IWD marches show feminism is far from over


By Margaret Allum

The streets on March 6 were alive with the sounds of chanting and demands for women rights as thousands marched on International Women's Day around Australia. Following are only some of the reports from marches where indigenous rights, opposition to the GST and voluntary student unionism (VSU), and for abortion rights were common themes. International solidarity was also a feature.

For the third year, greetings from jailed Indonesian People's Democratic Party leader Dita Sari were read out by members of Action in Solidarity with Indonesia and East Timor (ASIET) members (see page 14).

In blistering heat in Brisbane's King George Square, 800 demanded "women's liberation — now!", reports Stella Rietmuller. Reflecting the theme of the day, they chanted "Women have the right to be free! We don't want no GST! Justice and equality, not sexism and poverty! Women and men in unity! Howard doesn't speak for me!".

Young Aboriginal dancer Mundanjara opened the rally. Other speakers included Kethia Wilson (Children by Choice), a representative of the Jabiluka Action Group, Sunni Dawson (IWD Collective and Amnesty International), Danny Coulson (ASIET), and Women with Disabilities spokesperson Karen Swift on the GST's impact on women with disabilities. Claire Moore spoke from the ACTU (Queensland) and Shane Wilde spoke on the anti-discrimination struggle of gay men, lesbians, bisexuals and transgenders.

IWD Collective member and DSP activist Karen Fletcher described the problems obtaining a march permit. The city council and the police initially demanded that the collective pay for traffic control. Fletcher pointed out the parallels between this and governments' imposition of "user-pays" and the GST.

The march observed a minute's silence at the health department offices to remember the victims of botched backyard abortions. When the march stopped at the education department offices, Resistance high school activist Hayley Platt described government attacks on youth wages, Austudy and Abstudy, and UQ women's officer Hanna Jenkin warned of the effect of VSU on student unions.

More than 100 people marched and rallied in Canberra's Civic Plaza, led by the Older Women's Network, says Amanda Lawrence. After the Canberra Union Voices choir, Ngunnawal elder Matilda House welcomed participants.

Speakers included Sue Robinson (ACT Pro-Choice), Val Edwards (Community and Public Sector Union and the Trades and Labor Council), Jo Brown (ASIET) and a speaker from the Crisis Relief for Indonesian Women group. Betty Searle (Older Women's Network) gave an inspiring speech about campaigning for women's rights and socialism since the 1930s.

Larissa Frieverts reports that 150 women marched in Darwin, with slogans such as "Get your laws off our bodies" painted on umbrellas. Speakers included Cassandra Goldie (Darwin Community Legal Service) on public housing, high school student Jillian Everleigh and Resistance's Natalie Zirngast on the need for more reproductive choice, including free, safe abortion on demand.

Other speakers included Josie Crawshaw (ATSIC), Gillian Harrison (Working Women's Centre) and Marcia Dwonczyk from the NT Council of Social Services.

From Melbourne, Natalie Woodlock reports that 1500 women and men demanded no GST, free child-care, abolition of all anti-abortion laws, land justice for indigenous Australians, no VSU, solidarity with the East Timorese independence struggle and repeal of the Workplace Relations Act.

After an indigenous welcome they marched to Bourke Street mall for a chalk-up against the GST, chanting "Women workers of the world united in action" and "Tax the rich, not the poor. We won't take it any more".

At the Nike shop, a banner reading "Sweatshop of shame" was hung across the doors. Michelle O'Neill (Textile, Clothing and Footwear Union) detailed the recent victory of the TCFUA workers at the Australian Dyeing Company, who were locked out for 67 days.

To chants of "Stop the rape. Stop the killings. Free East Timor now!", Teresa de Santo (East Timorese Women's Organisation) spoke, as did Vannessa Hearman (ASIET), Mano Navaratnam (Tamil Women's Organisation) and Jasmine (Kurdish community). Large contingents were present from these communities.

At Parliament House, Resistance high school member Jacqui Moon spoke about sexism in schools. Other speakers included Mary Merkenich (Australian Education Union), Melinda Walker (Pro-Choice Coalition) and Lynette (Student Unionism Network) on VSU.

Alison Dellit reports from Newcastle that at Civic Park more than 80 people demanded the repeal of abortion laws, an end to women's services cuts and increased child-care funding. The passionate and lively march, led by older women, chanted, "We have a just cause, repeal all abortion laws!".

The rally was addressed by Joyce Stephens, a founder of Newcastle's first women's refuge, Annemarie Hopcraft from the women's collective at Newcastle University and Janet Doyle from Newcastle Council.

From Sydney, Jenny Long reports that more than 3000 women marched under the banner "Generations of feminist action", acknowledging older women's role in past and present struggles. The marchers demanded equal pay, free child-care, increased funding to women's services and the abolition of anti-abortion laws.

Speakers included the IWD Collective's Jen Crothers, Aboriginal activist Kerry Reed-Gilbert, Peggy Trompf (Workers' Health Centre), Resistance high school activist Becky Fairall-Lee, representatives from the Kurdish, Iraqi and Indonesian solidarity movements, state Labor MLC Meredith Burgmann, abortion rights activist and Democratic Socialist state election candidate Dr Tuntuni Bhattacharyya, and Genevieve Derwent.

With the NSW election on March 27, feminist strategy for parliamentary representation was an issue. Burgmann called for parliament to be made more family friendly, and Bhattacharyya rejected the notion that simply having more women in parliament would free all women.

More than 150 people marched in Lismore reports Kath O'Driscoll, with women coming from as far away as Ballina and Byron Bay. Keiran Davis (Women's Health Centre) outlined the current threat to abortion rights, and the Women's Health Service coordinator described how cuts to women's services and the increase in domestic violence were leading to an increase in mental illness amongst women. O'Driscoll spoke about international solidarity and the Free Dita Sari campaign.

Seven hundred mainly young women, and a significant number of supportive men, marched loudly in Perth reports Sarah Stephen. Speakers included Trisha Reimers, the University of WA women's officer and a Resistance member, Greens (WA) MLC and lesbian activist Giz Watson, union activist Corinne Glenn, Chantelle, a high school student and survivor of sexual violence, and Dr Denise White who described the abortion rights campaigns of the 1970s.

The crowd loudly condemned the presence of a dozen members of the Human Life Protection Society who brandished placards declaring "Abortion kills", and called on the government to abolish all remaining anti-abortion laws. A long banner, coordinated by the Women's Electoral Lobby, marked the centenary of women's suffrage in WA.

The IWD march in Adelaide was washed out and postponed to next Saturday, March 13. The Wollongong IWD march will also be held next Saturday, 11am, Lowden Square. The demands are: No GST, End racism, Reproductive freedom, Abolish all anti-abortion laws and Stop the attacks on the environment. Men are welcome to join the back of the march.