• 17Mar

    ‘The Rule of Law’ has been the catch phrase liberally used by Scott Morrison (Australian Prime Minister) and Christian Porter (Australian Attorney-General) in recent times. So why is this mantra being used so strongly and vehemently at this point in our history.

    Well, as most Australians would know, an allegation of rape has been made against Christian Porter. The rape was said to have occurred over 30 years ago, the victim, a young woman, 16 years old at the time. Whilst she reported the rape allegation to the NSW police early last year, she committed suicide prior to any formal interview. The NSW police are not proceeding with a criminal case, due to her death, and the lack of evidence.

    From the Prime Minister’s perspective, there is nothing more to be done. In response to questions about whether an inquiry will be held, and whether the Attorney-General should be stood down, Scott Morrison has emphasised ‘the rule of law’, and claims it is not his role to make any judgements or even inquiry, about a criminal matter. He and Christian Porter appear to be aghast that the media and women throughout Australia want more, claiming trial by media, and expressing concerns that a man’s life and career could be destroyed by an unproven allegation.

    Interesting that they are invoking the ‘rule of law’ principle, given their many instances of flagrantly denying the rule of law, such as the Liberal Government’s robodebt scandal. ‘Rule of Law’ only applies to protecting their own interests apparently. But I digress.

    “Australia was built on sexual violence, Aboriginal people have been at the frontier of this violence from day one and have long been fighting for accountability so we, once again, stand in support of women being safe, supported and receiving justice.” Meriki Onus.

    “Aboriginal women have fought against gendered violence perpetrated by white men since day one. The allegations, cover up and silence on gendered violence in federal parliament is part of the same system of abuse and the same lack of legal and political consequences.  Enough is Enough.”

    Let’s be frank here. The legal system is patriarchal. It was developed by rich, white powerful men, not only to protect their own interests, but has been used for centuries to oppress and control the poor, the vulnerable – and women – always women.

    Just take for example, the witch burning that occurred over centuries – the Churches and those in power, burned and slaughtered women – under the ‘rule of law’.

    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

    Susan Hawthorne in her latest book: ‘Vortex: the Crisis of Patriarchy’ talks of controlling territory through fear and violence – where women are the territory to be controlled. Some examples that Hawthorne uses:

    • Child sexual abuse
    • Violations of lesbians in forced marriage, rape and torture,
    • Outlawing of freedoms for women in reproductive health, safe abortions and contraceptives,
    • Mutilation of young girls and women in order to control women’s sexuality,
    • Punishing women who leave violent men.
    • Honour killing

    “Indeed, men’s definition of ‘appropriate’ behaviour for women are all about controlling sexuality” (P. 62)

    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)

    Female bodies are owned, controlled, monitored, used, abused and consumed by men. Under the ‘rule of law’. Women’s bodies are prostituted, bought and  sold, legally for men’s pleasure. Under the ‘rule of law’ (About CATWA | Coalition Against Trafficking in Women Australia).

    Women abused, raped and  tortured for the production of pornography, for male sexual gratification. Under the ‘rule of law’. (See Gail Dines and her foundation to learn more about harms of pornography.)

    Women’s bodies are used as baby making machines for the production of surrogate babies. Under the ‘rule of law’. (Stop Surrogacy Now)

    Women worldwide are still struggling for reproductive rights. Under the ‘rule of law’.

    At the recent International Women’s Day marches recently held across the world, women were attacked and vilified by others during the march. In Paris and Barcelona, women were attacked as they were protesting against prostitution and pornography. Anti-prostitution group’s protest attacked in Paris | Morning Star (morningstaronline.co.uk)

    And similarly in Melbourne:

    “Yesterday 13 or 14 feminist women joined the Melbourne IWD march, the march that used to be about promoting feminist concerns. Here’s an account by one of those women.

    “We got circled.

    Then we got attacked. They tried to intimidate us and wreck our signs. They tried to block xx in her wheelchair!

    Then we had the cops protecting us.

    Then the Organisers removes us from the group. Then the cops moved us on.

    There were only 13? of us yet we made our presence known. At times we were the focus of the entire march .. not the patriarchy .. not the rapists or even politicians .. a small group of women.” (1) IWD Brisbane/Meanjin | Facebook

    Religion and the Rule of Law

    “…religion is foundational to the ideology of women’s inferiority in all patriarchal systems.” 

    (Sheila Jeffries:Man’s Dominion. Citing El Saadawi, 2007 p.  5)

    Religion is patriarchal. Since the destruction of the worshipping of Goddesses, and the development of monotheism, where a male god presides in Christianity, Islam and Judaism,  religion has played a major and seminal role in maintaining patriarchy. In conjunction with the State, whether it be feudal lords and Christianity, conducting massacres of thousands of women over thousands of years, under the guise of witchcraft, or current, so-called democratic governments working in conjunction with religion to produce laws which inhibit women’s rights, and ensure that women remain oppressed and under male control, patriarchy continues to oppress women.

    And this is very obvious in the men who govern us. Whether it be Tony  Abbott and John Howard claiming friendship with George Pell during and after his trial and conviction for child sexual abuse, or Scott Morrison and his membership of the fundamentalist, evangelical Hillsong Church. And who doesn’t remember Tony Abbott standing under this sign.

    One cannot be surprised then when I express concerns that the majority of our social services, and particularly those servicing women, such as domestic violence programmes and shelters, have been outsourced to religious organisations

    “What’s important to remember is that only about 10 per cent of rapes are reported. Of those, while it is very difficult to ascertain exact numbers in different jurisdictions, about 5 per cent are found to be false (a Victorian study found 2 per cent were). It’s a tiny fraction of the whole, comparable to other crimes.

    The most important questions are why 90 per cent don’t report, and why so few go to jail. Of those reported, only about 7 per cent result in convictions. So 7 per cent of 10 per cent. Ponder that stat when you think about the rule of law.” (Julie Baird, SMH, March 6, 2021)

    Malcolm Turnbull during his term as Prime Minister of Australia talked of how  ‘real men don’t hit women’.

    Well Mr. Turnbull was wrong.

    It is real men – real, powerful, rich men who have built Australia on its ‘rule of law’ to oppress, kill and decimate our Indigenous people, who routinely raped Aboriginal women, who stole their children. It is real men who rape, abuse and oppress women. And their mates, like Scott Morrison and his kind, who continue to protect the ‘real men’ who rape and murder.

  • 28Nov

    Heather Brunskell-Evans book “Transgender Body Politics’ is an excellent critique of the current trans-activist movement and its threat to, not only the safety and well-being of women, but to the human rights of women and children. The author explores the medical harms being done to children in the name of trans politics, and how this is being promoted by powerful, rich men to intrude on women’s rights and has been so influential in the political and legal system. She also addresses how the medical and pharmaceutical industry is benefiting by this movement.

    Her analysis leads her to conclude that the transgender movement is in fact a men’s rights movement, with the intent of invading not only women-only spaces, but as a silencing of women’s voices and colonising and erasing our bodies, agency and autonomy.

    In this blog I will focus on Heather Brunskell-Evans concerns about the physical and emotional harms done to young people, particularly girls -two-thirds of referrals are female (p.54) – by the transition process.

    Gender Identity Development Services have been established in most Western countries, including North America, Western Europe, Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom.

    “it is a matter of grave concern for the safeguarding and protection of children (girls and boys) that the GIDS refers young people for medical intervention, despite the lack of evidence to support its stance, and that much of the data that exists points to the physical harms of the treatment and fails to support claims that medical transition is psychologically beneficial” p.46

    Puberty blockers and cross-sex hormones.

    Some of the concerns about these drugs that Heather Brunskell-Evans raises include:

    • Such drugs are unlicensed and are being used without adequate trials, or without recognising the dangers to children’s bodies or the long-term impacts.
    • These drugs produce significant risks to fertility, brain development, cardiovascular and bone health and impeding development of sexual functioning,

    “…including for some never developing the capacity for orgasm, or experiencing pain in the uterus at the point of orgasm. One of the least discussed harms is the physical pain of orgasming that occurs after taking testosterone, and the number of women who eventually end up having to have hysterectomies and oophorectomies (removal of ovaries)” p. 47

    Meghan Murphy in a recent article highlights the dangers of transition for children.

    “Over 90% of children who start on puberty blockers go on to take cross-sex hormones, eventually getting surgeries like mastectomies. But the blockers themselves can also have significant side effects, as Bell’s lawyer argued in court, including loss of fertility and sexual function, as well as decreased bone density. The impact on brain development is not yet fully known, but we do know that the surge of sex hormones at puberty triggers important changes in the adolescent brain, connected to cognitive development. Puberty is not only about developing breasts or body hair, it is a necessary part of developing into a healthy adult in many other ways.”  

    What it means to be a teenage girl in patriarchy.

    Being a girl in this patriarchal world is often difficult, confusing and traumatic. This occurs in our highly sexualised and sexist world –as their young bodies develop breasts, they become targets of the male gaze, the object of male desire, and victims of male sexual predation.

    There are strong societal pressures on young pubescent girls to fit with the idealized standards of femininity and girls are often exposed to sexual and judgemental observations if they do not perform femininity required by patriarchy. This can lead them to self-doubt and a hatred for their own bodies which can lead to self-harm – the ultimate being to cut off their breasts.

    Rather than challenging the hierarchical, patriarchal society which creates self-doubt, makes young women vulnerable to sexual predation and condemnation, transition procedures affirms and compounds her distress about her female body.

    “In ignoring the painful embodied experiences of girls which arise out of living in a highly sexualised and sexist culture, the affirmative model – and the possibilities it opens for medical intervention – leaves the normative cultural and psycho-social issues that bear down on girls largely intact and renders their bodies available for violation” (p. 57)

    Lesbians are particular vulnerable to the transgender movement. Young women struggling with their sexual preferences in a world where homophobia is still widespread, are particularly perceptible to feelings of loneliness and isolation, particularly if there are no strong lesbian communities available to her. In today’s world it is much more acceptable to be trans than it is to be lesbian.

    Young autistic women who feeling weird and unable to fit in, who struggle socially and outside of the norm can also be drawn into the trans trap.

    The trans affirmative movement.

    There is a failure in the GiIDs framework to adequately examine the psychological path that young people have taken to reach the point of seeking the possibility of transition. Past traumatic experiences, such as child sexual abuse, often result in feelings of anxiety and body dysphoria.

    The author cites a report by David Bell  (2018):

    “He cites the high percentage of children suffering gender dysphoria who also suffer from other complex problems left unaddressed, such as trauma, autism, a history of sexual abuse, eating disorders and so on. The letter says some children “…take up a trans identity as a solution to multiple problems such as historic child abuse in the family, bereavement … homophobia and a very significant incidence of autism spectrum disorder after being coached online.” (p.61-2)

    GIDS programmes use what is called the affirmative approach to the transitioning process. Their stance on what they term as ‘conversion” therapy is that any attempt to develop an understanding with the young person about their motivation to transition is deemed as unacceptable and likened to homosexual conversion therapy. So, any underlying psychological problems, any traumatic life experiences such as child sexual abuse, any exploration of these issues in a therapeutic setting, are deemed as undermining her claim to be a boy, and is understood as a violation of her human rights. (p. 41)

    Kieran Bell is a young woman that the author talks about in the book. Kieran went through trans conversion as a teenager, but later decided to detransition. She is now taking legal action against the Tavistock and Portman NHS trust, which operates gender identity clinics in Britain.

    Meghan Murphy cites Lisa Marchiano, a Jungian analyst in the US, explaining that:

    “… the young female detransitioners she sees in her practice were all “suffering from complex social and mental health issues” at the time they decided to transition, and that “transition often not only failed to address these issues, but at times exacerbated them or added new issues”. Girls struggling with puberty, mental health issues, sexual identity, bullying, trauma, eating disorders, or gender roles will not be helped by testosterone and surgery. The real risk is that, with no caution, these practices will ruin their lives.”

    In many Western countries, legislation is being proposed that would criminalise “conversion therapy” Meghan Murphy talks of this happening in Canada.

    “Bill C-6 proposes to criminalise those who profit from or advertise “conversion therapy”, which would include therapists and medical practitioners who do not practice the “affirmative model” — which means confirming “trans identity” unquestioningly. Choosing not to encourage a child to transition; suggesting a teen wait, and see if the “gender dysphoria” sticks a few years before beginning the process of transitioning; and challenging the concept of “gender identity” itself would potentially set a therapist or medical practitioner up for criminal sanctions.”

    Heather Brunskell-Evans explores how this movement has impacted on professional psychotherapy institutions in the UK.

    “It is now all psychological associations – professional bodies that register and govern practicing psychologists – that are compelled to comply with the fiction that trans identity, unlike all other identities, has no psychological basis or components.” P. 16

    The author emphasises the travesty of allowing children to choose the path of transition, to be considered able to give consent to such procedures, given their lack of maturity, and their difficulty in understanding the life-long impact of this decision.

    “… a child will have little or no cognisance of a future in which she will become a medical patient for life, may come to regret lost sexuality and fertility (including for example, the lack of breasts, ovaries and uterus), and the lack of organs for sexual pleasure.” (p 67)

    Sheila Jeffreys (2014) has also written about the devastating effects of the transition movement and is cited by the author:

    “Sheila Jeffreys (2014) describes the effects of the drug treatment and sexual surgeries as breaches of girls’ and young women’s reproductive rights, as well as causing harm to their bodily integrity and future health.”

    Janice Raymond is also cited as someone who has raised concerns about this phenomenon:

    “History testifies to the brutal control of female flesh through foot binding, clitoridectomy and infibulation (the latter are still practiced within some cultures), hysterectomies, radical mastectomies, oophorectomies etc to restore patriarchal social order (Raymond, 1980, p. xvi)” P. 77

    “Raymond suggests that for a woman to castrate herself through surgery in order to become male is ‘the ultimate weapons in the hands of the boys’ (1980, p. xxv)” p. 77

  • 08Aug

    I heard with great sadness of the death of Diana E H Russell last week. I reacted to the news in a very visceral way. My reaction was not only at the loss of a great feminist thinker, but also a recognition that the generation of women at the forefront of the Women’s Liberation movement of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s are ageing – we are close to the end of an era.

    Seeing her name took me straight back to the 1980’s.

     I was working with young offenders and adolescents at risk. The ‘adolescents at risk’ was an obvious euphemism for teenage girls who were running away from home, living on the streets, acting promiscuously and considered at risk and therefore in need of the care of the state.

    The Women’s Liberation Movement of the 1960’s and ‘70’s had raised the issue of child sexual abuse. Whilst few of the young women that I worked with revealed a history of child sexual abuse, it became obvious to me that I needed to learn more. And so, began years of reading and research into understanding child sexual abuse.

    Diana Russell’s book ‘The Secret Trauma: Incest in the Lives of Girls and Women’ was one of the first books I read.

    I still have the hard cover copy bought in the 1980’s in my bookshelf.

    This book was followed by Judith Herman’s ‘Father-Daughter Incest’, Louise Armstrong ‘Kiss Daddy Goodnight’ and ‘The Home Front: Notes from the Family War Zone’, Phyliss Chesler ‘Women and Madness’, Susan Brownmiller ‘Against our Will: Men, Women and Rape’, Florence Rush ‘The Best Kept Secret: Sexual Abuse of Children’, Linda Gordon “Heroes of Their Own Lives”.

    It was these pioneering women who were determined to break open the taboo of incest, to challenge Freud’s notion of false allegations, and to lay open that child sexual abuse was not the ‘stranger-danger’ myth that we had been raised on, but one that happened in the family home, by fathers, brothers, relatives, friends of the family, and in our churches, our orphanages, our schools.

    Of course, the professionals – the psychologists, the social workers, the psychiatric profession were also doing their research, hypothesising and developing theories about incest and child sexual abuse.  Louise Armstrong explores the incest industry in rocking the Cradle of Sexual Violence. Family dysfunction was one theory that was popular at the time. Of course, it must be the mother’s fault.

    As I was grappling with the family dysfunction theories I came across a short article by Liz Kelly  which debunked the mother-blaming myths. I was on my way to developing an understanding of feminist critique of male violence against women and children.

    In the 1990’s I did my masters research into child sexual abuse allegations and family law – and learned of the connections between domestic violence and child sexual abuse. Liz Kelly’s work on the continuum of sexual violence led me to a greater understanding of patriarchal male violence.

    Up until this time I was focused on male violence within the home. Once my research was completed, I was able to broaden my feminist reading. Finding Gerda Lerner and her work on the creation of patriarchy, and the importance of women’s history and the patriarchal silencing of women’s voices and experiences opened another path for me to explore.

    In early 2000 I had the privilege of joining the Feminist Agenda, an Australian based radical feminist email list. Here I was able to learn from, interact with wonderful radical feminists who were generous and helpful in guiding my learning. Betty McClellan,  Sheila Jeffreys, Susan Hawthorne, Renate Klein, Bronwyn Winter were among the many radical feminist on the list.

    Feminist fiction was also central to my awareness raising. Marilyn French’s ‘The Woman’s Room’ was one of my first, followed by Doris Lessing’s Martha Quest series and ‘The Golden Notebook; Marge Piercy “Woman on the Edge of Time’; Margaret Atwood; Simone de Beauvoir and her autobiographies; – books that have a permanent place on my bookshelves to be read and re-read – and always discovering many more.

    The issues of race and class were also feminist issues and I have been privileged to read Australian Indigenous writers such as Melissa Lucashenko, Doris Pilkington Garimara (The Rabbit Proof Fence), Larissa Behrendt, and most recently Tara June Winch and African-American authors such as Maya Angelou, Toni Morrison, Alice Walker, bell hooks, Audre Lord, Angela Davis.

    Maria Mies, Sylvia Federici , Susan Hawthorne  and Vandana Shiva  broadened my horizons as to the impact of patriarchal capitalism and colonialism on women throughout the world. And introduced me to the concept of eco-feminism.

    I could fill several pages listing so many feminists who have made a tremendous and inspirational difference not only in my life, but in the lives of many women.

    Whilst I identify some of the feminists who have been at the forefront of the radical feminist movement, a recurring theme in my reading is the importance of grass roots activism. These women and many more were not just researchers and theoreticians. They were also activists. As a result of the women’s liberation movement we have domestic violence refuges, rape crisis centres, created legislative change to protect women from male violence, and so much more. As an activist for close to 40 years, I have also met many women who have devoted their lives to support and care for women oppressed by patriarchy.

    I want to pay tribute to these women. Despite the obstacles that women face – in speaking out, in writing, in research, in activism, women have persevered. They have documented the experiences of women’s oppression; they have developed and continue to develop radical feminist theory.

    Gerda Lerner shows us how women’s voices, women’s history has previously been un-documented, seen as unimportant in the patriarchal world.

    Our voices have risen up. I feel a deep gratitude to the women of the ‘second wave’ of feminism. Their work will live on. Younger women now have a history. No longer are they denied knowledge of our struggles and achievements.

    “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’)

    The women’s movement of the 1960’s and 1970’s has begun to develop a written history of women’s experiences, intellectual thought and knowledge.

    Women’s voices can no longer be dismissed.

    “Once the basic fallacy of patriarchal thought – the assumption that a half of humankind can adequately represent the whole – has been exposed and explained, it can no more be undone than was the insight that the earth is round, not flat.” (Lerner, p. 273 ‘The Creation of Feminist Consciousness’)

  • 06Apr

    I got quite depressed last night. Of course the pandemic of coronavirus and thousands of people dying across the world, people at risk, job and income losses etc are at the heart of my depression, but this particular episode was a result of the TV series, Stateless on ABCTV.

    Stateless is about the immigration centre, in South Australia. What the series highlighted was the inhumane, cruel treatment of refugees by consecutive Australian governments. Refugees – people fleeing from horrific wars and violence – seeking refuge and safety. And our Australian government treating them like aliens/criminals, locking them away, refusing them that basic human right of safety and protection.

    They have since closed most of these detention centres in Australia. They are now locked up in our ‘off-shore’ detention centres – in poverty-stricken countries – away from the public gaze and out of our newsfeed and our critique.

    The Most Vulnerable

    There are millions of people throughout the world suffering in this way. And right now they are facing a horrendous situation. Crowded into refugee camps they are extremely vulnerable to this pandemic.  

    It is the most vulnerable people who are at highest risk from the pandemic – refugees, the homeless, prisoners locked up in confined spaces (recognising that our incarceration rates of indigenous people is so high), the elderly in nursing homes, those forced to live in close living conditions in the slums, our remote Indigenous communities already suffering from a failure to address their health and safety needs – the list goes on.

    Concerns have also been raised about social isolation. There is an expectation in our society that home is place of safety and security. But for many women and children home is not a safe place. Home is where women and children are subjected to violence, rape and child sexual abuse. and there is evidence that the rate of domestic violence is increasing at this time when women and children are locked into social isolation with their abusers.

    The European Network of Women has outlined how this pandemic is a feminist issue. They highlight how this affects women across the world:

    • Women and children seeking asylum
    • Elderly women
    • Women victims of male violence
    • Women in care and domestic sector
    • Women in prostitution and pornography

    And emphasise how this impacts more heavily on poorer countries and migrant women in our richer countries.

    Structural Change is Necessary

    I think we have to take a broader look at the relationship between this pandemic and patriarchal capitalism – and the ineffectiveness of capitalism in responding to this crisis.

    It was inspiring to watch The Rising Majority live teach-in including Angela Davis and Naomi Klein talking about the pandemic of global capitalism.

    I make no claim to being as knowledgeable and informed as either of these two women but would like to summarize some of the important issues that they have raised in this discussion.

    Environmental Issues

    The point was made very clearly that this pandemic and our governments’ responses to it are a result of the disaster of capitalism. Naomi Klein makes a clear link between the war on nature and this pandemic, which has resulted from our encroachment on wilderness.

    And yet, she also points out that environmental regulations are being downgraded, with the excuse of spurring the economy.

    The state of Victoria has recently extended agreements that exempt the logging industry from conservation laws

    The NSW Coalition government has quietly granted planning approvals for an expansion of coal mining operations under one of Sydney’s key drinking water catchments

    Health Infrastructure

    A point that is also made is that global capitalism appears to biologically unsustainable in the absence of an international health infrastructure.  The growth of private, for-profit health care and big pharmaceutical businesses, they argue is the major reason why our health care system is inadequate to cope with our current pandemic. Concurrently our public health systems have been starved by relentless austerity measures for decades. It is not profitable for private health care facilities to maintain empty hospital beds or keep stockpiles of emergency equipment.

    Capitalism is willing to sacrifice life in the interests of profit.

    Whilst we may take some hope for the socialist-like strategies that are being used by many governments to fight this current crisis such as increasing Centrelink payments and reducing some of the barriers; providing homes for the homeless; ensuring at least some people are guaranteed an income, there are some concerning issues arising from these moves. These strategies are only for some – for the deserving. Capitalist governments continue with their divide and conquer tactics, separating us from others – e.g.not providing for immigrants; not extending payments to casual workers who have been employed for less than 12 months.

    Across the world, there’s growing concern that COVID-19 is enabling authoritarian governments to amass unprecedented powers that will outlast the crisis itself. In Turkey, Hungary, Egypt, Uganda, Israel, USA and Serbia to mention some including Australia who has suspended parliament. This is a time, as Naomi Klein points out, capitalist governments are eager to grab power.

    Caring and Nurturing

    One thing that has become very obvious during this time is our reliance on what has been termed ‘frontline workers’.  It is nurses, other health care professionals, cleaners, orderlies who are in the frontline in our health care sector risking their lives to help and protect others; it is our supermarket staff, checkout staff, those who stack supermarket shelves who are continuing to work at risk to their health and safety; our teachers and child care workers who are continuing to care for our children. These are female-dominated workers, and not surprisingly our poorest paid professions. There has much lauding of their work at this time, and yet do we really believe that when this is over they will be given the status and the pay that is warranted? Or that caring and nurturing are the most important tasks of our communities?

    It is no surprise to me that there is a growing realisation that it is frontline workers (and let me emphasise the term worker/working class) and women’s work of caring and nurturing that are essential to our welfare at this time. We have also seen many instances of community caring, where neighbours and communities are reaching out to each other to provide support and care. We are hopefully learning that the individualism of neo-liberal politics does not provide us with the kind of society that will protect and care for us all.

    The Status Quo is an Emergency

    The discussion on Rising Majority emphasised that this crisis gives us the opportunity to push for structural change. That we are living in a time when capitalism is failing, and there is a strong need for movement building and collaboration to effect this structural change.

    We must look at what the feminist eco-movement have been telling us about what kind of change is needed.  

    Maria Mies envisions her world view of the good life in the Epilogue of her autobiography, “The Village and the World. My Life, Our Times’:

    “Such a world view requires a new concept of economy, of society, of culture, and of politics and philosophy. This new philosophy of life will lead to better relations between ‘us’ and ‘others. Instead of selfishness, there will be generosity, instead of competition, there will be cooperation. Instead of private property, there will be communal us of the Commons (land, water, air, knowledge), friendly relations with neighbours and foreigners, cooperation instead of division into isolated, alienated individuals; speaking together, sharing joy and sadness. Subsistence means self-provisioning, mutuality, communality – no person is an island – sharing responsibility for the community and for the planet.”

  • 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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