By Corinne Glenn
PERTH — "Challenge, Change, Choice" was the theme of the Network of Women Students Australia (NOWSA) conference, held July 8-12 at Edith Cowan University.
Some 350 women attended each day's plenary and a plethora of workshops. The topics discussed were feminisms, gender and sexuality, women and health, women, education and work and women and international issues. The broad topics allowed for much discussion.
The plenaries and many of the workshops highlighted the need for a strong women's movement to confront the oppression women still face in what is seen, at least in the first world, as being a "post-feminist era". There was some lively discussion around what the nature of that movement should be.
A conference rally to oppose the Howard government's plans to cut education and introduce more up-front fees was held on July 11, at which Lori Farone from the National Union of Students and many other women expressed their anger that women's access to higher education was under threat. A popular chant, "1,2,3,4 we're not taking any more — 5,6,7,8 educate to liberate" summed up the feeling.
Rally participants lay on the ground and had their outlines traced and labelled "another victim of the cuts". Women also made a web of blue stockings in recognition of the need to unite and fight for women's access to university. The rally then marched to the main DEETYA office, where women occupied the lobby for almost an hour chanting and singing.
Resolutions passed included support for national, uniform gun laws and the August 25 national day of action to demand that the Australian government withdraw its legal recognition of Indonesia's annexation of East Timor; and opposition to the closure of women's departments, women's rooms and the replacement of women's officers by "equity officers". It was decided that Brisbane would host NOWSA '97.
NOWSA collective and Resistance member Vaarunika Dharmapala told Green Left Weekly that the conference was a great success "because it provided an opportunity to discuss a broad range of issues affecting women, including the nature of women's oppression, the lessons of the feminist movement and the challenges facing us under a federal Coalition government.
"NOWSA should be a forum for discussion and debate that ultimately results in action. The rally was the beginning of a long campaign women must engage in against the Liberal government as women become targets of the budget cuts along with youth, migrants, those on welfare, Aboriginal people and workers. Forums like NOWSA are necessary to help revitalise the women's movement."