Otherwise excellent IWD rally marred by transphobia

March 11, 2018
Participants in the 1978 Brisbane IWD rally led the march
Participants in the 1978 Brisbane IWD rally led the march

Over 300 people took part in the Brisbane/Meanjin International Women's Day rally and march at Emma Miller Place on March 10.

Rally speaker Diane Zetlin explained that Emma Miller Place itself is of historical significance. Countless demonstrations have been held there by the Aboriginal community, the feminist movement, the trade union movement and numerous other social justice struggles. It was named after labour and women's movement leader Emma Miller who famously led women textile workers in defying a mounted police attack on a general strike in 1912. The women charged police lines, defending themselves with the hatpins they stuck into the horses' rumps.

Again the women's liberation movement faced off against the police, in 1978 defying Joh Bjelke-Petersen's ban on street marches as they attempted to leave the site (then known as the Roma St forum). The 2018 march was led by a group of '78ers - veterans of the 1978 rally.


Rally participants
Rally participants. Photo: Alex Bainbridge.

A range of pressing issues for women were addressed by rally speakers. Ros McLennan, secretary of the Queensland Council of Unions, spoke of the need to address the gender pay gap. She slammed the federal government and employers for their attacks on penalty rates, set to get worse when new legislation takes effect in July. Owing to the concentration of women in low-paying, part-time, casual and precarious work, the impact of cutting penalty rates will be disproportionately borne by women.

Yamatji woman Janine Kelly spoke of the injustices facing Aboriginal women. She relayed a message from her auntie Carol Roe, Aboriginal elder and grandmother of a young woman killed by medical neglect in WA's South Hedland lock-up, calling for justice for Ms Dhu and an end to the racism that kills Aboriginal people in custody. She played a powerful song for Ms Dhu by rappers The Cat Empire; a new recording of which is to be released in the coming week.

Deb McLoughlin, a '78er from the Women's Abortion Rights Campaign, spoke passionately for abortion law reform and for access to abortion in the state's public hospitals. Erin Cameron from Sisters Inside recounted the marginalisation and discrimination facing incarcerated women. Griffith University Senior Law Lecturer Zoe Rathus outlined the difficulties women face in dealing with family law, debunking myths about women's preferential treatment in custody matters, and describing the bind women leaving violent relationships can be placed in: if they try to protect their kids, they may be in violation of court orders; if they comply with court orders, they'll be treated as not believable if they subsequently raise the issue of violence.

Sia Carolyn of the Brisbane Rape and Incest Survivors Support Centre highlighted the ongoing crisis of violence against women. A Palestinian woman spoke in solidarity with imprisoned young woman Ahed Tamimi. A group of Latin American women sang Spanish songs raising awareness of violence against women, and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom performed a piece commemorating Emma Miller's contribution to the struggle against conscription.

The otherwise excellent rally was marred by a small group with transphobic signs. One of these women was on the rally platform as an entertainer. A large number of rally participants responded by expressing their support for trans inclusion in various ways. Some stood near and in front of the transphobic placards, holding signs affirming that trans women are women. Many cheered when speakers expressed support for trans women's inclusion. On the march, chants were raised in solidarity with ending transphobia. And when the slated entertainer took to the platform, many left, some turned their backs, and others held signs expressing support for trans women.

Video: Ros McLennan: Supporting women workers on IWD. Green Left

More photos of the rally can be found on Green Left online and the Green Left facebook page.

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