Feminism in the age of Tony Abbott

Issue 

Tony Abbott’s government will be a dangerous time for women in Australia unless we can unite and struggle together to win a better future.

Abbott is known for his conservative views about women. His party is responsible for a range of policies and programs that have punished, isolated and oppressed women in Australia.

Abbott’s misogyny is no secret. He famously said: “I think it would be folly to expect that women will ever dominate or even approach equal representation in a large number of areas simply because their aptitudes, abilities and interests are different for physiological reasons.”

It seems Abbott thinks that one of the things women have a lower aptitude for is politics, since he appointed only one woman to his cabinet. He also presumably thinks women do not have the aptitude to make decisions about policies that directly affect them, since he has appointed himself Minister for Women.

Some people have argued that the almost complete absence of women in Abbott’s cabinet is a clear sign that he doesn’t respect women. In fact, it is just a recent addition to the long list of reasons that the Coalition government can’t be trusted to address the unequal position of women in society.

Anyone who is even mildly surprised by the gender composition of Abbott’s cabinet could have looked to any number of reasons why the Liberals can’t be trusted; from the treatment of refugees, to anti-worker laws and from their support for Labor’s education and single parents’ pension cuts to the racist treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. None of the sexist, racist, homophobic or anti-worker policies from our new government should come as a surprise.

It is time to work together to fight back against the cuts and attacks that are coming. The Liberals are going to take advantage of Labor’s sexist policies like the cuts to the single parents’ pension, and push harder.

When cuts happen, they affect the most marginalised people the worst. Cuts to public services put more pressure on individuals.

Already, the Liberals are talking about cutting $42 million from Aboriginal legal support. This comes at a time when Aboriginal women are drastically overrepresented in prisons and have the fastest growing rate of incarceration. All over the world, cuts and austerity policies have meant essential health, education and social services being taken away.

Women need to be leaders in the fight against Abbott. Around the world, from Delhi to Greece, women are taking up the fight. In Australia, women need to mobilise with others in their communities, in workplaces and on the streets to defeat sexism. The fight will be stronger if every woman who knows that austerity is not the answer and wants to fight for a better world finds a place in the struggle.

In Australia, the equal pay gap has become worse; women are now further away from earning equal wages to men. Unions are fighting for equal pay across all industries. Unions like the Electrical Trades Union and the Australian Services Union are also fighting for domestic violence clauses in their agreements.

Women are playing an increasingly stronger role in the labour movement and fighting for better jobs for everyone. University campuses need to be active in the fight against sexism. We should be taking back the feminist spaces on campus, from the Women’s Room to Gender Studies courses that are under threat from budget cuts.

For too long, student unions and women’s spaces on campus have been eroded into apolitical spaces. Students need more than free tea and tampon ads, they need a culture of activism and radicalism that they can join to fight with others for better universities and a fairer world.

Some mainstream media outlets are arguing that we should wait to see what Abbott and his cronies do before organising against them and their oppressive policies. Personally, after the recent race to the bottom over refugee policies by the two big parties, I’d rather not see how low we could go. We need to start organising against the attacks on women and all working class Australians, now.

The final straw should have been a long time ago, for everyone