International Women's Day 1998

March 11, 1998


International Women's Day 1998

On March 7, tens of thousands of women and male supporters joined International Women's Day marches and rallies around the country.

In Sydney, reports Lucy Honey, at least 5000 marchers joined an incredible array of speakers and entertainers around the theme Women Unite for Social Justice and Native Title.

Marchers wound through the city from Town Hall to Circular Quay chanting "One struggle, one fight; women of the world unite!" and "Women must decide their fate!".

Jenny Munro from the Metropolitan Lands Council, Linda Burney from the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, and Letty Scott, an Aboriginal activist against deaths in custody, addressed the crowd.

Other issues taken up by speakers included: women's right to choose abortion; equality and recognition for older women; the need to reverse the government's child-care funding cuts; women and political prisoners in Indonesia; violence against women; and the need for women to keep organising and marching for their rights.

Kerry Vernon reports from Brisbane that 1500 women attended a spirited rally at Emma Miller Place. The rally was chaired by Ruth Radcliffe from the IWD Collective and the Democratic Socialist Party (DSP), and Aboriginal activist and chairperson of ATSIC's Women's Legal and Advisory Services, Cheryl Buchanan.

Buchanan spoke movingly about the deplorable situation still facing Aboriginal people and the effects of the Coalition's attacks. "You have to have the staying power to ensure that every fight you're fighting is a winner", she said.

Helen Kerr from Children by Choice told the crowd about the de-funding of CBC and recent attacks on women's right to choose. A government-funded pregnancy counselling service is being launched next week which does not refer to the option of abortion, she said.

Other speakers included: the Gay and Lesbian Rights Coalition's Shayne Wilde; Zanny Begg, education officer for the National Union of Students (Qld) and a member of Resistance; the Liquor and Hospitality Union's Heather Bloggs; Linda Banach and Jo, representing sex workers; Grace Grace from ACTU (Qld); Nicky, an Aboriginal activist from Inala; and Coral Wynter from the Anti-Racism Campaign and the DSP.

In Canberra, reports Sue Bull, 150 women gathered in Civic around the theme Women Unite Against Racism. The rally began with rousing feminist songs by Linda Hansen. The first speaker, Aboriginal activist Kim Bullimore, outlined the effects of the dispossession, degradation and shame inflicted on Aboriginal people, which have now escalated under the Howard government's attacks.

Justine Kamprad from the IWD Collective outlined the demands of the rally: to stop the attacks on women in health, education, welfare, employment, child-care, migrant services, native title and reproductive rights.

The final speaker, Pat Brewer, outlined the consistent campaign by right-wing forces to erode women's reproductive rights. Of particular concern, she said, is the proposed national criminal code which would impose the most restrictive state legislation around the country. Brewer announced a meeting called by the IWD Collective for March 18 at 5.30pm to discuss action by women in the ACT to combat the attacks on women's right to choose.

The rally then marched to the Legislative Assembly to present large postcards signed by rally participants demanding that abortion be treated like any other medical procedure and decriminalised.

From Darwin, Natalie Zirngast and Sibylle Kaczorek report that 100 women and male supporters marched along a main road around local markets in Parap under the theme Uniting for Justice and Native Title.

Huge Aboriginal flags made by Aboriginal activist and IWD Collective member June Mills gave prominence to the march. Other banners stated "Women students against education cuts", "Free East Timor", and "Women against violence and rape".

An enthusiastic crowd heard Sibylle Kaczorek from Resistance outline the history of IWD; Jacqui Katona, spokesperson for the Mirrar people, condemn the proposed Jabiluka uranium mine; June Mills sing and speak about the stolen generation; Ursula Raymond from the Northern Lands Council, on native title; Natalie Zirngast from Resistance, on Indonesian political prisoner Dita Sari; and Cesarina Rocha on East Timor.

Kamala Emanuel reports from Hobart that the speakers, chants and banners at the IWD march there focused on defence of Aboriginal rights and opposition to government service cuts.

Cheryl Munday, a Palawa woman from the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre told the crowd of 200 about funding cuts to Aboriginal services and pointed out that the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody still haven't been implemented. She slammed last month's Constitutional Convention for its failure to address issues of concern to Aboriginal people.

Ruth Langford from the Yorta Yorta clan spoke about Aboriginal people's ongoing fear of "welfare" agencies, their anger at generations of unjust treatment, and their hope of getting something through "sticking together".

Pastoralist and native title campaigner Camilla Cowley spoke of the justice of Aboriginal land claims, and of the need for reconciliation. ALP MP Judith Jackson also spoke.

Contributors to the open microphone condemned the Coalition's 10-point plan, and Labor's support for most of it. Solidarity was expressed with women in WA fighting the attacks on abortion rights, and a call was made to support any national campaign for safe and accessible abortion on demand.

Led by a banner demanding "Repeal anti-abortion laws!", approximately 500 women marched through the streets of Perth chanting "Not the church, not the state, women must decide our fate".

Co-chair of the rally, Angela Luvera, says that the day began with a rally at the Cultural Centre where speakers included Colleen Haywood from the Aboriginal Legal Service; Leanne Wilkes and Cait Calcutt from the Association for a Legal Right to Abortion; Patricia Pego from Cuba; and Fiona Whittaker from the University of WA Women's Department.

The rally's key demand — A woman has the right to choose: repeal abortion laws — was complemented with demands to stop cuts to women's services, oppose the 10-point plan and racism, for women's safety at home and on the streets, oppose homophobia, and for international solidarity. The march ended in Russell Square with an open microphone and performers.

Lorretta Swindale reports from Lismore that 200 people rallied on March 7 to hear speakers including: Deb Woodbridge, the SRC's co-women's officer, on the effect of education cuts on women; Fay Smith, a Bunjalung elder, on reconciliation and native title; and Morgan King on adoption and discrimination against lesbians. Other speakers talked about the campaign to free Dita Sari, women's role in the environment movement and the recent attacks on abortion rights in WA. An action in Lismore as part of a national campaign to repeal abortion laws was announced.

Larisa Freiverts reports from Wollongong that 40 women and male supporters marched from Greene Street Community Centre to Coomaditchy on March 5. Chanting "Women unite in order to fight, for Koori justice and land rights", the rally made its way to Coomaditchy to hear several Aboriginal women speak, followed by entertainment.

A march and rally was held in Melbourne on March 8.

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