Why Resistance opposed quotas at NOWSA
By Wendy Robertson
and Maria Voukelatos
In her letter, Sitka asserts that Resistance was "busily at work trying to preserve white privilege and superiority" when we opposed the adoption of a quota system at NOWSA. Resistance opposed the system, not to "preserve white privilege", but because it is not the solution to promoting the participation of indigenous and non-English speaking background (NESB) women.
Resistance put forward a charter which highlighted the need to reflect the campaigns and views of oppressed women. We proposed that "the conference plenaries ... reflect and promote the struggles of indigenous, racially and nationally oppressed women".
Sitka makes no effort to substantiate her claim that "the socialist caucus used every trick known in manipulative politics to block the passage of this resolution". How is putting a political argument manipulative?
Resistance argued that the quota system, instead of ensuring greater participation of NESB and indigenous women, would mean that speakers would be asked to speak on the basis of their skin colour, not because of their political contribution. Resistance did not for a moment argue that racially oppressed women would be incompetent speakers; we argued that at such a conference speakers should be chosen to reflect their political opinions and not only their racial background.
Resistance supports affirmative action quotas in the work force. But forcing racist employers to hire NESB and indigenous workers is a different matter to choosing speakers for a progressive political conference. Because NOWSA is crucial in debating and discussing the way forward for feminist campaigns, speakers should be selected on the basis of their political ideas and activities.
At this year's NOWSA conference, the quota system restricted the range of views represented. To "fill the quota", speakers were asked to speak on topics they did not agree with. For example, Aboriginal activist Lisa Bellear spoke as a separatist feminist — a political position she explained that she did not support.
Sitka's accusation that it was racist to oppose the quota because it was drawn up by indigenous women is refuted by the fact that a number of indigenous and NESB women disagreed with the quotas during the conference.
Resistance champions a women's liberation movement which supports the struggle against racism. We reject the idea that it is racist to disagree with racially oppressed people's ideas. This assumes that all of these women have a single opinion and that they are always right, an assumption which is rather patronising. If it was applied to every specially oppressed person (working class, lesbians, transgender) the movement would become paralysed by an inability to debate and discuss ideas.
Resistance thinks it is vitally important to hear the views of NESB and indigenous women at NOWSA. This is not only because of the variety of political opinions and campaign experiences they reflect but also because the feminist movement needs to support the fight against racism. We just don't think a quota is the best way to achieve this end.