• 08Oct

    “Men develop ideas and systems of explanation by absorbing past knowledge, and critiquing, and superseding it. Women, ignorant of their own history, did not know what women before them had thought and taught. So generation after generation, they struggled for insights others had already had before them.” (Lerner, p. 19, ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

    This is a coalition that I was involved with from 2002 to 2017. Given that family law is yet again under scrutiny, yet another inquiry having been instituted and men’s rights groups agenda being promoted I feel that it is important to document some of the work that feminists have been involved in and give the opportunity for others to learn and build on such work.

    NAFCC was a national (and international) Feminist coalition of organisations who formed to advocate on behalf of women and children going through the Family Court system with concerns about domestic violence and child abuse.

    About the Group

    The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign consisted of a coalition of people and organisations from throughout Australia, with a number of members from New Zealand, England, and Ireland.

    The Coalition consisted of frontline workers in domestic violence services, health services, sexual assault services, women’s services, legal and social science academics and researchers, legal profession, feminist organisations, victim support services, single mothers’ organisations, counsellors, therapists and women who had experience of the family law system.

    Our major aim of the Coalition was to lobby and advocate for change in the family law system to adequately protect women and children from ongoing abuse and violence.

    And also, to share information, ideas and to act as a forum for discussion.

    Organizational structure

    The National Abuse Free Contact campaign communicates through the elsa email network.

    It should be noted that the campaign represented a number of state and regional groups who had developed their own network to campaign for family law reform. Initial contact was made with the Abuse Free Contact group in Brisbane. Under the auspice of the Women’s Legal Service, Brisbane, Kathryn Rendell, Zoe Rathus and Angela Lynch conducted research on child contact arrangements where there is violence in the family and their report “an unacceptable risk” was released in November 2000. This was important in providing a focus for mobilisation and grew directly from concerns of practitioners meeting with women and children. Other groups that we established important links with were Victorian Family Law Coalition https://familylawreformcoalition.org/; SA Violence against Women group; NSW Women’s Refuge Movement Family Law Campaign https://www.dvnsw.org.au/ ; Women’s Refuge W.A https://www.womenscouncil.com.au/ and National Women’s Legal Services network https://www.wlsa.org.au/.  Many of the activities and activism were developed and actioned at the local and regional level. A major role of the National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was sharing widely such activities, and also developing strategies and ideas for further activism.

    This national group was also an important forum for identifying the issues within the family law system of most importance for women and children’s safety and sharing of research and the most effective strategies for raising this issue within political system, within the family court system, within a broad range of organisations working with women and concerned about women’s safety and the general public.

    Briefing Paper and Fact Sheets

    The campaign, after thorough consultation developed a Briefing Paper, summarising the major issues and concerns which we held. This was widely distributed for use in campaign activities and provided to politicians and other interested groups. We also developed a series of Fact Sheets: Parental Alienation; Myths and Facts; Domestic Violence is Gendered Violence; The Myth of women’s false accusations of domestic violence and misuse of protection orders; Violence Against Women- Apprehended Violence Orders.

    Family Law Submissions

    The Howard Government established an inquiry into child custody arrangements in 2002 and the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Family and Community Affairs’ Report – Every Picture Tells a Story – was released December 2003

    Early on in the life of the Campaign our major focus was on developing submissions to the inquiry.

    A major advantage of the membership of the Campaign was that it represented a variety of professional groups, such as the legal and social work profession, alongside were women who were working directly with women and children escaping male violence and advocates such as the National Council of Single Mothers and their Children https://www.ncsmc.org.au/  who had a long history of awareness of issues facing separating mothers.

    We were therefore able to share information, research and strategies about what issues we thought important to focus on in our submissions and what were the legal changes that we wanted to achieve.

    Women’s Safety After Separation Project https://www.ncsmc.org.au/wsas3/

    The National Council of Single Mothers and their Children (Inc) received funding from the Federal Office for Women to develop a website to provide information for separating women and those supporting her. The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was developed in partnership with the Women’s Safety After Separation project. 

    The website provides information on family law, domestic violence and child abuse. It also provides on negotiating the myriad of organisations for women separating. In developing the resources for the website we were able to connect with women’s organisations throughout Australia thus establishing important links, and inviting these organisations to be part of our campaign.

    We were also able to print fact and information sheets and posters which were distributed throughout Australia.

    Political activism

    Many of our members were encouraged to contact Members of Parliament outlining their concerns with the family law system. This was achieved in a variety of ways:

    • Letter writing to local MP’s, MP’s with portfolios connected to family law and women’s issues such as the Attorney-General, Minister for Health, Minister for Women and their opposition counterparts
    • Appointments with MP’s both at a local level and the appropriate Ministers
    • The National Abuse Free Contact Campaign was invited by Feminist Agenda Australia to visit Canberra. We met with a range of Federal Members of Parliament over 2 days and family law reform and male violence against women was a major item on our agenda
    • Postcard campaign. On two separate occasions, coinciding with Christmas we developed postcards which were sent out to a range of politicians by our members. This was another example of cooperation and networking. One of our members had a friend develop the artwork for the postcards. Another organization offered to pay for the printing of the postcards and members interested in distributing the postcards paid for postage.

    Image of postcard

    Activism

    Several groups organized to raise awareness of the family law campaign and issues by being active at women’s events, such as Reclaim the Night marches, May 5th Domestic Violence Remembrance Day and International Women’s Day events.

    The Brisbane Take Back the Night March organizers made a banner ‘Make Family Law Safe for Women and Children’ for their march.

    Women’s House Shelta, Brisbane https://womenshouse.org.au/womens-house-shelta/ also offered to pay for the costs of printing t-shirts with the banner on it. 100 t-shirts

    Candlelight vigils outside of the Family Court. This also was coordinated with groups advocating for Domestic Violence Death reviews.

    Media

    A media kit was distributed throughout the group to help to reach out to the media about the issues.

    Relationships were also developed with certain journalists and media outlets who were interested in promoting the issues.

    Interviews were held with both television and radio networks eg Sunday Channel 7, ABC 7.30 report And SBS Insight

    Conferences, Seminars and Forums

    A number of our members organized to present papers at a range of conferences and seminars. Some state groups organized specific forums on family law issues. For example, the Domestic Violence Resource Centre in Victoria https://www.dvrcv.org.au/ invited National Abuse Free Contact Campaign to speak on the issue at their Family Law Forum. The Brisbane Women’s Legal Service https://wlsq.org.au/ celebrated their 25th anniversary by conducting a conference and we were again invited to present a workshop.

    Articles

    We also managed to have published articles about the issues in a number of journals including Violence against Women journal, the National Clearinghouse on Domestic Violence, SACOSS journal, Green Left Weekly.

    Networking with other women’s groups

    In our aim to connect with as many people as possible we also made contact with other women’s groups who were not directly involved in family law issues. Eg in Adelaide we met with Zonta https://zonta.org.au/Zonta_in_Australia/Home_to_3_Districts_of_Zonta_International.html

  • 16Sep

    I was privileged to attend Federal Parliament in 2013 to witness the Australian government’s apology to mothers and their children who were forced to relinquish their children for adoption. https://www.juliagillard.com.au/national-apology-for-forced-adoptions/

    Many of these women were single and their pregnancies were considered shameful. Single mothers were denigrated and stigmatised, cast as ‘whores’ and ‘harlots. As Anne Summers has stated, unmarried mothers were ‘the most visible single symbol of the bad girl’ (Damned Whores and God’s Police, p. 51).

    It can be argued that this stigmatised attitude towards single mothers has lessened in the 21stC. The feminist movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s had much to do with this, advocating for women’s rights and against draconian laws which limited women from fully participating in society. With the advent of the birth control, and abortion reform laws women were able to take more control over their reproduction. Changes to the Family Law Act in 1975, also allowed women to leave unhappy and abusive marriages. This has had an impact on the number of women raising children on their own.

    Emily Wolfinger has analysed this trend and argues that whilst the denigration of single mothers on moral grounds has decreased, they now face being labelled as ‘welfare dependents”, resulting in “punitive and paternalistic policy measures”.

     “It was in the 1980s that the focus began to shift from the ‘problem’ of the single mother to the ‘problem’ of welfare dependency whereby single mothers’ reliance on welfare, rather than their marital status, was deemed the social problem. While society has entered an age of liberal sexual attitudes and changing family structures where explicit moral judgments are less tolerated, the denigration of single mothers persists via a construction that sees them as flawed economic citizens.” (p.4)

    Neo-liberal economic ideology has been responsible for a number of policy and legal changes which have placed financial burdens on single mothers.

    • tougher penalties imposed for compliance failures (including ‘no-payment’ for up eight weeks), and it extended the new rules to many sole parents and people with disabilities, (Howard Government)
    • The Rudd government also tightened the conditions under which parents received welfare benefits,
    • January of 2013 when the former Gillard Labor government moved recipients of Parenting Payment (Single), whose youngest child had turned eight, onto the lower Newstart payment.
    • Northern Territory Intervention
    • Cashless Welfare card

    Within these policies changes, not only are these impacts on women but there are also racist and class implications.

    Stolen Generations

    Whilst Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations (2008) preceded the apology for forced adoptions, racist policies and practices continue to remove aboriginal children from their families.

    Aboriginal children are almost 10 times more likely to be placed in out of home care than non-Indigenous children.

    Indigenous women are losing their children to child protection because of housing shortages that force them to stay in abusive relationships, new research has found. https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-29/abused-indigenous-women-losing-kids-care-lack-of-housing/11462026?pfmredir=sm

    The Northern Territory Intervention

    In 2007, the federal government staged a massive intervention in the Northern Territory on the basis of the report, “Little Children are Sacred” as a result of a government inquiry into child sexual abuse in the Northern Territory.

     
    “The fall-out was a full-scale, (including army), intervention which resulted in the reinforcement of the unwavering, systemic stealing of children from their arms, to who knows where? The Department of Childrens Services have lost the files on some 8,000 children who are thus just “disappeared”.” https://sim345.wordpress.com/2015/04/14/cashless-welfare-to-target-violence-against-women-not-in-my-name-sexist-racist-and-unacceptable/

    The intervention in fact has done little to address child sexual abuse or violence against women. https://stoptheintervention.org/facts

    The allegations of violence and abuse show no details of who and why such abuse occurs in Indigenous communities – and shows little information about how this compares to white Australia.

    Who is abusing young girls in these communities? Is it the same white men who commit violence and abuse in Australian society generally?

    “There was, and is, no acknowledgment of who does this to girls and women (men do this to them). There was no acknowledgment of more than 200 years of ongoing genocide in this country. Certainly, not a word about the prostituted as a class nor the acknowledgement of what the underlying structure of capitalism and male entitlement does to girls and women.”

    We know that young girls who are impoverished and vulnerable are more likely to be targets of abusive men – “the worst of those committing predatory behavior and violence.”

    Interestingly, two years after the Northern Territory Intervention, The Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs’ report Closing the Gap in the Northern Territory revealed that convictions of child sexual abuse involving Aboriginal perpetrators have “barely changed”,

    https://www.grandmothersagainstremovals.com/

    Maria Mies and Silvia Federici have both written about the different treatment of Western women and women from colonized nations and how capitalist patriarchy has used different strategies to oppress and colonize women, depending on the needs of capitalist accumulation.

    Cashless Welfare Card

    The instigation of a welfare card practice leads to a greater exploitation and vulnerability for women and children.

    “Removing control of money from recipients is a dangerous practice. What the outraged or concerned media and general public call ‘paternalism’ is actually far worse. It is a means to ensure an expanding class of people vulnerable to exploitation. That the majority of the victims are women, indigenous and the young is not just an extreme act of ‘paternalism’, it is an extreme commitment to profit from the abuse of the bodies and lives of those most marginalized, by taking away what limited independence we may have.”Eachone

    https://www.facebook.com/ClownsOfTheAbbotocalypse/?__tn__=k*F&tn-str=k*F

    Our Herstory

    The oppression of women, and single mothers in particular, has been going on since the beginning of patriarchy, almost 5,000 years ago.

    Gerda Lerner in her excellent book “The Creation of Patriarchy’ talks about how the “appropriation by men of women’s sexual and reproductivity capacity occurred prior to the formation of private property and class society” (p.8)

    Communities where sex roles were previously equal, and perhaps even matrilineal became patriarchal, ruled and dominated by men. The patriarchal family was born. Women’s status and class was mediated through their relationship “sexual ties” with men.

    Thus, Lerner states,

    “The division of women into “respectable” (that is attached to one man) and “not respectable” (that is not attached to one man or free for all men)…” (p.9) became institutionalised through the patriarchal family and has continued to present time.

    Federici (The Caliban and the Witch) acknowledges that male violence against women has been historically taking place for centuries as a reflection of patriarchy. Violence, at the least, legitimized by the State, if not actively encouraged.

    Federici’s thesis is that such violence was bolstered by the persecution of women as witches. It led to:

    • “confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labor”
    • “legitimated subordination to man in and beyond the family”
    • “state control over reproductive capacity” (p.47)

    This was about power and control and capital accumulation. Where previously in villages and communities there was a system of sharing resources, such as the Commons, where women used and shared their knowledge and experiences of caring and healing, midwifery and reproduction. The state needed to take control of this knowledge and these skills.

    “…the witch-hunts served to deprive women of their medical practices, forced them to submit to the patriarchal control of the nuclear family, and destroyed a holistic concept of nature that until the Renaissance set limits on the exploitation of the female body.” (p. 11)

    The state needed to disempower women of their knowledge in order to take control. In particular the state needed to take control of women’s reproductive capacity and knowledge. As capitalism was taking hold, children were seen as products for labor exploitation – economic property which the capitalist state need to control. Thus, women’s sexual behaviour and procreation needed to come under the control of the state.

    “We must think of an enclosure of knowledge, of our bodies, and of our relationship to other people and nature.” (p.21)

    “As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch, the witch hunt instituted a regime of terror on all women, from which emerged a new model of femininity to which women had to conform to be socially accepted in the developing capitalist society: sexless, obedient, submissive, resigned to subordination to the male world, accepting as natural the confinement to a sphere of activities that in capitalism has been completely devalued.” (p. 32). Federici:Witches, Witch-Hunting and Women

    The witch hunts were about controlling and the oppression of women. Women are required to be under control of a male within the nuclear family and hence under the control of the state. And the treatment of single mothers today is indicative of state’s continued control and oppression of women

    Our treatment of single Mother’s currently has a historical ideology.

    “(there is)… a direct causal connection between the global extension of capitalist relations and the escalation of violence against women, as the punishment against their resistance to the appropriation of their bodies and their labour.” (Mies; xi)

  • 03Aug

    Women Talking

    Women Talking by Miriam Toews

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars


    What a beautifully and simply written book. Simply written but with complex moments, thoughts and ideals that one stops to contemplate. If one does not understand patriarchy or the systemic oppression of women, then this is a book to read. Through the words of these women talking Toews outlines for us how patriarchy works and how women grapple with their own patriarchal socialisation as against their own self-worth and their experiences of oppression.



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  • 25Jun

    Unsheltered

    Unsheltered by Barbara Kingsolver

    My rating: 4 of 5 stars


    An enchanting and interesting book. The author draws interesting and likeable characters whose paths I was drawn into and eager to follow. Her story is set in two eras – 18th century and today – of two people living in the same house. There are useful parallels in this scenario with our 18th century story depicting the negative reactions to Darwin’s theory of evolution and the influence of right wing dogma and capitalist thinking – paralleling this with the 21st century USA entering the racism and misogyny of the Trump era and the same religious dogma refusing to accept climate change and the disaster of growth capitalism. Despite this I found it a gentle and thoughtful read.



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  • 05Jun
    The Break

    The Break by Katherena Vermette

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars


    A powerful, realistic, tough and heartbreaking novel. It is about powerful women and broken women. It is about Indigenous people devastated by the invaders of their land and their culture. It is about male violence and the connections, bonds and empathy between women that is their only hope for survival. A book that will remain with me for a long time.



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  • 05Jun
    The Silence of the Girls

    The Silence of the Girls by Pat Barker

    My rating: 5 of 5 stars


    “Silence becomes a woman…” Pat Barker writes a powerful novel. She depicts, sometimes graphically, the horrors of war, the wrongs, abuses and death inflicted on men, by other men, all in the name of the powerful, the rich – those who benefit from patriarchal violence and control. And she describes with empathy how raising boys to become heroes by inflicting harm, by committing atrocities to others, damages irretrievably their humanity. The voice of women is central to this novel – how women are mere chattels to be won and lost in battles, how rape and violence is inflicted on them without heed to their humanity – they are mere objects to be fought over – symbols of victory and easily discarded. This particular war is Troy and reminds us that throughout history women have been the silent victims of war – from Troy through to our present day wars – the world wars, Vietnam, Yugoslavia – it goes on – and such atrocities against women as a result of patriarchal violence is rarely acknowledged or remembered. Women are the forgotten, silent victims.
    “What will they make of us, the people of those unimaginably distant times? One thing I do know: they won’t want the brutal reality of conquest and slavery. They won’t want to be told about the massacre of men and boys, the enslavement of women and girls. They won’t want to know we were living in a rape camp. No they’ll go for something softer. A love story, perhaps? I just hope they manage to work out who the lovers were.”



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  • 22Jan


    Rape is about male ownership of women, their bodies and their sexuality. To quote a 60’s women’s liberation slogan:

    “Rape is about power, not sex”.

    All sexual relationships between males and females take place in the context of patriarchy.

    Rape is about male entitlement, whether it be stranger rape or a husband insisting on his rights to sex in any manner and at any time in relationships with his wife. Within the patriarchal construct male power is omnipresent.

    Germaine Greer’s book ‘On Rape’ (Little Books on Big Ideas) has created much controversy and I would like to discuss in the context of patriarchy and its oppression of women.

    Germaine restricts her discussion to rape as penetration of a woman’s vagina by the penis. And she questions why does the penis hold such power, and why the vagina is viewed as sacred. Greer briefly describes the historical roots of the meaning of rape – that of “…the stealing of a woman from a man or men who owned her” and that women were considered the possession of winners of war. A core issue is male control and ownership of women. Female adultery is a crime in The Ten Commandments in the Christian bible, but not rape. Rape of women in war has been and continues to be legitimate behaviour where women are perceived as goods owned by men and therefore rape is perceived both as a weapon and as a way of claiming the goods of men. Women are denied agency and seen as the spoils of victory.

    The rape that hits the news headlines is the stranger, brutal physically violent rape. Greer rightly points out that many rapes do not include such violence.

    “Non-consensual sex is banal and deeply ordinary but that is not to say that it is not an evil, with damaging consequences for both parties.” (p.7)

    This makes us question how as a society we are to respond to rape. Greer rightly highlights that the criminal justice system poorly serves women victims of rape.

    Prosecuted rape…” …represent a tiny proportion of the non-consensual sex that actually occurs, almost none of which is ever reported; most of what is reported doesn’t result in prosecution, and most of the prosecution doesn’t result in convictions” (p.9)

    Greer points out how women have agitated and worked hard to highlight the inadequacies of our legal responses to rape and have succeeded in reform such as:

    • Proof of resistance not being required
    • Previous sexual history cannot be produced in evidence, and
    • Rape in marriage being recognised.

    However, this has not increased the rate of convictions which continue to be rare and maximum sentences are rarely imposed. (p.12).

    There is also an exploration of the issue of consent. The lack of women’s consent is the core element in rape prosecutions. Greer rightly argues that this makes conviction very difficult.

    “When the law insists that while there is the smallest possibility that the perpetrator genuinely believed that his victim consented to her humiliation, he must be cleared of all charges, assailants will be reassured that they are practically certain to get away with rape” (p. 24-25)

    Here we can see how complex the issue of consent is – particularly in the legal arena.

    Of course, the impact of reporting, the investigation and prosecuting can also have devastating and traumatic effects on victims of rape.  As Greer points out the victim becomes evidence in court proceedings. Evidence of injuries and resistance are documented and women experience a complete loss of privacy which is in contrast to the offender who has the right to remain silent throughout.

    Perhaps the most controversial aspect of Germaine Greer’s perspective is her questioning of the traumatic effects of rape. She argues that research and literature on post-traumatic stress for rape victims does not take into account the influence of the reporting and prosecution process. She queries the view that women are “irrevocably damaged in soul and body”. And wonders if they are allowed to get over it.

    Carolyn Worth who is the manager of South Eastern Centre Against Sexual Assault in Melbourne tends to agree with Greer:

    “Explanation and promotion of the fact that rape can cause great psychological distress to some people is valuable and needed. But, as Greer points out, when this communication slides into “everyone is irreparably damaged by rape”, it is not helpful because it is not true.”

    This is in contrast to Lucia Osborne-Crowley, a journalist and writer, who in the same article takes umbrage with Greer’s whole thesis:

    “As a survivor of sexual assault who has been irrevocably damaged by the experience, it seems I would fall into the category of victims of whom Greer disapproves. I didn’t simply “get over it”. The disastrous physical and psychological effects of trauma when it is held in the body – untreated and unrecognised for many years – can become, as they have for me, an undesirable controlling narrative. Even if one tries, as Greer seems to suggest, to get over it, the body keeps the score.”

    However, in my reading of Greer, she does not discount that rape can be traumatising and devastating for the victim. What she is querying is whether, in our attempts to raise awareness of the seriousness of rape, we have given a life sentence of trauma to all victims of rape.

    This leads us on to what I believe are important issues that Greer raises in this discussion.

    The violent, stranger rape is the one that is usually uppermost in the community’s mind when rape is raised. Greer rightly points out that the true extent of non-consensual sex – between partners, friends, acquaintances – “remains unimaginable”; and therefore, the impact of these rapes on women is difficult to determine.

    Consider the women who are in long-term marital relationships where non-consensual sex is relentless, long term scenario – if we explore this in the context of research on domestic violence, we begin to understand how such ‘banal’ rape can be humiliating, demeaning and degrading and can have long term consequences for women. The question then becomes how do we address and redress this in our legal and social systems.

    Perhaps the concept that I find most difficult to come to terms with is Greer’s challenging the view of the power of the penis. It is here that critics of her essay argue that her approach is one of victim blaming.

    “…she shames the victims who allow themselves to be deeply affected by rape and who live with its lasting effects. On this point, she makes comments like, “Why are women afraid of rape?,” describes women’s fear of men’s genitalia as “irrational” and notes that most rape is “not something that anyone but the participants can prevent”. Lucia Osborne-Crowley.

    Greer cites Patricia D Rezee who states that an intense fear of rape develops in women from early childhood, where we are warned of the dangers of stranger-rape. Greer also critiques Susan Brownmiller’s description of the penis as a powerful weapon.

    “To buy into such a notion is to share one of the male delusions about the penis, that it is an awesome, powerful thing.” And “For Brownmiller to present the penis as capable of turning itself into a weapon is to present an irrational fear as a reasonable response to a present danger.” (p.53)

    The problem for me with Greer’s perspective on this is her focus on the penis as being the powerful weapon. I would argue that given the patriarchal society in which we live, where male power is all-pervading and universal, it seems not unreasonable that women are well aware of male power and its capabilities to oppress and abuse women.

    It is worth while here to look at the work of Liz Kelly. In her book Surviving Sexual Violence she conceptualises

    “…forms of violence as a continuum of violence against women. She explores the connections, for example, between sexual violence and domestic violence, asking questions about the categories we use; who decides what is abusive; what counts as abuse and the connections between them.”

    Kelly also talks of women’s reluctance to name unwanted sex as rape, but that such experiences do leave women feeling fearful.

    “Liz Kelly describes this as a form of terror, in which the intention is to intimidate, to make women feel afraid, telling women that they “don’t have the same right to be in this space.”

    Whilst as children we are taught to be wary of men, as women we are very aware of the reality of this strong message that men are to be feared.  I would argue that this is a patriarchal strategy to maintain our oppression.

    What Liz highlights is that many women’s experiences of violence are ‘everyday’, are perceived by society as ‘mundane encounters’ and yet they are the “fabric of women’s everyday lives”.

    Liz Kelly clearly highlights that male violence against women erodes women’s agency and fundamental freedoms – it constrains every woman’s agency.

    Unlike Lucia Osborne-Crowley I do not believe that Greer is suggesting that we put rape in the “too hard basket”. Rather she is highlighting the failures to adequately deal with the issue of rape – that our legal system, with all its varied responses to rape allegations, fails hopelessly, and in fact often causes further trauma and abuse. In addition, Greer shows how the stranger rape situations are only the tip of the iceberg to what women experience in their sexual relationships with men.

    One cannot expect that such a small book would adequately address all of the issues but what Greer does do is provide a provocative discussion which can only lead to further analysis and exploration. This makes this an important and worthwhile book.

  • 11Nov

     

     

    “One lesson we can learn from the return of witch-hunting is that this form of persecution is no longer bound to a specific historic time. It has taken on a life of its own, so the same mechanism can now be applied to different societies, wherever there are people in them that have to be ostracized and dehumanised. Witchcraft accusations, in fact, are the ultimate mechanism of alienation and estrangement, as they turn the accused – still primarily women – into monstrous beings dedicated to the destruction of their communities, thereby making them undeserving of any compassion and solidarity.” (p.82)

     

    Part Two is a sombre read. Federici documents the current resurgence of witch-hunting in Africa. No longer can we see it as a historic period at the time of the development of modern capitalism in 16th and 17th centuries but a phenomenon which is occurring, not only in Africa but in many countries in South America as well as India.

    Federici acknowledges that male violence against women has been historically taking place for centuries as a reflection of patriarchy. Violence, at the least, legitimized by the State, if not actively encouraged.

    As she has argued in Part One, Federici’s thesis is that such violence was bolstered by the persecution of women as witches. It led to:

    • • “confinement of women in Europe to unpaid domestic labor”
      • “legitimated subordination to man in and beyond the family”
      • “state control over reproductive capacity” (p.47)

    Violence against women has escalated in recent times. Federici cites evidence of an increase in the number of women murdered, resulting in the new term ‘femicide’. Violence against women has become normalized. This has been particularly true for countries rich in natural resources and where the anti-colonial struggle has been strongest.

    For example, in Mexico hundreds of women have disappeared and in Latin America, the kidnappings and murders of women occur on a daily basis.

    She argues that this is a result of new forms of capitalist accumulation involving:

    • Land dispossession

    • Destruction of communitarian relationships, and

    • Intensification in the exploitation of women’s bodies and labor.

    “In other words, new violence against women is rooted in structural trends that are constitutive of capitalist development and state power…” (p.47)

    The increase in violence against women is also a response to the activism of the 1960’s and 1970’s where struggles against colonialism and racism, and the resurgence of the women’s liberation movement were apparent. Capitalist patriarchy needed to consolidate their power against such struggles.

     

    Make no mistake, Federici takes very specific aim at ‘Big Business’ and perceives the increase in violence against women as an ‘institutional attack’ by the World Bank, United Nations, the International Monetary fund, governments and mining and petroleum companies. These are the masterminds of economic and social policies that are aimed at controlling women through the use of violence.

    She cites examples of where they have been responsible for economic policies which have destroyed local economies, creating debit crises and economic recovery models which have resulted in brutal austerity regimes and stripped governments of decision-making power. (p. 61)

    “Women’s integration in the global economy is violent” (p.54)

     

    “My thesis, in other words, is that we are witnessing an escalation of violence against women, especially Afro-descendant and Native American women, because ‘globalization’ is a process of political recolonization intended to give capital uncontested control over the world’s natural wealth, and human labor and this cannot be achieved without attacking women, who are directly responsible for the reproduction of their communities.” ( p. 50).

     

    The question is then why the attack on women. One major reason is that women is their capacity to keep their communities together, their responsibility for the reproduction of their communities and their defence of non-commercial concepts of security and wealth.

    For example, attacks have been levelled at trading women, female village traders who return the money they earn to the local economy, whereas male business men more interested in the export/import trade, and “…who look at the world market as their economic horizon.” p.76

    “…the battle is being waged on women’s bodies, because women are seen as the main agents of resistance to the expansion of the cash economy, and, as such, as useless individuals, selfishly monopolizing resources that the youth could use.” (p.75)

     

    Both in India and Africa, women have traditionally had access to communal lands and subsistence farming. This adds nothing to capital accumulation. Capitalists perceive land as a “dead asset” unless it is “legally registered and used as collateral to obtain bank loans.” (p. 52.)

    Thus women lose the ability to do subsistence farming and are coerced into dependence on their husbands working in commodity production thus devaluing women.

    “By witch-hunting I refer to the recurrence of punitive expeditions by young, male vigilantes or self-appointed witch finds often leading to the murder of the accused ad the confiscation of their property.” (p.60)

     

    Federici goes on to cite figures:

    • 3,000 women in Ghana have been exiled to ‘witch camps’

    • Between 1991-2001, 23,000 ‘witches’ have been killed in Africa.

    These witch hunts operate with little or no consequences. They are likely to arise where there is conflict over land, where there are economic competitiveness and to justify the enclosures of communal lands. (p.61).

    “But the attack on women comes above all from capital’s need to destroy what it cannot control and degrade what it most needs for its reproduction” (p.88)

    Influences which have led to the return of witch-hunting have included the “disintegration of communal solidarity, due to decades of impoverishment, and the ravages of AIDS and other diseases…” (p.52)

    Federici describes the increase in witch-hunting as being more likely to occur in areas where commercial projects are being planned, or land is being privatized.

    Sex trafficking is also on the increase, as a result of unemployment, precarious work and the collapse of the family wage.

    “More convincing is the view that these witch hunts are not a legacy of the past but are a response to the social crisis that the neo-liberal restructuring of Africa’s political economies have produced.” (p.65)

    Federici argues that feminists globally must raise awareness of modern- day witch-hunting and the increased violence against women in these countries where globalisation and the accumulation of capital is aimed. However, she urges that feminists need to investigate this phenomenon in the context of the social conditions that create witch-hunts.

     

    “The forces that are instigating the African witch hunts are powerful and will not easily be defeated. Indeed violence against women will end only with the construction of a different world where people’s lives are not ‘eaten up’ for the sake of accumulation of wealth.” (p.80)

  • 22Oct

    This book is a collection of essays written by Silvia Federici in relation to her on-going studies of witches, witch-hunting and its relationship to the development of capitalism. The book is in two parts. The first section, which I will talk about here, summarizes and builds on her work in Caliban and the Witch in which she explores the European witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries.

     

    Federici stresses the importance of situating these witch-hunts in their social, political and economic context. In particular this was a time when the enclosures of the Commons were taking place in Britain. The Commons land were traditionally available to landless peasants , enabling them to make use of the land for subsistence farming. In the 16th and 17th centuries these common lands became enclosed – by wealthy landowners and the middle class, thus depriving poorer peasants the use of such land. Land became privatised and became an economic asset for profit, rather than as a source of nurturance for the whole community. This led to an increase in poverty and social unrest amongst the community. This had a significant impact on the peasant women in particular. It often meant a stripping of their means of livelihood and the possibility of economic independence.

     

    Federici describes the social unrest that was occurring at the time. One can imagine the anger, bitterness and distress that women were experiencing as a result of being left destitute. Her analysis describes how those in power were able to turn such social unrest to demonise those opposing the changes, effectively allowing them to increase their power and control over the communities.

     

    She likens the demonization of women as witches to the McCarthy era of the 1950’s in the USA and the current ‘War on Terror’.

     

    “The exaggeration of ‘crimes’ to mythical proportions so as to justify horrendous punishments is an effective means to terrorize a whole society, isolate the victims, discourage resistance, and make masses of people afraid to engage in practices that until then were considered normal.” (p.33)

    “The witch was the communist and terrorist of her time” (p.33)

     

    But it was not only about dealing with social unrest. It was about power and control and capital accumulation. Where previously in villages and communities there was a system of sharing resources, such as the Commons, where women used and shared their knowledge and experiences of caring and healing, midwifery and reproduction. The state needed to take control of this knowledge and these skills.

     

    “…the witch-hunts served to deprive women of their medical practices, forced them to submit to the patriarchal control of the nuclear family, and destroyed a holistic concept of nature that until the Renaissance set limits on the exploitation of the female body.” (p. 11)

     

    The state needed to disempower women of their knowledge in order to take control. In particular the state needed to take control of women’s reproductive capacity and knowledge. As capitalism was taking hold, children were seen as products for labor exploitation – economic property which the capitalist state need to control. Thus women’s sexual behaviour and procreation needed to come under the control of the state.

     

    “We must think of an enclosure of knowledge, of our bodies, and of our relationship to other people and nature.” (p.21)

     

    Federici concludes Part One of the book with a chapter ‘On the Meaning of ‘gossip’.

     

    “Tracing the history of the words frequently used to define and degrade women is a necessary step if we are to understand how gender oppression functions and reproduces itself.” (p.35)

     

    I have long been interested in the concept of female solidarity, friendships and collectivity. The fact that throughout history  women’s knowledge, their experiences – women’s history has not been recorded or seen as of value.

    In this last chapter of Part One, Federici describes important information about the origin of the term ‘gossip’. In early modern England it was a term used for ‘companions of childbirth, not limited to midwives’. “It became a term for women friends.” (p. 35). Federici describes how gossip became a word of degradation and ridicule, thus effectively the silencing of women. This is a subject that I would like to analyse in more depth in a future blog post.

     

    To conclude, in Federici’s words:

     

    “As I wrote in Caliban and the Witch, the witch hunt instituted a regime of terror on all women, from which emerged a new model of femininity to which women had to conform to be socially accepted in the developing capitalist society: sexless, obedient, submissive, resigned to subordination to the male world, accepting as natural the confinement to a sphere of activities that in capitalism has been completely devalued.” (p. 32).

     

    Part Two of this immensely important work, Federici explores modern day witch hunts detailing how this is on the increase. I will be writing about this in my next blog.

  • 23May

    Lisa Dando recently wrote in the Guardian about the closure of counselling services with histories of abuse, poverty and addiction.

    “We supported women with complex needs. What will they do now?”

    Sat 12 May 2018 18.57 AEST Last modified on Mon 14 May 2018 20.55 AEST

    “One woman told me: “It was great to be in a safe environment and able to say things I wouldn’t normally feel able to voice, and to be heard in a completely non-judgmental way.’’ Another said it “helped to see that I wasn’t the problem. To recognise who I was and who I am. To break free and not be broken. To value myself in my future.””

    This reminded me of an article I co-authored in 2011, which was published in Domestic Violence Clearinghouse, Australia.

    It seems that women’s services continue to be under threat, and not only in Australia. Sadly this article is as relevant in 2018 as it was in 2011.

    Women’s Services in the Twenty-First Century: Where are We Heading?

    by Marie Hume, Elspeth Mcinnes, Kathryn Rendell and Betty Green

    Women Everywhere Advocating Violence Elimination (WEAVE)

    The political beginnings of women’s services

    Services responding to violence against women in the home owe their development to feminist analyses, which recognised the prevalence of gender-related abuse in families. In the 1970s, second-wave feminists raised awareness of male violence against women in its many forms: rape, child sexual abuse and domestic violence. Women’s refuges were established, along with specific women-only services such as women’s health centres and rape crisis services (McGregor & Hopkins 1991). Most services were established without government funding.

    One of the aims of the early women’s services was to bring together women so they could share their experiences of male violence. What they learnt was that male violence was not just an individual experience but reflected broader social issues embedded in patriarchy. This experiential knowledge informed advocacy for much needed reforms and lobbying for funds and resources to provide such services (Dowse 1988). The push for services was, therefore, accompanied by political activism by feminists for legislative change in rape laws, other criminal laws and protective injunctions, as well as campaigns and awareness-raising.

    Drawing on our collective experience of working with victims of domestic violence and conducting advocacy, we argue in this article that women’s services are currently at risk of being de-politicised. While some services continue to lobby for legislative and policy changes, such activism tends to be compartmentalised, focusing on single, specific issues or events and not always on broad systemic change in the area of male violence.

    Moreover, the focus in the provision of services for women has shifted from the structural to the individual. Rather than sites of political activism, based on the sharing of common experiences and self-help, women’s services have become sites of professionalised therapeutic intervention. Women are increasingly being treated as victims in need of professional help – and even seen by some services as the source of ‘the problem’ of violence against women.

    Causes of de-politicisation

    The causes of these changes to women’s services are diverse but are broadly linked to policy and funding decisions of governments over time, as well as the backlash against women which has become evident in public debate. Here we focus on five key factors.

    Changes in the political landscape

    In Australia, during twelve years of neo-conservative government from 1996 to 2007, government funding was directed away from many progressive women’s organisations and towards men’s rights groups and conservative organisations.

    Funding pressures

    Funding agreements with recipient organisations prohibited funded agencies from challenging government policy and practices. Many women services were defunded during this period or threatened with de-funding in order to silence any voices of dissent (Hamilton & Maddison 2007). Funding pressures came from both state and federal governments. Competitive tendering has also limited the capacity of services to work together on political action. Services for women are forced to compete against each other for funding, rather than working collaboratively and cooperatively to address broader social issues.

    Professionalisation of women’s services

    As services drew increasingly on a professionalised workforce, the ability and will of these services to undertake political activism to challenge male violence within our society has diminished. Professionalisation has developed the recognised skills and remuneration of women’s services workers, but has at the same time drawn on practice paradigms that have not been grounded in feminist theory and practice. The coherence of values developed from a focus on women’s experiences of patriarchy has fragmented across profession-based models of human services provision.

    Service silos

    The separation and categorisation of different forms of assaults on women have led to the creation of different types of services, each dealing with their ‘patch’ of violence victimisation. There are unique programs and services responding variously to domestic violence, sexual assault, sexual harassment, sexual trafficking and child sexual abuse. Service silos mean that organisations are working in isolation from each other. They are less likely to work together and seek policy changes to address the broader issues of male violence against women.

    Absorption by large charities

    Increasingly, services for women are being outsourced to generic, and often faith-based, organisations. These organisations operate from a managerial focus on key performance indicators, inputs and output targets. The result of such outsourcing is that women-only services are becoming less available. For example, some women’s shelters have morphed into ‘homelessness services’ accepting both men and women as ‘clients’ and also employing both men and women as ‘service providers’. Reduced access to women-only services has a number of consequences. Women seeking shelter from men’s violence feel less safe in generic homelessness services environments. The focus of the ‘service provision’ moves away from addressing the causes of homelessness, such as domestic violence or women’s economic disadvantage, to solely providing shelter and referrals to other services.

    The opportunity for women to share with each other their experiences of male violence is lost. In turn, women’s ability to address social justice issues of male violence and to take collective action is severely diminished.

    The medicalisation of male violence against women

    The way of responding to an issue has a major influence on how it is defined. (Kelly & Radford 1998, p.60)

    The medicalisation of women’s issues has taken place alongside the decline in political activism.

    Medical/ therapeutic models of service delivery have become increasingly apparent in the women’s sector, with an emphasis on women’s pathology, individual therapeutic responses and personal healing. Individual counselling has come to be seen as the solution for women to ‘cope better’ with their experiences of abuse.

    Yet, counselling responses

    ‘leave the deeper social causes of violence in families and against women unexamined’ (Pence & Taylor 2003, p. 19).

    This approach is in stark contrast to the political advocacy for social justice and collective action that characterised feminist women’s services, which developed in the 1970s and 1980s.

    De-gendering violence

    A growing resistance and backlash to the naming of male violence against women has also become apparent in recent decades. There are increasing calls for violence to be seen as a non-gendered issue. Challenges to well-established statistics on the extent of male violence against women have arisen (Flood 2004), such as the recent pro-men’s One in Three campaign. Men’s rights groups have been active in making claims that women are as violent as men and that men are also victims of domestic violence (Mulroney & Chan 2005). In this environment, perpetrators are also able to claim ’victim’ status and activism for perpetrators ‘rights’ (often conflated with ‘fathers’ rights’) has gained a footing.

    In turn, de-gendering has diminished the capacity of policy makers and service delivery agents to effectively challenge the social and historical causes of male violence. Policy documents increasingly use gender neutral language such as ‘family violence’ rather than ‘male violence’.

    De-gendering is also apparent in the laws that frame our responses to violence. There has also been an increase in the examination of different types of violence. Classification systems and typologies have been used in such a way that violence is seen as a mutual, de-gendered form of ‘conflict’ between a couple rather than an issue of male power and control (Johnston 2006). In some service sectors, the concept of ‘conflict’ is used where there is domestic violence, which limits understanding and undermines responses to what, in earlier days, was recognised as the abuse of women by men.

    The rise of post-separation family services

    Since the enactment of the Family Law Amendment (Shared Parental Responsibility) Act 2006, there has been a dramatic increase in funding to services to assist separated parents to make arrangements for the care of their children. Over time, these services have begun to provide ‘therapeutic’ services to parents and children. Many women experiencing domestic violence now find themselves being offered counselling by family services, to help them sustain a ‘better relationship’ with the perpetrator. Individual interventions may include ‘communication’ skills, conflict management skills and post-separation parenting advice regarding the need to not be ‘negative’ about their abuser and to facilitate the ongoing relationship between father and child. Thus, any opportunity for women to understand their experience of violence as part of a much broader social/political issue is lost and women may even be judged negatively as being ‘oppositional’ or obstructive.

    Conclusion

    A political understanding is fundamental to action to reduce or eliminate violence against women. In this article, we have argued that politicised social understandings of men’s violence against women have been significantly reduced due to a combination of factors, primarily:

    • the defunding of progressive women’s services;
    • the growing divisions between different types of services;
    • and the sharp shift in the provision and focus of services, away from a social recognition of men’s violence against women and towards an individual pathology of women’s poor choices and victimisation.

    If a collective feminist consciousness of men’s violence against women is to be regenerated, politicians, policymakers, human services professionals and managers need to once again listen to women’s voices. Women’s experiential knowledge of male violence must inform collective action that commands government attention in demanding social change.

    “The move towards generic, mixed-gender services has grave consequences for women and their families. Services that don’t acknowledge or recognise women’s specific experiences of trauma leave them struggling to find support that really understands them and enables them to build the future they deserve.” Lisa Dando

    References
    Dowse S 1988, ‘The women’s movement’s fandango with the state: the movement’s role in public policy since 1972’ in CV Baldock & B Cass (eds), Women, social welfare and the state, Allen & Unwin, Sydney

    Flood M 2004, ‘Backlash: angry men’s movements’ in EE Rossi (ed.), The battle and backlash rage on: why feminism cannot be obsolete, Xlibris Corporation, New York

    Hamilton C & Maddison S (eds) 2007, Silencing dissent: how the Australian government is controlling public opinion and stifling debate, Allen & Unwin, Sydney

    Johnston J 2006, ‘A child-centered approach to high-conflict and domestic-violence families: differential assessment and interventions’, Journal of Family Studies, vol. 12, no. 1, pp. 15-35

    Kelly L & Radford J 1998, ‘Sexual violence against women and girls: an approach to an international overview’ in RE Dobash & RP Dobash (eds), Rethinking violence against women, Thousand Oaks, California & Sage Publications, London

    McGregor H & Hopkins A 1991, Working for change: the movement against domestic violence, Allen & Unwin, Sydney

    Mulroney J & Chan C 2005, Men as victims of domestic violence, Topic Paper 15, Australian Domestic and Family Violence, Sydney

    Pence E & Taylor T 2003, Building safety for battered women and their children into the child protection system. A summary of three consultations, Praxis International. Viewed 10 August 2011, <https://www.thegreenbook.info/documents/ buildingsafety.pdf>