International Women's Day

Issue 

Women marched in their thousands across Australia on Saturday, March 11, for International Women's Day.

In Sydney, Amanda Mitchell reports that more than 3000 women marched to Circular Quay, where they heard speakers on the theme "Women Around the World Campaigning for Justice". Milena Pires, director of the Women's Department of the Timorese Democratic Union, spoke about women's struggles against the Indonesian occupation of East Timor.

Actor Justine Saunders read from the diary of a Bosnian woman who detailed the horrors of the war there. Unionist Val Edwards spoke about the effects of enterprise bargaining on women in the workplace, and Julie Spies of the Public Hospitals Coalition condemned government cutbacks to public health and the impact these have on women.

The Sydney march and rally coincided with a celebration of the 20th anniversary of the ABC radio program Women Out Loud (formerly the Coming Out Show), which included a live broadcast of the rally. Kath Gelber, Green Left Weekly journalist, reminded the rally that although "lesbian chic" is currently acceptable in the commercial media, lesbians still face discrimination, including invisibility and violence.

The crowd was entertained by Red Herrings, Marie Peters, the Older Women's Network Choir and popular folk singer Judy Small.

From Newcastle, Margaret Allan reports that 300 women marched through the city mall to the Workers' Club, where speakers included Kamala Emanuel, Democratic Socialist candidate for Newcastle in the NSW state election, and Leeza Dobbie, Greens candidate for the upper house.

Deleece Monton spoke from the perspective of Koori women and took up issues relating to refuge services for women. Isabelle Hocking spoke on the need to decriminalise prostitution and demanded an end to police harassment of sex workers. Helen Gollan from the Women's HIV/AIDS Sexual Health project talked about safe sex for women.

Deb Sorensen reports that more than 200 women marched in Darwin. Speakers included Cesarina Rocha on women's experiences of political repression and torture in East Timor. Margaret Friel, an Aboriginal youth legal worker, discussed issues facing Aboriginal people and poverty. A reasonably sized contingent of Country Liberal Party women were in attendance, who tried to claim that IWD was "not a political event". The actions of other women at the rally disagreed with this perspective on winning women's rights.

One hundred Wollongong women, reports Freya Pinney, marched through the city to a rally at the mall amphitheatre on the theme of "Women of the world campaigning for justice". Speakers included Ione Lewis, a psychotherapist who took up the controversial issue of "false memory syndrome" in the context of women survivors of abuse needing access to properly funded services.

Margaret Perrott, a local doctor, spoke about public health cuts and the impact of these on women. Meg Colson elaborated on the situation facing women refugees, particularly Bosnian women, in Australia. She is co-editor of Women's Voices: Refugee Lives. The rally was chaired by Jane Uebergang and Freya Pinney from the IWD collective. Many of the women attending the rally were from Wollongong University, and the rally endorsed a no-fees campaign.

In Nowra, on the NSW south coast, about 40 people marched in support of public health services. Speakers called on women to get politically involved and be active in defence of their rights and services. The Older Women's Network highlighted the particular needs of older women and isolated women, and called for better pension structures for women, who bear the brunt of unemployment and lower paid jobs during their paid working lives.

In Adelaide, 2500 "strong, vibrant and noisy" women marched through the city centre from Victoria Square to Rymill Park, according to Melanie Sjoberg, IWD collective member and DSP member, who chaired the rally.

Terasita Carpio brought a message of solidarity and information from women activists in the Philippines about the situation there.

Ngarrindjeri women spoke to the crowd about the recent furore over Liberal MP Ian McLachlan reading letters intended for women only regarding the Hindmarsh Island bridge. The Ngarrindjeri women celebrated McLachlan's resignation and highlighted the importance of working with other organisations, and with white men and women to win the campaign.

Philippa Stanford from the socialist youth organisation Resistance took up issues facing young women and reminded the crowd of the importance of continuing to campaign for women's liberation and not believing the lie that we live in a post-feminist era. She drew on concrete examples from the free education campaign.

Claire Howie from Rape Action Linkup addressed the need for an ongoing campaign to protect and extend women's services, which are always at risk, and provided information about the huge gaps which have resulted from previous Labor and now Liberal government cutbacks.

Canberra women travelled to Sydney on March 11 to participate in the IWD rally. However, events organised earlier in that city included a union women's speak-out organised by the TLC and CPSU in Garema Place on Friday, and banner painting and speakers at ANU organised by the ANU Student Union Women's Department and Resistance.

Lynda Hansen reports from Brisbane that 1500 women rallied in King George Square and then marched to Musgrave Park for a festival and performances. Speakers addressing the rally represented the Aboriginal Legal Service, the Coalition for a Realistic Criminal Code, Women's House Shelter, the East Timorese community, the National Union of Guatemalan Women in Exile, the Free Education Campaign, Resistance, the Democratic Socialist Party and the IWD collective.

The rally provided an international perspective on women's struggles in Australia as well as overseas. It was broad and informative and highlighted a range of issues facing women, from reproductive choice to free education.

Anne Pavy reports from Perth that 500 women rallied outside the Perth Institute of Contemporary Art and marched through the city. Speakers at the rally included Senator Christabel Chamarette and Dita Sari, who is visiting Australian from the Centre for Indonesian Working Class Struggle and who spoke about the struggle for democratic rights in Indonesia.

Sandy Bird from the State School Teachers Union took up issues facing working women such as enterprise bargaining. Julia Perkins from the IWD collective informed people about the history of IWD, and high school student Corinne Glenn highlighted particular issues facing young women.

In Hobart, Rebecca Meckleburg reports that 100 very spirited women and children marched through the city to Franklin Square, where a rally was held with speakers including Ruth Langford, an Aboriginal woman activist. Ruth is the first woman to serve on the Aboriginal Land Council (Tas). She took up the need for Aboriginal women and other women to work together and support each other's struggles.

Ros Harvey from the Health and Community Services Union highlighted the difficulties facing women in workplace restructuring. Lavinia Savell represented the Tasmanian Gay and Lesbian Rights Group, and Jenny Herrera spoke from the East Timor Committee. The rally was chaired by Women's Action Group and DSP member Jenny Forward.

1500 people participated in a mixed march in Melbourne, on the theme of "A Woman's Place is in the Struggle", according to Sue Bolton. Speakers included Zelda D'Aprano who chained herself to the Commonwealth Offices in 1969 to draw attention to the lack of equal pay for women.

Elizabeth Exposto from the Timorese Association of Victoria spoke about the occupation of East Timor by Indonesia and the use of forced sterilisation and Depo Provera on East Timorese women. Kelly Jean from Resistance emphasised that people should not trust politicians who say they support women's rights, but examine their records. Amanda George from the People's Justice Alliance discussed problems arising from the privatisation of women's prisons and told the marchers that the Victorian government is soon to set up the second private women's prison in the world.

Lauren Finestone, a feminist lawyer, drew attention to the National Women's Justice Coalition, set up by the Australian Law Reform Commission in the wake of last year's inquiry into women's equality before the law to pressure the federal government to fund, support and implement the women's justice program. Key demands concerned the funding of women's legal services generally and for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, toll free telephone legal advice and referral for all women, increased women's access to legal aid, funding to expand and establish court support schemes and funding for test cases. These demands were endorsed by the rally.

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