Violence against women is everybody’s business & it has to stop

Margarita Windisch (left) at Melbourne's Reclaim the Night rally, October 21. Photo: Sarah Hathway

Feminist and Socialist Alliance activist Margarita Windisch gave the speech below at Melbourne’s Reclaim the Night rally on October 20.

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A big thank you to the Reclaim the Night 2012 collective for organising today and giving us the opportunity to get our voices heard in public

Tonight is our night — we are here to reclaim the night and our right as women to fully participate in this society of ours without the fear of sexual violence — here on Sydney Rd, all over Australia and across the world.

I also want to use this opportunity to honour all our sisters who have been injured or have been murdered in this ongoing war against our gender.

From Iraq and Afghanistan, the Tamil women in Sri Lanka, the Mexican maquiladora workers, the brave women of the Congo, the asylum seekers, our Aboriginal sisters, our very own mothers, sisters, daughters, aunties and grandmas, and every single one of us — who are neither safe in the street or in the home.

And I also want to thank all the amazing feminist freedom fighters who have come before us and fought the fight for women’s liberation for centuries. You have led the way for us. We want to thank you.

I can see a lot of men and boys in the crowd here tonight. Many men and boys also experience violence and I congratulate you for joining us tonight.

But remember, supporting us tonight is not enough. You have an important role to play in the fight against gender violence. It is your responsibility to educate other men that real men don’t rape, hit, harass, insult and belittle women.

For decades now we have been sold a massive, big fat lie: the lie that women have achieved equality and the battle is over. But that lie has now been exposed — it exploded onto our flat screens, laptops and mobile phones for the world to see

By tearing Tony Abbott to shreds in parliament Julia Gillard made the “S” and “M” words — Sexism and Misogyny — discussed at the dinner tables of every Australian household.

Congratulations to you Julia Gillard for finally, finally acknowledging what we have all been saying for decades: that sexism and discrimination of women is not just alive and well but is completely institutionalised in this country.

It is woven into the fabric of our society — from the home to school, religious and educational institutions, the media, the judiciary, and the very top — our parliament.

I ask you, how else can it be explained that in 2012:

• women still earn only 82% of a male's wage, that the majority of unpaid work is done by women,
• that the majority of sexual violence is perpetrated by men against women,
• that one in three women will experience intimate partner violence in her life time,
• that in Victoria violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness of women aged 15 to 44 years,
• that many a women’s complaint of harassment and violence is not taken seriously by the police,
• that most rape cases that go to court don't end up with a conviction,
• that there is a criminal and shameful silence around the widespread child sexual assault perpetrated by family members or trusted adults?

How, I ask you, can this appalling state of affairs be possibly acceptable in a country that prides itself as being, free, civilised and democratic?

Are we children of a lesser God?

To stop violence against women we need a complete change in culture – and that needs a lot more than one feisty speech about sexism in parliament – it needs real action.

By cutting the sole parent pension more than 100,000 people, mostly women, Gillard demonstrated her hypocrisy when it comes to women’s rights and in fact put these women more at risk of violence. Shame on you!

Feminism is about acting in the interest of all women to stop gender inequality. It is holding our society, our men and our government to account and to force real change.

No amount of CCTV or police cameras will stop violence against women, for sexism doesn’t start with the creepy stranger. It starts at home. It starts in the family — the most sacred unit of class society that treats women like property, to be owned, exploited and used. That’s were boys learn that women are the lesser sex. And this is reinforced on a daily basis by a sexist media.

So what can we do to make the world a better and safer place?

A new study on violence against women, conducted over four decades in 70 countries, reveals the mobilisation of feminist movements is more important for change than the wealth of nations, left-wing political parties or the number of women politicians.

Clearly, the onus is on us to make change.

Well, we could start with a big bonfire and do a massive cavemen burn-off. We could chuck in sexist dickheads like Kyle Sandilands, Sam Newman, and Alan Jones, a few priests, some footy players and all the Abbotts of the world.

But I guess that’s a bit naughty. We might leave that for another night — Walpurgis night, for the witches!

Who here has seen or read The Hunger Games? The oppressed were forced into that game

Well, we have also been forced into a game: the gender game, where we are expected to sacrifice all. And for many this game is about life or death.

Since we have no choice but to participate, lets to it properly.

So I brought my gender card [Windisch holds up a big card with a women’s symbol on it.]

The cavemen and their media stooges always accuse us of playing the gender card when we complain about sexism and misogyny.

I say lets play this card – let’s play it with courage and conviction – because we are in this game to win.

We will be playing this card:

• until sexual assault and domestic violence is taken seriously by the courts and the police,
• until we have adequate sex assault and refuge facilities for all women in need,
• until all schools have “no to violence” education programs,
• until all boys grow up respecting women because their dads, brothers and uncles taught them so,
• until the wage gap is closed,
• until our troops are not used to invade other countries and kill our sisters,
• until no refugee is locked in detention centres,
• until our indigenous sisters have true landrights and their culture respected,
• until fear of violence in the home and street is a thing of the distant past.

We will be playing our gender card until we have created a world where gender is completely irrelevant and we are all treated with the respect and dignity we deserve so we can finally get on with the job — the job of building a world we can all be truly proud of.

So I say, let the games begin.