It has been a colossal past year for women’s rights, with global and local attention flaring across a range of horrific individual tragedies and broader issues, including sexual assault and violence against women, the ongoing gendered disparity in income, and the debate on misogyny.
In Melbourne, Jill Meagher’s abduction and murder lead to about 30,000 people rallying in Brunswick, while the Reclaim the Night march drew a crowd of 5000 people to Sydney Road in a huge public declaration that “Enough is enough”.
Globally, the gang rape and murder of a student on an Indian bus provoked outrage and protests across India, which then spilled into Nepal, Sri Lanka, Pakistan and Bangladesh.
In South Africa, the shooting of Reeva Steenkamp early last month shone a spotlight on gender inequality in a country where it is estimated that a woman is raped every 17 seconds.
Other events also brought women’s rights to the fore. Savita Halappanavar died in Ireland last October after she was denied an abortion, which led to protests against the country’s anti-abortion laws, part of a wider strengthening in international pro-choice campaigning.
There was also PM Julia Gillard’s condemnation of Tony Abbott as a misogynist — a speech that reverberated across the world — and the creation of Anne Summers’ powerful “Destroy the Joint” collective, a response to sexist remarks by Sydney radio host Alan Jones, which has captured a momentum around women’s rights on other issues.
Responding to this new groundswell for women’s rights and marking International Women’s Day, a rally has been organised in Melbourne by women’s rights groups and supporters, who have joined forces to oppose violence against women and economic discrimination.
The rally has been organised by Melbourne Feminist Action (MFA) and is expected to draw a large crowd.
Rally spokesperson, Jacinda Woodhead said: “We see International Women’s Day as an opportunity to celebrate all that women have already achieved — such as the right to vote, shorter working days, the right to control their own reproduction, the right to wear trousers — but also an opportunity to highlight the struggles that women continue to face in a world that often discriminates along gender lines.
“Our two themes this year are economic independence and an end to violence against women. In Australia, the ratios of women who have experienced sexual violence and women who have experienced domestic violence are the same: one in five.
“We want women to live in a world free of the threat of violence and a world in which they are economically in control of their own lives. It’s something feminists marched for in the 1970s, and we will keep marching until we see things start to change.”
As well as its general call to end violence against women of all kinds, the rally will focus on the recent, savage changes to sole parent payments by the Gillard government, which affect mostly women and their children. It will also demand increased funding of services for women who have suffered sexual, domestic and other violence; and an end to mandatory detention, which further traumatises women seeking asylum, and separates families for years on end.
The cuts to the sole parent pension have reduced payments by up to $110 a week and forced parents with their youngest children aged eight and over to shift to the Newstart payment. The cuts have caused financial havoc for about 84,000 Australians who qualify for this support — mainly poor and vulnerable women, and their families.
[The rally will be held on March 9 at 1 pm at the State Library and will march to the State Parliament House.]