Letters to the editor: Feminist chants are a valuable tradition

November 1, 2013

Reclaim The Night has a proud international history as an annual protest of women and their supporters demanding an end to violence against women, and to the sexism and misogyny that underpin it. As shown by a 2012 globally focused study by US political scientists Mala Htun and S. Laurel Weldon, a key factor in reducing violence against women is strong feminist movements.

For these reasons, I was glad to be able to be part of a roughly 200 strong Reclaim The Night event in Canberra recently. I was disappointed, however, that the organisers had decided the exclusive theme of the evening should be child sexual assault. This is clearly something that is worth talking about, but as an overall theme, it does not sufficiently coincide with the traditional and still very relevant aims of Reclaim The Night.

The other disappointing part of the event was that it was announced before the march that there would BE no chanting, just noise making, which as it turned out was mostly drumming and whistles. Chanting political slogans and messages, for example, things like “whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no!” is a valuable tradition in social movements, which allows us both to effectively communicate with the outside world, and to feel for ourselves the strength of our collectivity and the ideas embodied in it.

The noisy but wordless march around the Canberra city centre did feel strong, at least in its inherent potential for united political action, but was also very frustrating and disempowering in its ideological emptiness, as was the lack of a clear focus on women's rights in the event. We need a feminist movement in this country, and it needs to articulate itself clearly.

Josephine Hunt
via email


Building more freeways is not the way to go as they are no real solution to the traffic problems in Melbourne or elsewhere. In fact they are in reality part of the problem.

Freeways do not cure traffic congestion and they are not a wise use of money, resources or urban space. New roads just continue to clog up with even more cars, when there’s no other option for people to use. And we lose further valuable parks and gardens, residential space and recreational areas.
As well, carbon dioxide emissions from cars and other light vehicles in Australia produce 10% of our total emissions. We are second only to the USA in this amount of carbon production from cars.

The most sensible, viable and long-term alternative, economically and environmentally is further expansion and upgrading of public transport, combined with bike and walking tracks. Providing more public transport means those who don’t want to drive, don’t need to, thus freeing up the roads for the minority who really must use freeways. Not building more freeways saves society lots of money, oil and other resources and cuts down pollution and obesity and brings other health, liveability and ecological benefits.

Promoting more roads is not moving away from outdated ideologies, but is merely continuing the same old, discredited, backward ideologies from the 1950s. We need to urgently embrace wiser, farsighted and sustainable policies for today and for the future that actually solves these problems. Most residents of Melbourne and other cities I believe know the lasting solution to traffic congestion is more and better public transport.

We certainly don’t need the East West Link or any other expensive and unnecessary freeways.

Steven Katsineris
via email


It has been reported that Australian cricket captain, Michael Clarke, has agreed to promote James Packer’s casino venture in Sri Lanka, which is to receive huge tax concessions from the corrupt government of Mahinda Rajapaksa.

As a paid endorser of this new casino in Colombo, Clarke should understand that he’s lending his name to the promotion of a government credibly accused of war crimes and a whole range of human rights abuses.

We urge him to think again. Recently the Canadian Foreign Minister, John Baird, described the decision to hold the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Colombo next month as “accommodating evil.” Packer, with the assistance of the Australian cricket captain, is doing exactly the same.

It’s bad enough for a businessman like Packer to put the dollar ahead of the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. But to use the most famous name in Australian sport to help him do it is disgraceful.

The usual mantra about creating Sri Lankan jobs is meaningless in this context. These jobs pale against the damage that is done to the Tamil population by the continuation of the persecution, which Packer aids through his engagement with the government.

Economic progress brings little benefit for Tamil people, most of whom are condemned to lives of poverty through the appropriation of their land and their livelihoods by a military-run Sinhalisation program in the Tamil homelands in the north and east.

Clarke should be aware he is lending his name to the promotion of a brutal regime that the United Nations has cited for war crimes and crimes against humanity for murdering at least 40,000 innocent civilians in 2009 and remains engaged in genocide and ethnic-cleansing of the Tamil population.

We ask him: Would he do the same in Zimbabwe? We are sure he wouldn’t. Yet, in many ways, Rajapaksa has committed even worse crimes than the government of Robert Mugabe.

They say he will be a mentor and role model during his visits to Sri Lanka. What sort of role model? His name and face will be plastered all over Sri Lanka, and internationally, giving succor and credibility to a government that, according to the UN and many other universally-respected agencies, murders, tortures, disappears, and rapes its own citizens.

Aran Mylvaganam
Tamil Refugee Council
via email

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