An article published by Socialist Alternative titled “Jill Meagher, Reclaim the Night and the political right” on November 22 said: “The horrible rape and murder of Brunswick woman Jill Meagher has been successfully used by the media and authorities to promote a right wing political agenda.
“Widespread public sympathy has been manipulated in a way that reinforces right wing prejudices, obscures class divisions and encourages identification with authority and the state. The associated mobilisations have likewise not been a positive development, despite what many on the left have argued.”
Below is an edited version of a response by Socialist Alliance member Kamala Emanuel, who has had long-term involvement in the women’s rights movement and was on the organising committee of Reclaim the Night 2012 in Fremantle.
When Socialist Alternative's article says Jill Meagher’s death was a result of “random, violent crime”, it has ignored the gendered basis of violence against women.
Instead of the liberal interpretation that Jill Meagher’s death was a random act by a deranged individual — and that we should all be afraid of random strangers, seek police protection and be glad of more CCTV cameras — left-wing feminists argued that violence against women is systemic. It is structural and can be challenged only by fighting sexism in society and confronting the rape myths.
Rather than abstaining from the struggle for an end to violence against women, socialists need to work with all who are ready to take part in multi-faceted campaigns against victim-blaming and pervasive rape culture, and fight for services to support women who experience violence, and win broader measures to raise the status of women.
This is why the Socialist Alliance argued explicitly for raising the social and economic status of women, such as the campaign for equal pay, alongside direct measures to tackle anti-women violence — like consent education and funding women’s refuges.
Reclaim the Night has always been one avenue to further these campaigns. But the article by Socialist Alternative said the bigger than usual marches this October “were a vehicle through which the rich and powerful could push an agenda, and which it was impossible given the level of class struggle and class consciousness in Australia today for the tiny forces of the left to intervene to change, so inherent is the right wing logic of the issue".
The logic of standing up against violence against women is not inherently right-wing. The “tiny forces of the left” should seek to unite with all who want to stop this violence, and who don’t trust capitalist politicians, media or police to do it for us.
It is also the role of the left to demand the immediate and structural changes that will remove the basis for that violence.
Many unions recognise that violence against women is a working-class issue.
Several unions supported Reclaim the Night in Fremantle, and mobilised members for the rally and had a visible presence with their banners.
The Maritime Union of Australia recently fought for and won the inclusion of domestic violence leave in a bargaining agreement — as have other unions. It comes from a recognition of the turmoil dealing with an abusive relationship can cause and the disruption it can pose to employment.
This wouldn’t have happened without active organising, recognising its importance and fighting for it. It is also a win against bosses and for workers' rights more broadly.
The Socialist Alternative article claimed the rallies were used to argue for more CCTV cameras. But Reclaim the Night in Fremantle and Melbourne explicitly rejected such calls.
The Fremantle rally also featured opposition to the planned legislation to regulate or criminalise sex work — definitely not part of a law and order push. And it featured a speaker against mandatory detention of refugees and the double-abuse of women this entails.
Mobilising to stop violence against women is essential. A study of 70 countries over 40 years has shown it is independent feminist organising to stop violence against women — and not the presence of women in parliament, or left-wing governments in power — that has had the greatest impact on reducing violence against women.
The struggle for women’s liberation is a struggle against capitalism — even if immediate reforms that we’ve won through struggle haven’t yet resulted in socialist revolution.
Related article: Why socialists need feminism