By Julia Perkins
MELBOURNE — The ninth conference of the National Organisation of Women Students in Australia was held here July 3-7. With around 600 participants, it was the largest NOWSA conference yet. The theme was "Women in revolt".
Topical and informative plenary sessions tapped into interesting and controversial issues. This was particularly the case with the opening plenary on the role of reforms in achieving fundamental social change.
Also controversial was the plenary session on "Gender Identity". Speakers from differing perspectives outlined the current debates and views on what constitutes gender difference, leading to extremely significant questions such as who can and cannot be included in the women's movement, in women's conferences and forums theorising debates and strategies.
Another plenary entitled "Women and Social Control" brought out the atrocious discrimination, prejudice and lack of services felt by Aboriginal women and the major obstacles suffered by all women through a very patriarchal justice system. The final speaker in this session detailed the plans to privatise the major women's prison in Victoria and the drastic effects this will have on women offenders.
Workshops held throughout the five days ranged from discussions around postmodernist theories and their effects on the ability to build an active, all-inclusive women's movement to the issue of population control and women's rights.
The workshop titled "Introduction to Feminism" was very valuable, aimed at dispelling the right-wing myths about what feminism is and who looks like a feminist. The workshop was very well attended and the discussion lively and constructive.
The atmosphere of the conference was extremely exciting, with a seriousness about action and taking the movement and the issues out into the streets.
The level of discussion was very high, and the left-wing orientation towards mass-action and building the movement bode very well for the next NOWSA conference and the women's movement. There was little interest in the femocrat orientation of the Australian Labor Party or its tokenistic quotas of 35% female seats in parliament.
The atmosphere, enthusiasm and solidarity reached a pitch with the fantastic action held on the Thursday afternoon demanding increased funding to education and "No Fees for Degrees".
Speakers at the rally outlined the specific effects of up-front fees in dramatically reducing access for women to higher education — particularly Aboriginal women, women from non-English speaking backgrounds, single mothers, women with family responsibilities and women from low socioeconomic backgrounds.
At the final decision-making plenary, it was decided that 90% of the money raised at this year's NOWSA will go to the Perth NOWSA collective, which is responsible for organising the next conference in Perth, and 10% to the "Pay the Rent" campaign — a land rights consciousness raising and fundraising project.
The Perth collective has plans for a very political and active conference in 1996. A suggestion to launch national campaigns will be discussed too.
Women are urged to get involved in the NOWSA collective in their state and in the nationwide NOWSA newsletter.
For more information about next year's conference or to offer any suggestions, contact: Perth NOWSA Collective, PO Box 204, Northbridge WA 6003.