Left Wing Ladies Still Flying High

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In 1999, the United Nations General Assembly declared November 25 the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women (IDEVAW) and the White Ribbon has become the symbol for the day.

The White Ribbon Campaign in Australia is led by more than 1000 White Ribbon Ambassadors. These men are leaders in their careers, sporting code or communities and actively support the White Ribbon Campaign, and encourage other men and boys to become aware and engage in the campaign.

Women also support and expand the campaign through their networks, workplaces and community organisations as White Ribbon Champions, but not all women are happy with the high profile and amount of money channelled into this foundation.

Respect For White Ribbon Day’s Aims, But…

In the Herald Sun online, journalist Nina Funnell gave  “10 reasons why I will ignore White Ribbon day” and although I don’t usually read the Herald Sun, her article came up when I Googled ‘White Ribbon.’ One of her points resonated:

” Since its inception White Ribbon has happily leant on the work done by decades of women’s organisations and in private it still attempts to foster positive relationships with feminist organisations.

But in public, it’s a different story. As Clementine Ford writes the White Ribbon Foundation has done this “in order to align itself with a more corporate, mainstream agenda that ignores the hard work done by underfunded women’s health services across the country”.

Look White Ribbon, I get it. You’re trying to impress your corporate dude-bros. All that corporate slick and polish is important to you and feminist organisations don’t really meld with that image you’re going for.

But just don’t expect us damsels to passively sit by and cop this crap.”

We All Stand On The Shoulders of Those Who Came Before…

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Left-Wing Ladies
The Union of Australian Women in Victoria, 1950 – 2012 (2nd edition)
2nd Edition Published 2012 by UAW  Ross House, Flinders Lane, Melbourne

This book sheds light on the policies and practices of Australian governments, political parties, trade unions, security and intelligence organisations, the Churches and the women’s movement. It has relevance for anyone interested in the politics of the Left, women’s issues and feminism, the peace movement – and how to organise at a grassroots level.

 

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Anna Burke MP and Anne Sgro 2014

 

Last year, the Union of Australian Women was 65 years old.  President Anne Sgro visited the Southern Branch in Mordialloc, to revisit UAW history by referencing the above book and reminding us why it is important we remain resolute in the fight for social justice.

To paraphrase Paul Keating, we continue to be ordinary women achieving extraordinary things!

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Anne reminded us  we need to celebrate and acknowledge our aims of peace, social justice, gender equity and a fair go for women. Aims still as relevant today, if not more so, than when the foundation members began the organisation.

The fight to redress and reduce family violence very much a case in point!

 

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In 1950, communities were recovering from WW2. Women needed equal pay and better housing. Change needed – and women knew what they wanted.

Those women would be amazed we still only earn 82% of the male wage!

The equal pay campaign – equal pay for work of equal value still to be won. Some occupations like teachers better placed than others, but areas considered traditionally women’s work still lacks value. A car park attendant can earn more than a childcare worker. Pay equity still a necessity, despite huge advances basic demands still to be achieved.

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Zelda Soprano

 

The founding women were from the Communist Party, the ALP and Christians from churches working for peace and social justice. The first UAW President, Aileen Dickie, a devout Christian, courageous and tenacious working for change.

Ordinary women with progressive values looking at ways to make change happen. They organised and attended international conferences, forums and community meetings. They challenged a conservative Australia with those in power pushing the message women must go back to the kitchen, housework and home. John Howard’s white picket fence.

Many of the women who initiated radical change came from the southern area – the south-eastern suburbs: Betty Olle, Molly Hadfield, Dot Young, Nola Barber, Eileen Cappocci…

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Molly Hadfield and Edith Morgan featured in the SMH during the 1998 waterfront dispute

 

Over 15-20 years these women trail blazed, fundraised, and lobbied – councils, state and federal governments, corporations and individuals. They understood practicalities and can take the credit for establishing 13 kindergartens, several libraries, countless bus routes, and the election of female councillors and mayors.

Zelda Soprano chained herself to railings, Yvonne Smith and Betty Olle also – drawing attention to UAW demands and ideals. Yvonne Smith achieved remarkable advances in the health field by setting up the DES Society for women affected by the morning sickness pill (Diethylstilbestrol), which led to their children being born ill.

The Nothing on A Plate exhibition illustrates what some in sensible shoes, hats and sturdy constitution can do!  The well-known tram ride, where the activists paid 75% of the fare garnered great publicity, getting the population onside for the push for equal pay.

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The campaigns to expose how drinking in Women’s Lounges in hotels cost more and for women to be allowed to drink where they wanted saw a lot of women chaining themselves to bar stools. It was about the principle of equal access and cost.

The equal pay campaign usually carried out at demonstrations with placards, hiccupped during the Vietnam  War years because of a ban on placards. However,  innovative UAW activists put slogans on aprons and walked single file or in pairs on the pavement – just not in bunches!

The Kennett years saw an expansion of these crocodile marches – making a fuss in small groups: single file, aprons plus a megaphone, stopping in a key area so that 20 activists looked and sounded more like 100!

The Grandmothers Against Detention have adopted similar tactics to ensure they take over the footpath. Aprons in the 60s, placards in the 90s, and direct action still today as UAW activists use their voices to make a difference.

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The UAW wrote submissions for the Arbitration Commission on behalf of women workers in the sweatshop industry, lobbied for affordable, decent, public housing in the post-war era.

It seems like déjà vu with a lot of these issues, but passion hasn’t lessened. Methods of action and of organising have changed. The UAW has kept up with digital technology and social media, recognising young women activists operate differently today.

However, the UAW are effective at putting in submissions and had their say at the Royal Commission into Family Violence.

The UAW has always opposed family violence even although in the 50s and 60s no one talked about it.

They established friendships and relationships with Women’s Liberation in Victoria and supported the movement setting up Women’s Refuges in the 70s. Anne Summers piece in the book, Fury: Women Write About Sex, Power and Violence edited by Samantha Trenoweth explains the setting up of Elsie, the first women’s refuge in Sydney and is a sobering read.

The UAW is proud of the long-standing campaign to free Heather Osland, who spent 14 and 1/2 years in gaol for the murder of her violent husband when it was her son who actually committed the killing.

Anne reflected on how Dot Young spoke at a UAW forum and said, ‘when I was 19 and had a small baby, I shot my father.’  Dot’s father had been a violent abusive drunk and she was protecting her mother, herself and her baby.  

Family violence does not only affect women but the majority of perpetrators are male. Women suffer at the hands of abusive men with on average 2 women a week killed in Australia! 

 

 

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We could do with a sign like this here! 

 

The opportunity presented by the Royal Commission must not be wasted. If these deaths were attributed to terrorism there’d be a public outcry for action; it would be classified as urgent. Ex-police commissioners, Christine Nixon and Simon Overland introduced some good initiatives and Ken Lay has continued their work but so much more needs to be done.

What is wrong with our society that this violence against women and children continues? Not only men must soul search and change.

We need gender equity, society must value women and the work they do, their nurturing and caring roles as well as other contributions. Men are still seen as the breadwinner, blokes considered more important therefore disparity continues.

Men wouldn’t punch their workmates and get away with it, yet they are violent at home.

When Germaine Greer wrote the groundbreaking Female Eunuch in 1970 she said, we don’t want what blokes want, for us the gender equity recognition is about something different.

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Maybe we need to try different approaches to deal with violent men. In Glasgow, they are immediately taken into custody for 24 hours, and there are programs in schools to change attitudes and behaviour. Maybe we should look at making men responsible with compulsory stints in prison.

We have to continue to look at the feminist dream of the 70s and work to create a fairer and more just society.

Wear a white ribbon on November 25, but instead of buying merchandise donate the money instead to an organisation on the front line of family violence because they definitely need it! Here are just a few…

Domestic Violence Victoria

WESNET The Women’s Services Network

Safe Steps (formerly Women’s Domestic Violence Crisis Service of Victoria)

Centre Against Sexual Assault (CASA) Forum

Women’s Health in the South East

WAYSS Ltd

No To Violence 

 

Respect and Gender Equity To End Family Violence

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Earlier this year, Janice Munt, the former Member for Mordialloc, and now an advisor to the Hon Fiona Richardson MP, Minister for Women and the Minister for Prevention of Family Violence, addressed the Southern Branch of the Union of Australian Women meeting at Mordialloc Neighbourhood House.

Although only June, a cold snap in mercurial Melbourne broke records. Winter already taking its toll on members’ health, but the chilly weather suited the topic as we gathered to hear a sobering, informative speech about family violence and what the current State Government is doing about this tragedy.

Janice’s introduction forthright, “this will not be a light and fluffy speech – rather a plethora of facts and information, particularly newly released statistics from police.”

She rightly referred to family violence as the “most pressing, urgent and pervasive scourge” our community faces. We are well beyond crisis point, “the system having failed too many women, too many children, too many families.” 

Fortunately, since the Andrews Government announced the Royal Commission into Family Violence, the Minister and her team have been working like women possessed consulting and researching people and groups touched by family violence. The consultation includes the large chain of public authorities impacted by family violence: hospitals, courts, schools, and all associated departments.

Janice shared the following shocking statistics from the Victorian Police:

  • 68,134 family violence incidents attended by Victorian Police in 2014
  • Children were present at 34% of family violence incidents attended police in 2013-4
  • Family violence incidents have increased by 8% between 2013 and 2014.
  • Since 2010, family violence incidents have increased by 72%
  • In 2014,  29 family violence incident-related homicides recorded in Victoria.
  • In 2013-4, family violence incidents represented 41.7% of all crimes against the person offences in Victoria.
  • Intimate partner violence is the leading contributor to death and disability and ill health for Victorian women aged between 15 and 44 years.
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced emotional abuse by a partner since the age of 15 (25% of women compared to 14% of men).

Statistics for the City of Kingston (the local refuge for this area being the largest in Victoria) are just as frightening with the following recorded Family Violence offences:

2011:     865
2012:     1025
2013:     1229
2014:     1331
2015:     1297

The National Community Attitudes Survey of 2013 indicated that attitudes that justify, excuse and minimise violence against women persist in a significant proportion of our community.

  • Nearly 1 in 5 people believe a woman is partly responsible if she is sexually assaulted while drunk or affected by drugs
  • More than 1 in 5 think the violence is excused if the perpetrator later regrets it
  • Up to 1 in 5 believe there are circumstances where women bear some responsibility for the violence
  • Nearly 8 in 10 agree it’s hard to understand why women stay in a violent relationship

The same survey measured community attitudes towards gender equality:

  • Up to 1 in 4 believe women prefer a man to be in charge of a relationship
  • Up to 1 in 4 consider men make better political leaders than women
  • Up to 28% of Australians endorse attitudes supportive of male dominance of decision-making in relationships, a dynamic identified as a risk factor for violence against women and children

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In 2009, the annual cost to Victoria’s economy of violence against women and children was estimated at $3.4 billion.(An estimate based on the National cost of $13.6 billion!) This cost includes all the associated services: police, courts, hospitals, refuges, counselling, relocation, housing, interrupted employment and schooling.

In Australia, on average women suffer a 19% pay gap and as we heard from Robyn Dale at a previous meeting, this is rising.

Robyn was the Director of the Union Research Centre on Organisation and Technology. (URCOT, Participation, Research, Innovation.) In 2004-5, URCOT’s research examined the extent and causes of gender pay inequity in Victoria and identified some options for addressing the continuing pay differential between men and women.

Robyn concluded that Australia still has one of the most sex-segregated workplaces, with gender discrimination built into their DNA.  Before Workchoices, it was estimated it will take 73 years to close the gender gap and there have been no real gains since Workchoices. Women’s pay has stagnated.

Not surprisingly one of the main supporters of Workchoices was our recently deposed Prime Minister, Tony Abbott whose attitude to women was often questioned by the media:

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Finances are commonly used to exert dependence; therefore, women risk and fear homelessness and destitution if they leave the family home.

The National personal Safety Survey of 2012 indicated:

  • 1 in 3 (34%) of Australian women have experienced physical violence
  • 1 in 5 (19%) Australian women have experienced sexual violence
  • 403,200 women (aged over 18 years) experienced physical violence in the last 12 months
  • 102,400 women (aged over 18 years) experienced sexual violence in the last 12 months.
  • 1 in 4 Australian women had experienced emotional abuse by a current or former partner
  • A woman is killed in Australia almost every week by a partner or ex-partner.

 Sadly, these statistics have not improved in 2015!

In 2013-14, Victorian women comprised over half (52.9%) of all victims of crimes against the person, 79.2% of sex (non-rape) offence victims and 90% of rape victims.

Female victims of crime against the person increased by 4% in 2013-14, whereas male victims decreased by 1.5% in the same period.

The increase in crimes against the person (females) since 2012-13 includes:

  • 6.8% increase in homicide
  • 3.4% increase in sexual assaults (non-rape)
  • 7.9% increase in rape
  • 4.2% increase in assaults
  • Women are more likely than men to have experienced partner violence: 16.9% cf 4.5% men

The shocking statistic that an estimated 67% of women have NOT been in contact with the police after their most recent incident of physical assault by a male should alarm us all.

Plus the horrific statistic that 27% of women who present to the Royal Women’s Hospital are currently being abused by their partner, many for the first time while they are pregnant. Women are particularly vulnerable when they are pregnant!

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A recognition that gender inequality is the leading cause of violence against women – the evidence base developed by the Victorian Health Promotion in 2007 and supported by the World Health Organisation, underpins approaches to violence prevention by governments and agencies in Victoria and nationally.

Janice dispelled some of the myths and misunderstandings about family violence by explaining:

  • It is women and children who bear the heaviest burden and it is men who are overwhelmingly the perpetrators. Women are usually the victims, many of the statistics for men come from same-sex relationships. Pets are at risk too!
  • Gender inequality and poor gender stereotypes are the fundamental drivers of family violence. Countries (particularly Scandinavia and Northern Europe) with greater equality have fewer rates of family violence.
  • Victims don’t leave because they are fearful of the lives of themselves and their children. Statistically they are at the most risk when they leave a relationship.
  • We need to ask why the perpetrator is not held to account, what will be done to stop causing the harm, and if behaviour doesn’t change then, he should leave.
  • Family violence thrives under a cloud of shame and secrecy – it needs a bright light like the spotlight being shone on the RC church and its abuse of children. We must believe, not blame the victim!
  • The tragic death of a woman at the hands of her partner needs to treated in the same way as the tragic death at the hands of a stranger – it is murder.
  • Our societal attitudes towards women and children and our cultural attitudes towards violence contribute to our national shame. Our culture must change, not just the laws.

We all have a role – not just those who suffer or have suffered.

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The Andrews Government has put in place the Royal Commission to conduct a root and branch examination of our system. There is $40 million, set aside to hear from victims and service providers and a commitment to implement all recommendations. Already hundreds of people and organisations have put in submissions and Janice encouraged those present to do so or spread the word to others.

Extra emergency funding has been made available for duty lawyers, children’s counsellors, crisis accommodation and transport, service providers, crisis lines and support agencies. A Family Violence Index has been announced working like the Consumer Price Index.

All indicators for examination: police reports, hospital admission reports, impact on children from education reports, data about homelessness, court costs, working days lost, police referrals to family violence services, and the variation of community attitudes to family violence.

A baseline established of the real cost to the Victorian economy and ministers can go to Treasury and get funding for the relevant programmes.

The cause of family violence is a bad attitude towards women and support of gender inequality. When males treat females as inferior, or limit their capacity to live their lives the way they choose, it encourages some men to bully, using physical power to dominate and control.

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There is hope the royal commission will encourage the resourcing of a  world class prevention system in Victoria to stop family violence.

  • There’s been an 82% increase in family violence since 2010, but the data based on crime statistics offers an incomplete picture
  • High-risk groups(Aboriginal, rural, CALD) are not receiving the necessary services
  • The cost nationally anticipated to be $15.6 billion by 2021
  • Family violence a factor in 50% of substantiated child protection cases
  • Family violence connected to 35% of homelessness services
  • Family violence is 40% of Victoria Police’s work in crimes against a person
  • 284% increase in intervention order breach cases in courts over three years.

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Already these ten gaps identified:

  1. Poor data collection of the scale and breadth of the problem
  2. Lack of consistent and sufficiently resourced prevention frameworks and programs
  3. Limited understanding of the short and long-term impact on children and youth
  4. Poorly resourced and underinvestment in responses as demand for services grows
  5. Inconsistent and poorly tailored responses for high-risk groups and specific cohorts, including failure to be culturally responsive
  6. Weak legal consequences failing to hold perpetrators to account
  7. An inaccessible and complex justice system; victims don’t always feel safe
  8. Lack of integrated response model; insufficiently robust governance structures
  9. Barriers to sharing information
  10. Challenges to working with the Commonwealth Government

The Federal Government spent $30 million on an advertising campaign and wanted half of that from Victoria, but the Andrews Government’s Royal Commission will ultimately be of more benefit.

The needs are:

  • Talking about issues and solutions and changing attitudes
  • Integrated services, and better training for those responding, effective governance making systematic use of data to support decision making, sharing information to support early intervention, crisis response and perpetrator accountability
  • A one-stop “shop” for victims with access to multi-disciplinary professionals and services – strengthening and rolling out conventional risk assessment tools – an entire workforce in family violence system trained to identify and manage risk in a similar ways
  • Reform of court system so victim and perpetrator don’t use same door, same waiting area – innovative justice actively avoiding the re-traumatisation of victims
  • Affordable housing, with public and private, strategies for emergency accommodation. Victims must be able to leave violent situations quickly. Opportunities to use legislation to ensure third party organisations overlay their hardship criteria and policies with a family violence lens
  • Make perpetrators more visible and accountable, have early intervention strategies that converge policing, health and legal services for perpetrators. Strengthen and follow-up compliance with orders
  • Shine a light on bureaucrats, professionals must lay cards on the table and ensure responses are not public servants covering their arse
  • A whole new approach, not just more money and resources – a whole of government family violence education agenda. An integrated community care model with high-quality specialist family violence expertise
  • Good decent men have to speak up and challenge the misbehaviour and bad attitudes of other men in their circle – community education program for prevention – schools, workplaces, health centres, community sports centres
  • Acknowledgement of the spectrum of disrespect for women and that discriminatory societies breed family violence

No more defending the status quo!

The Government’s aware this is not working and will refuse to shy away from the problem – a bright light will be shone, and solutions found. The Royal Commission’s task to provide practical recommendations to overcome failures in the system.

  • Gaps addressed and opportunities to improve seized
  • Currently, the focus is on response to victims, not enough on holding perpetrators accountable and stopping them repeating violence
  • Focus now on the legal lens – but the impact is often to compound pain, trauma and fear
  • Currently, not using technology to its fullest capacity (warning systems, like mobile phone Apps etc.)
  • More needs to be done to free victims financially and lessen the impact of bureaucracy
  • Delivery of a tailored response
  • Currently, victims bearing the burden of complex system – ease of navigation must be improved
  • Need to mobilise the many loving, decent men to change collective behaviour
  • Educate men in ways to stop the violence
  • Gender equality at the heart of family violence solutions
  • There must be a change in behaviour and attitude – crude, sexist remarks against women one end of the spectrum, family violence at the other
  • International evidence shows that societies that have inequality built into their laws and cultural norms will have higher levels of violence against women and children.

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Janice affirmed that it is the job of government to help people understand the connection between gender inequality and family violence.

She asked the meeting to reflect on all those lost and the thousands of women living in fear in their own homes.

Daniel Valerio’s bruised, sad, little face gave us mandatory reporting in Victoria. Rose Batty gave family violence a voice. We must now examine our broken system and put forward practical measures to end the violence.”

The meeting was stunned by many of the statistics Janice shared and questions and discussion followed. This is an issue the Union of Australian Women has consistently raised and thought about. Members praised the Andrews Government for the decision to have a royal commission and voiced optimism that at last we may see the current broken system, fixed.

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The personal is political – celebrating International Women’s Day 2015 and the right to be me!

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Yesterday, I marched in the city with my daughter, Anne and a few hundred others. We were a small, eclectic and vocal crowd who patiently listened to several speeches while trying to avoid the burning rays of a sunny Melbourne Sunday. I observed and chatted to several fellow marchers and reflected on my early involvement in the women’s movement, the issues that were in the forefront then in the 1970s and those still on the agenda today. It was lovely to share the afternoon with my daughter and know that both my girls are active feminists, not only caring about gender equality, but prepared to act and speak out, loud and proud when the occasion demands.

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The term ‘International Women’s Day’ is important because although many western women in the ‘first’ world appear to be doing very well thank you, there are millions of girls and women in other countries we refer to as ‘third’ world, who are born into slavery, denied education, beaten, raped, and basically controlled, manipulated and abused from the minute they are born till the day they die.

Yesterday, former Prime Minister, Julia Gillard mentioned the denial of education to 31 million girls as an example. In a previous post I’ve highlighted the epidemic proportions of family violence and its impact on women and children. I’ve also written about another shameful scourge –  the suffering of women and children in detention, their only ‘crime’ seeking asylum in Australia thinking we are a haven from oppression.

There were several signs pointing out that we still have a long way to go even in Australia if we want true gender equality. There are always politicians prepared to deny what was fought for: abortion has been decriminalised in Victoria for several years – let’s hope it remains a woman’s right to control her body. We are still struggling for equal pay for equal work, and for occupations seen as ‘mainly female’ to be as highly regarded and paid as well as those occupations deemed traditionally for males.

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A woman who influenced me greatly in the 70s was Peggy Seeger and her rendition of  Gonna be An Engineer clever poetry (read the transcript), like most memorable songs. I was fortunate to meet Peggy and Ewan MacColl when they were brought out to Australia to tour by the AMWU in 1976, when John Halfpenny was Victorian Secretary and still cherish the double cassette produced on their tour. I remember mercurial Melbourne  played its part that night too with a summer storm. The room at Trades Hall steamed as we dried out, but our enthusiasm wasn’t dampened. To the patter of heavy rain,  we stamped our feet, clapped and roared to the folk duo’s amazing repertoire. A wonderful memory of the joyous feeling to be among like-minded thinkers!

When I went to university in Canberra in 1971 I joined Women’s Liberation. We met at Elizabeth Reid‘s house. This amazing woman became Prime Minister Gough Whitlam’s advisor when the Labor Government was elected in 1972. A watershed appointment and one many people didn’t like. It was the beginning of women being appointed to positions of power – and so began the culture of vilification of these same women.  Australia’s ‘tall poppy syndrome‘ ensures the media still goes into a frenzy when it denigrates women in power. (eg. the treatment of our first female Prime Minister,  Julia Gillard)

It would take decades before the media could handle issues concerning women with maturity, about the same time it took for Reid’s significance to sink in.

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Liz and my bosom buddy for much of my time at university, author Drusilla Modjeska, were great influences on my philosophical and intellectual development. Thy gave me courage,  helped me find my voice and because of Drusilla, I began to believe I could be a writer – a dream and career still a work in progress!

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The early marches in Melbourne for International Women’s Day focused on equal pay for equal work and health issues such as abortion and contraception. A lot of young women were activists, and the 70s saw the inclusion of the Gay Liberation Movement too – of course Australia is still struggling with the idea of equal marriage rights for all. We were noisy and I can remember lots of chanting and singing. We rewrote the words to many traditional songs with our own flavour and enjoyed the dulcet tones of musicians like Judy Small, another influential woman I admire. Judy’s Mothers, Daughters, Wives, one of the best anti-war songs around, but also an amazing social commentary, as is my favourite one of Judy’s and so relevant now as we suffer the ‘war against terror’ scaremongering and demonisation of refugees – You Don’t Speak for Me. 

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my protest uniform

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I am still active in the Union of Australian Women and equality before the law, at work and in our education and health system is very much on our agenda. Many people may not know about the Human Rights Law Centre, established in 2006 with half a dozen lawyers who care about humanity. It is an NGO relying on private donations from philanthropic organisations, other law firms and private individuals with a small contribution from government. Their independence from government important because they work on making the government fulfil obligations under the various national and international laws.

There is an education component to their work as well as litigation, and they have publications plus a website with an amazing resources page. The copies of submissions under ‘Women’ include equal opportunity, decriminalization of abortion, family violence, and equal pay.

The Centre does a lot of work on refugee rights responding to government policies. They have also tackled Gay and Lesbian rights from the perspective of equality under the law. They do work for Amnesty International to improve Australia’s foreign policy. They monitor police powers and investigative techniques, keep abreast of the UN and other peak bodies and Australia’s compliance regarding international obligations and women’s rights, especially the right to be free from violence.

In September 2013, at a UAW Southern Branch meeting, Emily Christie, a human rights lawyer gave an eloquent and passionate rundown on her work, in discrimination law – particularly discrimination on the basis of disability, sex identity, and sexuality. Emily works for DLA Piper Australia, a global law firm, and is part of a pro bono team handling cases with a public interest aspect,  on behalf of people who may be too poor to go through normal legal channels. Emily’s work and experience covers a broad scope, she chose two areas to share with us:

  1. The story of Norrie who does not identify as male or female and the fact that under the law ‘she’ can’t be protected because there are no appropriate words to describe or protect someone of non-specific sex in current gender and identity laws.
  2. Changes in the law at national and international level that push boundaries and close gaps in women’s rights, particularly regarding abortion and domestic violence.

Norrie was born male in Scotland with gender dysphoria. Convinced to take ‘the cure’ of sexual reassignment surgery Norrie couldn’t identify as female either. Under Australian law after surgery a birth certificate can be changed, but you couldn’t choose to be intersex – or non- specific gender. Our society has definite gender boundaries. Norrie and others have basic problems like what toilet to use, who to marry and what to put on official forms – especially since so many insist on knowing your gender even if it should be irrelevant.

Norrie applied to have non specific on ‘her’ birth certificate, which the Registrar had no problem with, but that decision made the news and the Attorney General intervened to insist male or female must be stated. Norrie took the decision to VCAT. Sex is not defined in any legislation – it is just taken as read and although losing the first appeal, Norrie won in the Court of Appeal. Unfortunately, this judgement was also appealed. The High Court case 2014 was successful, mainly because there is a groundswell of supporters for sexual diversity.There was also a change to Federal Sex Discrimination Act on August 1, 2013 to make discrimination on the grounds of sexual orientation, gender identity and intersex status unlawful.

The law has to define sex by what is happening in the real world, with categories broader than male or female. Norrie’s case records the first time judges recognised that people may not fit into a predetermined understanding of what they should be. The case is important because once people are recognised in law they can be protected and services provided for them. Gay, transgender, and intersex people now have protection at federal level. There are new guidelines created for official forms like Passports, Centrelink, Medicare whereby a person’s sex is only asked if necessary, and there has to be the option of “X” (intersex) as well as male or female. Emily noted that the enrolment to vote forms have already been altered to reflect the updated law.

Australia is one of the first Western governments to take this step in law but cultural awareness will take some time. Interestingly, India and the Philippines have a cultural history of acknowledging an intersex community – with 6 million people in India identifying as intersex. Internationally Australia is ahead in laws pertaining to sex and gender diversity but not in marriage equality. Unfortunately because the section in UN Human Rights Charter still delineates marriage between male and female it is interpreted as being against same sex marriage making it difficult to cite a UN convention in any legal argument. However, the UN Committee on Human Rights regarding sexuality may be conservative, but at least they are doing better on women’s rights.

International law has never been good on women’s rights, especially in the private sphere. The laws written by men focussed on the public sphere with issues such as domestic violence and abortion unaddressed. This is changing with private issues made a public responsibility mirroring changes on the domestic front in Australia.

The UN has legislation about torture and this has been used to change the rhetoric on domestic violence enabling the use of international law to protect women at home. The UN recognises that gender discrimination and violence against women is systemic. Many governments are now forced to address these issues like war crimes. A recent case in South America used international law to procure an abortion for a sick woman citing the denial would be tantamount to torture and cruel and inhumane.

However because Australia does not have a Bill of Rights to protect human rights  (one of the few western countries who don’t), individuals can’t sue the government if they don’t fulfil their obligations.The best tool we have for change is Federal Government intervention when the States do something wrong: e.g. Tasmania was the last state to decriminalise homosexuality. A man took the issue to the UN and because the Federal Government makes laws to deal with external issues and obligations under international treaties they can pull the states into line and make state laws invalid.

However, if the Federal government chooses to ignore international conventions there are no real consequences except loss of reputation and being scolded before a review board as we have seen recently with the  report into children in detention.

I’m glad we celebrate International Women’s Day and I know we have a long way to go, especially changing cultural mindsets and challenging ingrained prejudices. However, tackling the injustices in the world and society is important – and speaking out for those still voiceless an imperative for those of us who live in a free society.

Last night, the ache in my ageing bones after traipsing through the city was definitely worth it! The right to protest and march in the street one I’ve enjoyed for a long time and to some people synonymous with who I am.   I hope I can still march on IWD next year, and the year after, and many years to come!

My desire a bit like the dream to be a writer. Each day I’ll face the blank page and start writing, editing and rewriting and hope people read my words…

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Congratulations, Rose Batty – Let us All Raise Our Voices and Condemn Family Violence!

I want to tell people that family violence happens to [anybody], no matter how nice your house is, no matter how intelligent you are.

Rose Batty, Speaking on February 14, 2014

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I feel as if I have been campaigning against domestic violence all my adult life, but perhaps at last there will be concrete and recognisable, change. In the early 1970s, the Victorian Women’s Liberation Movement put sisterhood into action and established women’s refuges for women and children escaping family violence. I worked at Maroondah Halfway House, a refuge in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne where I grew up, and the second such refuge in Victoria.

I have used my writing skills to raise awareness of this issue by writing articles, poems, short stories, and a one-act play I wrote, The Bitter End, was performed at a Domestic Violence Forum hosted by the UAW 2004.  Family and friends have experienced family violence – it is tragic, far reaching and personal!

In 2012, Maroondah Halfway House was recognised for their work in preventing and addressing homelessness at the inaugural National Homelessness Services Achievement awards in Canberra, but how sad it still exists, and so many more houses, are necessary because of the increased scourge of family violence!

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As a member of the Union of Australian Women, I’m glad that at last there seems to be a concerted effort in Victoria, not only to spotlight domestic violence, but actually do something to tackle a longstanding problem in our community.  The new Labor  Government has announced a Royal Commission into Family Violence, and the trade union movement, the Union of Australian Women and many other groups played a hand in making this decision happen.

On April 12th 2014, a small dedicated group of UAW members gathered to hear Jennifer O’Donnell-Pirisi the VTHC Women’s Officer speak on the topic of Domestic Violence. Jen is a member of UAW and has been VTHC Women’s Officer for six and a half years. Her passion and commitment to women evident as she talked, and although the topic is one we discuss regularly, Jen provided fresh and astounding information.

uaw southern branch 12th april 2014

In 2008, she met with then Victorian Minister Morand and several academics to discuss inserting a Family Violence Clause into industrial awards and agreements to enable affected workers to apply for paid leave when necessary. Gillard Government federal ministers Macklin and Shorten supported funding for academics and union representatives to gather information to enable this to happen.

We all think we know the statistics but they still shock. Jen revealed that 60 women a year are murdered because of domestic violence and 20 children a year are also victims. (The tragedy of Luke Batty  put domestic violence in the spotlight and has led to Rose being Australian of the Year 2015.)

Victoria has the highest rate of domestic violence in Australia and even accounting for the fact more women are reporting the assaults,  it is an epidemic and we are not alone trying to deal with this issue. In Italy, a woman is murdered every 48hours, and in some countries husbands have the right to beat, rape and even murder their wives.

Between February and July 2011, the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse (ADFVC) at the University of New South Wales conducted a national online domestic violence and workplace survey. The survey on the impact of domestic violence at work was completed by over 3600 union members. A full copy of the report is available on the website.

Key findings were:

The majority of the respondents were women (81%), two-thirds were in full time employment and nearly two-thirds (64%) of the respondents were aged 45 and older.

Nearly a third of respondents (30%) had personally experienced domestic violence.

Nearly half those who had experienced domestic violence reported that the violence affected their capacity to get to work; the major reason was physical injury or restraint (67%), followed by hiding keys and failure to care for children.

Nearly one in five (19%) who experienced domestic violence in the previous 12 months reported that the violence continued at the workplace

The major form the domestic violence took in the workplace was abusive phone calls and emails (12%) and the partner physically coming to work (11%).

The main reported impact was on work performance, with 16% reporting being distracted, tired or unwell, 10% needing to take time off, and 7% being late for work.

45% of respondents with recent experience of domestic violence discussed the violence with someone at work, primarily co-workers or friends rather than supervisors, HR staff or a union representative.

48% of respondents who had experienced domestic violence did disclose the violence to a manager/supervisor, though only 10% found them helpful.

For those who did not discuss the problem at work, the major reason given was ‘privacy’, followed by reasons of shame and fear of dismissal.

Over one third of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence reported the violence to the police. 25% of all respondents who had experienced domestic violence had obtained a protection order, but less than half (41%) included their workplace in the order.

Only 14% of those who had experienced domestic violence are still living in the relationship, and only 40% are still living in the family home. Below average numbers (54%) of the respondents who had experienced domestic violence were currently living in mortgaged homes; above average (32%) were living in rented properties.

All respondents thought that domestic violence can impact on the work lives of employees (100%) and a high percentage (78%) believed that workplace entitlements could reduce the impact of domestic violence in the workplace.

For those unfortunate to experience, or live with family violence the responses to the survey would not surprise; they’d recognise the extremes in workplace response:

My workplace swept the whole incident under the carpet – I felt totally unsupported.
(Co-workers) were very supportive of me, and this included accompanying me to court, inviting me to stay at their homes, signing affidavits.

Therefore, the much overdue Family Violence Clause gained a 7 Star Rating and was endorsed by the ACTU Congress.

ACTU Principles : 7 Star Rating System

Dedicated additional paid leave for employees
Confidentiality of employee details must be assured and respected
Workplace safety planning strategies to be developed
Provide referral to appropriate DV support services
Appropriate training for nominated contact persons
Access to flexible workplace arrangements where appropriate
Protection against adverse action or discrimination

The clause recognises the issue only, union representatives are clear during negotiations that experts must be involved. Leave must be certified and evidence based, involving:  doctors, police, counsellors.

Effort must be made to work out safety plans for employees such as relocation, or varying start and finishing times. Flexible work times are important, especially in places where there is no obvious security or swipe card access. People working in large public places such as hospitals, libraries and schools are particularly vulnerable. Statistically, women who are pregnant, especially during the final stage, are the most at risk.

By 2009, 1.3 million workers had the benefit of a Family Violence leave Clause in their workplace agreement.(It is called Family Violence in Victoria and Tasmania, other states call it Domestic Violence.) In 2010, Victoria became the first state to give paid leave (an employee of a council). The maximum anyone has taken off is a week, and on average the leave is half a day. It is not leave that will be abused, it must be certified.

The clause is world’s best practice, quoted in New York by the UN, with Canadian, New Zealand and European unions lobbying for similar paid leave and using the Australian model and the survey findings as support. In Germany they have paid leave for rape and victims of sexual assault, but Australia led the world seeking acknowledgement that domestic violence is not a private matter – women are murdered going to and from work.

Unions are lobbying to get the clause put into the Fair Work Act and hopefully the new government in Victoria’s response is better than the previous minister Wooldridge whose calendar was apparently so busy she couldn’t meet with Jen. The Minister’s advisor also said the clause would be too costly for the public sector to implement!

Currently, it is the private sector and enterprise bargaining achieving success. Modern industrial relations and practice must reflect modern life. Domestic Violence is the biggest contributing factor to homelessness for women under 45. It is a myth that it is only one particular class or cultural group affected and Rose Batty emphasises this too.

If the clause is in the Fair Work Act it means women are protected. They need to feel safe at work and at home. Work protection is empowering and an incentive to stay employed. Family violence often leads to precarious employment and disruptive work history. This clause challenges employers and work colleagues to acknowledge harassment and stalking, to support women who disclose violence at home. They need support and many women say if they had been asked to disclose the true situation they would have – this clause allows work colleagues to be a witness and support for these women.

There are many contributing factors to family violence, but the biggest factor is the need perpetrators have for power and to exercise excessive control. Women know the triggers: often alcohol and drugs but many men abuse even when they have not been drinking.

I hope the current government begins to improve  support services for family violence victims, including secure housing, ongoing counselling and a preventative education program in schools and does not just wait for the result of the Royal Commission. They should also publicly support the union movement’s push to insert Family violence Clauses in all awards.

VTHC FAMILY VIOLENCE CLAUSE

1 General Principle
(a) That Victorian Trades Hall Council (VTHC) recognises that employees sometimes face situations of violence or abuse in their personal life that may affect their attendance or performance at work. Therefore, the VTHC is committed to providing support to staff that experience family violence.
2 Definition of Family Violence
The VTHC accepts the definition of Family violence as stipulated in the Family Violence Protection Act 2008 (Vic). And the definition of family violence includes physical, sexual, financial, verbal or emotional abuse by a family member.
3 General Measures
(a) Proof of family violence may be required and can be in the form an agreed document issued by the Police Service, a Court, a Doctor, District Nurse, Maternal Health Care Nurse, a Family Violence Support Service or Lawyer.
(b) All personal information concerning family violence will be kept confidential. Information will not be kept on an employee’s personnel file without their express written permission.
(c) Understanding the traumatic nature of family violence the VTHC will support their employee if they have difficulties performing their tasks at work. No adverse action will be taken against an employee if their attendance or performance at work suffers as a result of experiencing family violence.
(e) The VTHC will identify a contact in human resources, union Shop Steward or go to person who will be trained in family violence and privacy issues, for example, training in family violence risk assessment and risk management. The VTHC will advertise the name of the contact.
(f) An employee experiencing family violence may raise the issue with their immediate supervisor, their union delegate/shop steward or Human Resources.
(g) Where requested by an employee, the contact person will liaise with the employee’s supervisor on the employee’s behalf, and will make a recommendation on the most appropriate form of support to provide in accordance with sub clauses 4 and 5.
(h) The VTHC will develop guidelines to supplement this clause and which details the appropriate action to be taken in the event that an employee reports family violence.
4 Leave
(a) An employee experiencing family violence will have access to 20 days per year (non accumulative) of paid special leave for medical appointments, legal proceedings and other activities related to family violence. This leave will be in addition to existing leave entitlements and may be taken as consecutive or single days or as a fraction of a day and can be taken without prior approval.
(b) An employee who supports a person experiencing family violence may take cares leave to accompany them to court, to hospital, or to mind children.
5 Individual Support
(a) In order to provide support to an employee experiencing family violence and to provide a safe work environment to all employees, the VTHC will approve any reasonable request from an employee experiencing family violence for:
(i) changes to their span of hours or pattern or hours and/or shift patterns;
(ii) job redesign or changes to duties;
(iii) relocation to suitable employment within the VTHC;
(iv) a change to their telephone number or email address to avoid harassing contact;
(v) any other appropriate measure including those available under existing provisions for family friendly and flexible work arrangements.
(b) An employee experiencing family violence will be referred to the appropriate support services/agencies and/or other local resources.
(c) An employee that discloses to Human Resources or their supervisor that they are experiencing family violence will be given a resource pack of information of current support and referral services.

There have been, and are, so many amazing people working to improve the lives of women and children affected by family violence. It is beneficial for those of us who feel we’ve been struggling forever to remind ourselves social justice campaigners are many – we are not alone.

Let’s hope that Rose Batty’s voice  remains  strong and her campaign and wise words are heard often this year so that her wish to see positive change is granted.

Family violence] is an entrenched epidemic that we’ve lived with since time began, so we’ve got a long way to go. But I do believe the tide is turned. It’s no longer a subject that only occurs behind closed doors

Ms Batty after receiving her Australian of the Year award on January 25, 2015.