16 DAYS OF ACTIVISM AGAINST GENDER VIOLENCE
In Townsville, a regional city in North Queensland, Australia, where there is a particularly active group of feminists, the staff of the North Queensland Combined Women's Services, Inc. (also known as The Women's Centre) invited local feminist activist, Heather Bond, to organise a program for the 16 Days of Activism against Gender Violence. Heather set to work and, when the program was organised, sent out a Call to Action as follows:
*** CALL TO ACTION *** CALL TO ACTION ***
16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence
“For the Health of Women, For the Health of the World: No More Violence”
25 November – 10 December 2004
“16 Days …” the brain child of the Centre for Woman’s Global Leadership is an annual campaign to make women’s rights human rights. The campaign, first conducted in 1991, involves 137 participating countries and approximately 1700 organisations.
Special dates in Townsville include:
Thursday 25/11/04 – International Day Against Violence Against Women – White Ribbon Day. Picnic at the Women’s Centre to consolidate plans for the '16 Days …'
Wednesday 1/12/04 – World Aids Day: Penny Kenchington from Sexual Health Services - speaking on Harm reduction and minimisation – blood born viruses, Hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS - 3pm to 4.30pm @ The Women’s Centre
Friday 3/12/04 – Creative Activism: Aida David – Screen printing symbolic and political T-shirts and craft activities from 1 - 4pm @ The Women’s Centre
Monday 6/12/04 – Anniversary Montreal Massacre SPEAKOUT & MEMORIAL to commemorate the lives of the 14 women students murdered for being ‘feminists’ - to be held @ The Perfume Gardens (Cnr. Walker and Stokes Street) 5.30 – 6.30pm.
Friday 10/12/04 – International Human Rights Day
10 am & 2 pm - Parental Alienation Syndrome (PAS) video screening @ The Women’s Centre
6 pm - Amnesty International concert for Human Rights @ St James Cathedral
For further information or if you would like to participate in any one of these events please contact Heather @ the Women’s Centre on Ph: 07 4775 7555 Fax: 07 4779 2959 ... Email: email@example.com
Commemoration of Montreal Massacre (organised by Betty McLellan)
On 6 December 1989, shortly after 5pm, at the Ecole Polytechnique in Montreal, Canada, 14 women students were murdered and 13 others wounded by a lone gunman carrying a semi-automatic rifle. First, he stormed into a classroom full of Engineering students and shouted "I want the women. I hate feminists". In that classroom, he separated the women from the men - and proceeded to shoot the women. Then he went to the cafeteria where he killed more women students before turning the gun on himself.
This day is remembered every year by feminists all around the world as one of the worst and most blatant acts of gender violence in recent history.
Speakout and Memorial
A group of 29 women assembled in the Perfume Gardens in Townsville's city centre at around 5.30pm on Monday 6 December 2004. After an introduction by Betty and Heather, fourteen women (one for each of the women murdered at Montreal) spoke for three minutes each on some aspect of violence against women. The speakers were:
Pauline Woodbridge, Elodie Oxenham, Mitra Ghodosi, Sheila Hawthorn, Marlina Whop, Ryl Harrison, Madge Sceriha, Coralie McLean, Rebecca Bond, Chantal Oxenham, Janelle Evans, Virgie Morossi, Catherine Bessant and Meg Davis.
After the speeches, we paused to listen to Judy Small's song Montreal, December '89. Then each of the fourteen speakers, after saying the name of one of the women killed in the Montreal Massacre, moved forward to lay a flower on the ground in memory of her. Following this ritual act of commemoration, the group stood in silence while Elodie drummed quietly and Bree sang.
To conclude, Betty read the challenging words which have become synonymous with commemorations of the Montreal Massacre since 1989:
>> First Mourn, then Work for Change <<
Are the attitudes and beliefs held by Mark Lepine (Canada) any different from the attitudes and beliefs held by the average Australian domestic violence perpetrator or rapist?
The attitude and beliefs fuelled and supported by patriarchy, allowed Lepine to publicly express his sense of privilege and his sense of hatred for women. How do we know this? He shot and killed fourteen women because “he hated feminists”.
This outrageous event is a very public statement about the society that nurtured him and taught him to be the man he is, and the teaching that fell on the fertile ground of being a male in society. Here in Australia the same attitudes and beliefs prevail everywhere even though often less public and more symptomatically. In our homes, in our suburbs, in our busiest cities and most remote communities, the attitudes and beliefs of male privilege plays itself out in physical, emotional, and psychological abuse and violence towards women.
One of the current major issues on the world stage is terrorism. It dominates governments and communities as a “top of the mind” issue. This is in marked contrast to the interest of governments and communities in engaging with the terrorism that occurs in our homes. Even the responses to violence against women in our society is characterised by the overarching sense of male privilege and the superior position of men, and their systems, over women. Over the last thirty and more years of activism by the women’s movement, services have been funded and some systems change has occurred, but the patriarchy simply jostles a bit to adjust, then bends the changes to their own ends.
In the light of this, it is important to remember, support and celebrate the commitment, energy and skills of the many women who make up the “the women’s movement” in all its forms. The wonderful women who work in the “Violence against Women” part of the women’s movement have much to be proud of in their work to claim safety for women and children, not only in terms of achievement, but also in terms of the size of the problem. These women, too, come under fire from the shock troops of patriarchy, in the form of groups like “Fathers for Justice” (a men’s rights group) who have threatened Wesnet, and the other individual men who have threatened individual services and workers.
Let's not forget that all over Australia every day, women and women workers have to deal with behaviours from men who hold the same attitudes and beliefs as Lepine, and these men kill, maim and hurt women and children - simply because of their beliefs that what they say goes! Life is about them! And what they want takes precedence.
Until there is serious all-encompassing change to the men in our society who hold the same attitudes and beliefs that allow too many men to kill women, we must hold our breath, cross our fingers and renew our efforts to try to keep women alive and safe.
* * * * * * *
By Elodie Oxenham
(still to come)
* * * * * * *
Good afternoon ladies. My name is Mitra and I am from Iran.
Today I want to tell you about life in Afghanistan for women during the Taliban regime and after that, even now. Afghanistan is neighbour of my country in the east and over the years I have seen a lot of Afghani refugees in my country.
I want you to put yourself in their shoes for a minute. For example, today is a very beautiful day and all of us have gathered here to have a meeting. However, if we lived in Afghanistan we would have not been allowed to go outside the house without the company of a male relative. I can see some of you beautiful ladies have worn a little bit make up. Again, if you lived over there and wear a little bit make up it would bring you jail and torture. My dear friends please look at your nails……. If you are like me and have nail polish on. If we lived over there, I would feel sorry for all of us because wearing nail polish would result in cutting our fingers.
Some of you dear friends are enjoying holiday time from university or high school. But it did not happen in Afghanistan, because under Taliban regime women are not allowed to go to school, or have any independence.
I will read from the Washington Times, September 24, 2004
Women in Afghanistan: The violations continue
On 24 May, the Taliban armed militia in Afghanistan briefly captured the northern city of Mazar-e Sharif from opposing forces in the Afghan conflict. One of their first acts was to announce the imposition of restrictions on women that would in principle deny them some of their most basic and fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression and employment. Women in Mazar-e Sharif were ordered through loudspeakers to stay indoors. They were told not to report for work and that education for women and girls was discontinued.
These edicts echoed the restrictions the Taliban have imposed on women in other parts of Afghanistan, which they control. Such restrictions, since they were first imposed in Taliban controlled areas, have been enforced through cruel, inhuman and degrading punishments and ill-treatment. Additional edicts have been issued which further physically restrict women solely based on their gender.
One of the persistent policies of the Taliban has been to "punish" women for defying their edicts. In December 1996, Taliban-controlled Radio Voice of Shari’a announced that a group of 225 women had been rounded up and punished in Kabul for violating Taliban rules on clothing. The radio announcement warned women once again to wear the burqa and respect the law or "face punishment". Sources state that punishment of the 225 women consisted of being lashed on the back and legs.
On at least one occasion, such punishments have taken the form of bodily mutilation. A woman in the Khayr-Khana area of Kabul in October 1996 was reported as having the end of her thumb cut off by the Taliban. This ‘punishment’ was apparently meted out because the woman was caught wearing nail polish.
Women and girls have continued to be barred from attending schools and universities in Taliban controlled areas. Taliban representatives have argued that there are not sufficient funds to provide for girls’ education.
.. Taliban restrictions imposed on women deny them some of their most basic and fundamental human rights, including the right to freedom of association, freedom of expression and employment. Similar restrictions imposed by any other group would equally amount to a violation of these rights;
.. Women in Taliban controlled areas of Afghanistan continue to be beaten by Taliban guards for defying orders about dress or for working outside their home;
Fatana Gailani, Head of Afghanistan women’s council spoke of the human rights problems currently facing women in Afghanistan: "Women have no power, no salary, and no jobs. The important thing is that women have lost their dignity during 23 years of war. Life is very difficult for them."
When asked about the peace process and the role of the international community, Fatana said: "The women don’t trust the leaders in power. The peace process needs to be strong. The international community should see how much has been destroyed in the country and ask who did it. The people need economic and political support and security.”
"The truth is that Afghan women are in danger of slipping into a sinkhole being created by ongoing violence and lack of funding," said Ritu Sharma, executive director of Women's Edge Coalition. Since the fall of the Taliban, violence has been the order of the day. Warlords have imposed Taliban-like restrictions on women. Those women who attempt to exercise their rights are subject to threats and intimidation, several activists said. Moreover, the Taliban itself is re-emerging and gaining strength.
Mrs. Sharma explained that they received reports that women and girls are being subjected to rapes, beatings, kidnappings and other forms of intimidation that are preventing them from going to their jobs or schools, registering to vote or just going about their daily business.
THE WASHINGTON TIMES, Sep.24, 2004
What can we do? There are many female Afghani refugees in Australian detention centers. They are the hardest working people and they are all round nice people. Do something for them before it is too late!
* * * * * * *
Violence is a destructive force of immense proportion, which influences our lives at all levels: individual, societal and global. Violence refers to crime, exclusion, war, persecution, terrorism, detention without trial, slavery, environmental damage, bullying, discrimination, harassment and victimization. It is often undertaken in the name of criminality, imperialism, nationalism, political expediency, power and control and may be legitimised by the prevailing norms, values, belief systems, cultures and structures of relationships in our societies. Violence affects our humanity and our environment.
Everywhere, including Australia of course, women continue to be victims of all sorts of violence. It is officially regarded and recorded that rape and domestic violence are significant causes of disability and death among women. A situation that certainly must NOT be allowed to continue. We are also well aware of the stark realities in our contemporary world that are considerably "slowing down" effective measures to stop this violence. For instance:
Many mothers are unwilling to access support services for fear that their children may be removed. And several of us here this afternoon know this only too well from first hand experience. Then the general public seems less concerned with the protection of children (and others) than the cost of petrol! We're told:
World-wide women's access to education has improved..... However, many women still remain illiterate, poor and very very disadvantaged. In fact, the majority of the world's 1.8 billion absolutely poor people are women and children.
There are increasing numbers of hard-working dedicated people challenging the neglect of human rights for women.... But, when a demand for human rights for women is made, how often have we heard the retort - "What are you trying to do - destroy the family?"
Women's participation in the paid labour force has grown.... On average, however, women receive between 30 and 40% less pay than men receive for the same work.
Legislation that promises equal opportunities for women and respect for their human rights has been adopted in many countries.... Nevertheless we know that thousands of women are being horrendously violated and their bodies used as 'battlefields' in the 'just wars', in refugee camps (supposedly safe havens for all the people in them) and in countries with militia/drug baron controlled governments.
So, whilst we know only too well that violence is a destructive force, we also know that non-violence is an empowering force which begins with dreams/visions and commitment to being truly non-violent. I think one of the best tributes we can pay to the women we honour is making changes to develop a culture of peace in our society, and I think language is a big factor in this, as well as a good and easy starting point. For example, why do we keep on using terms like - fighting causes; executing plans; bullet points on our documents; shooting for the stars - to mention a few. I really believe we all need to be much more aware of our language and I think this would be a huge step in the creation of a culture of non-violence.
I recently read this verse from a poem:
....Where the blade of our life is no longer sharpened
on the whetstone of another’s suffering,
and peace is no longer yours or mine or ours,
and benevolent funds are established everywhere
for impoverished armament manufacturers,
and the only thing that goes like a bullet is a hummingbird,
and the only bombs are in used-car yards,
and the only shells are on seashores....
That is not only my dream, but one of my deepest hopes.
* * * * * * *
I’ve only just finished university and during the years studying I was usually enrolled in a history subject every semester. The most moving history subject I was a part of was the one that looked at Nazi Germany. In the class we looked at Hitler’s life, Germany after world war one and the terrible tragedies that followed, with people suffering at the hands of an overpowering Government… so lots of men in uniforms with guns and hundreds of thousands of young boys being trained to wear those uniforms and carry those guns. We also sought to understand the horrific consequences of pseudo sciences – the misinterpretation of Charles Darwin’s studies about the survival of the fittest and the plight of Jews. But despite how in depth the subject attempted to be, guess what we ran out of time to overview in the lectures? Yes, as a class, which was mainly full of men and also taught by a man, we ran out of time to have an in depth look at the impact that an extremely violent time in history, had on women. Our lecturer, a brilliant lecturer, felt awful about this so we were given the option of choosing an essay topic about women to write-up in our exam. There were roughly twenty other essay topics to choose from and I still wonder today how many of those men actually chose the topic about women.
The life for women changed violently during Hitler’s Third Reich in areas such as sterilization and marriage, but there were other areas that women used for empowerment in Nazi Germany, like education, employment and political denunciation. Firstly, women in the Third Reich had to waver their political rights. Under Hitler it was deemed that women and men would live equally according to their “natural rights”. For women, this meant cleaning the house, providing healthy meals for their family, other domestic duties and childbearing. However, for many women, especially Jewish women, the 1933 Eugenic Laws affected who could have a child. Abortion was forced on to many women and most Jewish women were sterilized. Sterile women could not marry. For non-Jewish women, and also men, medical examinations were a pre-requisite for marriage. Hitler was trying to breed what he saw as a healthy and pure society.
An interesting factor to consider is the way married women used political denunciation to increase the surveillance and consciousness of domestic violence. The Government ordered that all types of political deviance be reported. Under the Third Reich the role of a housewife was to some extent praised so women were also advised to report bad behavior of their husbands that affected this role. Denunciation was a way to teach their husband’s a lesson. It was cheaper than paying for an expensive divorce and moreover a powerful way of getting their husbands in trouble with the Gestapo. In terms of education and employment, women were encouraged to undertake studies or work that suited their supposed natural rights. As a result many women specialised in the arts, medicine and pharmacy…some were fortunate enough to even attend university.
Finally, it’s important to see the overwhelming control, stress and death that the Third Reich inflicted on women…the violent measures of sterilization, the pathetic labeling of equality on a supposed natural basis and the forced abortions to hundreds of thousands of women. Yet, despite all this women used their intelligence, compassion and determination to care for their families, embrace education and employment and to some degree hold their husbands accountable for domestic violence. I only wish all my class mates from that history class could have been here today, to gain some insight into violence against women in Nazi Germany, but essentially how women used their circumstances to make it, not about violence against women, but women against violence.
* * * * * * *
My contribution is a poem by Ani di Franco, "Self Evident" (inspired by the World Trade Centre disaster) published in Susan Hawthorne and Bronwyn Winter (eds), September 11, 2001: Feminist Perspectives. North Melbourne: Spinifex Press.
us people are just poems
we're 90% metaphor
with a leanness of meaning
and once upon a time
we were moonshine
rushing down the throat of a giraffe
yes, rushing down the long hallway
despite what the p.a. announcement says
yes, rushing down the long stairs
with the whiskey of eternity
fermented and distilled
to eighteen minutes
burning down our throats
down the hall
down the stairs
in a buiding so tall
that it will always be there
yes, it's part of a pair
there on the bow of noah's ark
the most prestigious couple
just kickin back parked
against a perfectly blue sky
on a morning beatific
in its indian summer breeze
on the day that america
fell to its knees
after strutting around for a century
without saying thank you
and the shock was subsonic
and the smoke was deafening
between the setup and the punch line
cuz we were all on time for work that day
we all boarded that plane for to fly
and then while the fires were raging
we all climbed up on the windowsill
and then we all held hands
and jumped into the sky
and every borough looked up when it heard the first blast
and then every dumb action movie was summarily surpassed
and the exodus uptown by foot and motorcar
looking more like war than anything i've seen so far
so fierce and ingenious
a poetic specter so far gone
that every jackass newscaster was struck dumb and stumbling
over 'óh my god' and 'this is unbelievable' and on and on
and i'll tell you what, while we're at it
you can keep the pentagon
keep the propaganda
keep each and every tv
that's been trying to convince me
in some prep school punk's plan to perpetuate retribution
even as the blue toxic smoke of our lesson in retribution
is still hanging in the air
and there's ash on our shoes
and there's ash in our hair
and there's a fine silt on every mantle
from hell's kitchen to brooklyn
and the streets are full of stories
sudden twists and near misses
and soon every open bar is crammed to the rafters
with tales of narrowly averted disasters
and the whiskey is flowin
like never before
as all over the country
folks just shake their heads
so here's a toast to all the folks who live in palestine
here's a toast to the folks living on the pine ridge reservation
under the stone cold gaze of mt. rushmore
here's a toast to all the folks on death row right now
awaiting the executioner's guillotine
who are shackled there with dread and can only escape into their heads
to find peace in the form of a dream
here's to our last drink of fossil fuels
let us vow to get off this sauce.
* * * * * * *
As we remember these women who were gunned down and killed so viciously fifteen years ago today, we have names to identify them with and that gives us the opportunity to honour and show our respects to them in a way that recognises them as individuals.
As we remember these Montreal women today let us also remember all the other women around the world who are victims of male violence. For the fate of many of these other women is not otherwise remembered and most often not even acknowledged as a statistic in the shameful reality which is today’s world.
Violence perpetrated against women around the world takes the lives of all too many, like these young women of Montreal, before they have had a chance to live. Right now for instance, we hear of the ‘feminisation of the AIDS epidemic’ as breaking news among the world’s headlines and as claiming the lives of women powerless to protect themselves and all too often leaving young children with no one to care for them. Again most often talked about as a faceless fact and, tragically, a fact destined to fade fast in our memory as the next news item grabs for our attention. As a society we seem to be so easily immunised to the violence all around us, except if something of it touches our lives more personally.
But we must not let ourselves be immunised to the fact that the face of the misery that flows on from the violence all round us and in the world beyond is so painfully and obviously female because, let's face it, being the victim of violence, seems to have been feminised forever.
Reflecting on the horror of the Montreal massacre we could be reminded too that it happened at a time at the end of the eighties when the ‘feminisation of poverty’ was being identified as a reality in our society. Not that that reality was some new phenomenon. Indeed not, because systemic violence which is the product of patriarchal capitalism is an endemic malevolence, has so far defied all efforts of feminist inspired activism to enable women equity of access to the wealth of our oh, so economically rational society.
So many forms of violence have a female face, and overwhelmingly, those responsible, a male face. It is difficult not to despair that so little has changed for women despite our struggles against poverty and violence. Difficult not to be exhausted as well as to despair when confronted by the juggernaut which is the globalised exploitation of women.
That’s why it is so important to be here like this today because on such occasions we remind ourselves that we have to maintain the rage doing what we can, in the time we have with what we’ve got. Remind ourselves that we must never, ever give up.
* * * * * * *
THE SPEECHES CONTINUE...
15 years after the Montreal Massacre, we still weep, we still rage, we still rail against male violence. And we must, because violence and oppression continue unabated.
15 years ago today, a man decided to kill women he didn’t know, because they were women. We were shocked at the enormity of this tragedy. We are still shocked by it, but we now see its parallels in situations across the world.
15 years ago, we didn’t talk of globalisation, trafficking in women, religious fundamentalisms, global terrorism. These are new oppressions (or rather, old oppressions reconstructed and renewed) and we must now focus on them. They all allocate woman the role of the victim, the oppressed, the violated – whether she is having her means of food production stolen by multi-national companies, trafficked for sex or labour in and out of her own country, controlled through repressive standards of dress and behaviour or the victim of profane, insane male wars.
At times it feels like the world cannot survive such madness and depravity. And, if you read the papers, listen to the news, you may be forgiven for thinking that the gains women made in the 70’s, 80’s and 90’s were an illusion – all in our minds. When the big issues – war, peace, poverty, the environment, etc – are discussed, debated, decided, where are the women? We have been left out, rendered almost invisible, almost silent.
But saving the world is worth an effort, so, sisters, we will not be left out, ignored, dismissed. The struggle continues – indeed it gains a greater urgency and requires a broader focus.
So, what do we do? We speak out! We refuse to be denied.
.. we must continue to insist that violence is unacceptable – both on a global scale and in our homes;
.. we must demand that men be held accountable for their actions; and
.. we must envision a world without violence – we must create it in our minds.
Right now, we say violence against women must stop – it is a clear imperative. We demand this of men, in the name of justice, in the interests of human survival, for the sake of the future of the world.
* * * * * * *
Men’s violence against women comes in many different forms. Very often the violence perpetrated my men against women is covert and oppressive. The types of emotional violence women are often subjected to by male partners is perhaps the most insidious because it is hard recognise and little talked about.
As women we often turn to each other for advice and guidance, to learn what to look out for in a relationship and to protect each other from men’s violence. I have had many conversations with my women friends about what we would not tolerate in a relationship (even though that is easier said then done). Many times I have heard it said: “If he ever hit me I’d leave”.
I have never heard it said: “If he isolated me from my friends I’d leave”. I have never heard it said: “If he made me feel like I was doing something wrong when I went to visit my mum I’d leave him in a second”. This form of violence isolates women from their friends and family and can lead to forms of physical violence once a women is isolated enough that she feels she has no one to turn to.
Unfortunately, we tend not to talk about these more covert forms of violence. Not only is any form of violence hard to talk about but emotional violence is hard to describe other than in how it makes you feel. It seems when you try to describe the kind of behaviour that is used it sometimes does not sound real or significant. As such many women are left feeling lonely, isolated and sometimes questioning their own sanity.
As women on the outside you often feel powerless to do anything or offer support. I have a friend in a relationship that is oppressive and violent in the covert kind of way. I have seen her change from a happy confident woman who appeared afraid of no one, to a woman who does not leave the house except to go to work, a woman who has been isolated from her friends and family.
The incident when it dawned on me what might be going on involved a simple invitation for coffee. She wanted to come out but said no because she was not sure what ‘he’ would think. He was at the football with his male friends and would not be home till late.
I remember being shocked by this. He was not home and would not be home for hours and yet she felt she could not leave the house without his permission. He was free to go and have fun, do as he pleases and yet she felt she needed permission to have coffee with a couple of friends. We did convince her to come but she was uncomfortable the whole time. We should never feel guilty for catching up with friends.
The part I find hardest is that when we try to reach out to her he drives her further away from us. I have not seen her in a long time as he has isolated her and made her distrust her own friends through his lies and emotional violence.
* * * * * * *
Chantal read two poems written by the late Grace Mera Molisa: "Delightful Acquiescence" and "Village Women".
Grace was a prominent figure in her country, Vanuatu in the South Pacific, until her death in January 2002. She was an outspoken feminist activist. Her activism took many forms, from working with NGOs to high profile Government positions such as the Director of the office of Status of Women. One of the ways she chose to speak against oppression and violence against women was through poetry. Grace's poetry is full of warmth, love and respect for her sisters. It talks about the worth and power of women. At the same time, it speaks against oppression and violence against women and the way it can be covert in post colonial states.
* * * * * * *
In my speech, I'd like to identify some of the feelings that we go through, both male and female -
Women feel FEAR - the fear of breaking up families; the fear of stepping out alone; the fear that they won't be able to do it; the fear that everyone will be talking about it.
Women feel DOMINATED - in every aspect of your life; where to go, who to see, what to do; taking up all your time; standing over you - or else!!
Women feel SHAME - the relationship didn't work out; to go out in public with a smashed-up face. (Don't the men feel any shame?)
Women feel ISOLATION - from family and friends; social life; the attitude of "you stay home while I socialise".
Women feel DEPRESSION - she has lack of self-esteem; can get clingy "don't leave me"; "I don't want to live"; won't do anything for themselves.
All of these lead to DEPENDENCE on the man. He is the breadwinner, money for essentials, rent, etc. (There is respect from the community more so if you are married).
Why? The men who live by this attitude want their women to be following, not leaders. They probably don't know how to communicate and get frustrated by it. I believe that's how violence can escalate. But, as women, we need to take the POWER back from them! Be OPTIMISTIC. Know that you are WORTHY and EQUAL to everyone. And most of all RESPECT yourself.P ower
* * * * * * *
Today, as we commemorate the 14 victims of violence which happened in December 1989, I am grateful and honoured to be part of this supportive group by sharing my experience and to give hope for learning more about how to put an end to violence. Domestic violence is a pervasive social issue that has a great impact upon the health of women in our society.
I would like to see people who suffer domestic violence to shift from a victim person to a survival perspective. And by surviving, people become stronger through their experience and with that survival comes dignity and self respect. Speaking as a mother who has experienced a difficult journey in life and who has survived, it is possible to make life better and make the world a better place.
What has happened in the past we can't change - what has been done is done - it's time to move on. I'm also thinking of what my children would say in 10 years time if I am still in that dangerous situation of fear and shame. The great silence must end and people can help you only if you start to speak up. Moreover, by breaking the silence it can stop violence. We are all only responsible for our own actions.
I personally believed that women can benefit from each other's life experiences and achievements by encouraging and empowering each other to get more autonomy in our lives. Furthermore, we as women must continue to stand together to stamp out violence. Women must fight for their rights all over the world. No matter where we come from there are more rights to be achieved and obligations to share our knowledge and to bring out our contribution for a better world.
I'd like to share with you this poem taken from Breaking Free from Partner Abuse. This poem has a great impact in my life. It's a reflection of when I was in that state of fear. While I read this poem, think about those thousands of women and children who are in similar situation. The title is: LOSS.
I CAN'T THINK ANYMORE ....... I USED TO BE ABLE TO THINK.
I CAN'T CRY ANYMORE ....... I USED TO BE ABLE TO CRY.
I FEEL EMPTY ALL THE TIME ....... I USED TO FEEL FILLED UP.
I'M TIRED ALL THE TIME ....... I USED TO HAVE ENERGY TO SPARE.
I THINK EVERYTHING IS ALL MY FAULT ....... I USED TO KNOW THAT IT WASN'T.
I DON'T FEEL THINGS ANYMORE ....... I USED TO FEEL SHOCKED.
I WON'T TELL MYSELF WHAT I'M FEELING ....... I USED TO SHARE MY FEELINGS WITH FRIENDS.
I'M A STRANGER TO MYSELF ....... I'VE LOST ME.
* * * * * * *
It is quite fitting that we are gathered in these gardens, which are situated just across the road from the Magistrate's Court. Among others things this court has the responsibility of providing safety and protection for women and children from violence. However this responsibility is not taken seriously by many in the legal system. Quite simply this means that women and children are not safe from men’s violence. With all the supposed gains that society has made, somehow this one got left off the list.
Everyday many women from all different cultures, backgrounds and classes try to access the court for safety. You would think that experience would be taken seriously as for many women going to court is a last resort. But what happens is that women are blamed and ridiculed. Women are accused of using a protection order so to make it difficult for the perpetrator to see his children. This notion is ridiculous as most women do want their children to see their father anyway. Women are then accused of using a protection order to advance their case in the Family Court. If only this was true! For women who have been born overseas and married an Australian man, hoping for a better life, they are accused of using a protection order to help their case with Immigration. Women are accused of provoking men or being just as bad as them. Women are blamed for staying. Blamed for leaving. Blamed for not giving him more chances, blamed for going back. As a worker, it is very difficult listening to the court validate the lies, excuses and violence of men.
The court says it is impartial and unbiased. During two law subjects at uni I was told how the court was impartial and unbiased. Despite these reassurances, in almost every interaction with women trying to escape domestic violence the court demonstrates its bias. These are the same attitudes that violent men use against women and the same attitudes that society has towards women. So for me there can be no other explanation except that the court system is biased and does discriminate against women particularly women in domestic violence. Women are not supported in their efforts to keep themselves and their children safe.
A glaring example of this occurred just a few months ago. Townsville’s rugby league team, the Cowboys, had made it to the semi finals and a lot of people were celebrating their success. So much so that the court registry was decorated in cowboys' colours with streamers and posters saying ‘go the cowboys’. How fantastic. Hooray for the Cowboys. They sure did get a lot of support. A few months before this, the DV Service made a request during Domestic and Family Violence Prevention Month to have a peaceful picnic on the grounds in front of the court. This request was not supported and the service was informed that the court did not want to seem biased towards victims of domestic violence. Well why not? This response seems incomprehensible. How could a court that has a legislative responsibility to victims of domestic violence not want to demonstrate their support? But is quite willing and able to support a football team in a sport that is inherently violent. Talk about male privilege.
So women, it is good that we are gathered here. Despite the sadness and the magnitude of all these issues, we are a committed group. We need to keep being committed. We need to keep supporting each other and all the other women who we meet along the way. Thank you.
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As we pay homage to the lives lost in the Montreal massacre, I reflect on a general experience of increased awareness of the choking subtleties of violence throughout all societies around the world that attempt to oppress all women and in turn diminish all human life.
I will share a collection of random thoughts over recent weeks: deliberately UNCONSTRUCTED as the actual construction, delivery and acceptance or rejection of words can be experienced or used as a form of violence in our lives…
I recall witnessing a group of 10 young women and just 2 young men receiving academic awards at a high school graduation awards night. Yet our parliaments at all levels of government are grossly under represented by women and dominated by men.
I observe an all-female committee elected to a community school association -zero males; yet in 10 years, traditional service clubs will be dominated by men; women will be doing the work through struggling community associations. We all know that women are the principal carers, nurturers and helpers in our society.
I listen to close women friends sharing their struggles with health in their mid years, defying the myth that the 40s-60s are the prime of life. Prime of WHOSE life I ask as stories unravel everyday from women who recount incidences of rape, torture, inability to access health care or medicare or preventative health care due to their visa status in Australia, the violent poverty and the pressures of putting the needs of others first.
I wonder about the experiences of our sisters on Palm Island as they try to bring calm yet piercing insight into the oppressive acts of men and attempt to subvert a system designed to negate the Indigenous existence.
I grieve for a sister who has uprooted herself from family, employment, friends…isolating herself to follow a man whose commitment is to himself and his interests. I am haunted by the fear that I may lose another sister to the whims of a man.
I am currently acutely aware of the violent demands that economic rationalism makes on community organisations –the majority being dominated by women workers who are attempting to make practical the principles of social justice.
The pressure, frustrations and awareness of sharp violent edges to our world seem to be increasing in their intensity ...in the language I hear, the language of service agreement and contracts that I read as part of work and the pressures and headaches I experience in my attempts to circumvent that language and try to craft meaning, peace, justice, minute by minute in interaction with those around me.
Those fourteen women of Montreal serve to remind me to keep up the effort. I am truly glad to be here and to share your strength and the afternoon with you.
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