's pretty unfortunate that in 2022 women are still framed within that image."
Bendigo joined a nationwide livestream for the event, as local faces joined thousands across the country to call for change.
Organiser Kate Wright said for a grassroots event with little planning time due to COVID restrictions, the day was a huge success.
"It really shows this is a live issue for women, and to see so many other allies in men and young boys here has been fabulous," she said.
"More people have been speaking out since last year, which is probably the only tangible change I can see since last year.
"All women need to be safe in their community, all women need to be safe in their workplaces, and above all - all women need to be safe in their homes."
If you missed the rally you can read more about it or watch the live stream here: www.march4justice.org.au.
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