We need a feminism that makes real demands for change

Monday, October 29, 2012

Socialist Alliance activist and feminist Liah Lazarou gave the speech below to Adelaide’s Reclaim the Night rally on October 26.

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I’d like to say a big thank you to the Reclaim the Night Collective for organising this important event and everybody who is here tonight to reclaim the streets and to fight against the violence and sexism women face on a daily basis. Tonight is our night, to unite as women and to bring attention to the struggles of our sisters, mothers, aunts, cousins, grandmothers and the structural oppression that is so embedded in our everyday lives.

Tonight has come in a really interesting time. It has come when the recent political landscape has been suddenly concerned with the language of feminism, no more evident than when Julia Gillard proclaimed Tony Abbott a misogynist, something I’m sure many of us were delighted to finally see and hear and a message that spoke to many of us – Tony Abbott the misogynist called out in parliament for what he really is.

But what was hardly reported was that on the same day the Senate passed through a new law cutting single parent payments by between $56 and $150 a week, which will mostly affect women, women from the already marginalised sections of our society and putting them more at risk of violence. As a single mother myself, I was outraged at this blatant contradiction because further entrenching poverty is violence against women.

So when we rejoice at Julia Gillard’s speech against sexism, let us take it for what is really is. Fighting against sexism is not about making one speech in parliament and in the same day attacking some of the most vulnerable women in our society.

The reason Julia Gillard was able to make that speech was because of the feminist movements of the past. It was because of the feminist freedom fighters who came before us and who struggled and fought for women’s liberation.

Women have been saying for a long, long time that discrimination against women and sexism does not just exist in a bubble: we are subject to oppressive gender norms at all levels of society and it is completely institutionalised in the home, the workforce, the media, the judiciary, religious and educational institutions and of course in parliament.

Today women still only earn 82% of a males wage, the majority of unpaid work is done by women,
most sexual violence is perpetrated by men against women, 1 in 3 women will experience intimate partner violence in her life time, violence is the leading contributor to death, disability and illness of women aged 15 to 44 years in Victoria, the police don’t take women’s claims of violence and harassment seriously and that most rape cases that go to court don't end up with a conviction.

On the back of the horrific Jill Meagher crime and the recent murder of a young South Australian woman by her partner, we have seen rising concerns around rape and male violence reigniting public concern around women’s safety.

But more CCTV cameras will not stop violence against women. Male violence begins in the home, in the institution of the family. The cornerstone of class society which treats women like property, allowing them to be owned, used and exploited. This is where our first conceptions of sexism are learned and this is reinforced by the sexualisation and objectification of women and girls and by our sexist corporate media.

For decades we have been sold the myth that feminism is no longer relevant. That we have gained equality. We know this to be false. We know that this is false and that it works to stifle our voices and our ability to be organised and fight back.

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. So the onus is on us. It is up to us to keep coming out on the streets and to create a strong feminist movement.

Feminism is not just about calling out sexism. We need a feminism which makes real demands. We need to create a feminist movement that aspires for real change, which challenges the exploitation and oppression of women and of all people by the wealthy minority and the system which profits from our suffering. Solutions will come from women coming together, educating and organising towards this end for there is nothing more empowering than the act of solidarity and women involved in collective action together. Unity is strength. Until we have created a world where we are not attacked, abused and discriminated against because of our gender, where gender is irrelevant and we are recognised with respect as human beings, our struggle continues.

Until there is no wage gap, until we have complete control over our bodies, until the police and the judicial system takes domestic violence and sexual assault seriously, until there are adequate facilities for all women in need, until there are compulsory education programs against violence, until we create a culture where men are taught to respect women, until we do not invade other countries and kill our sisters, until no refugee is locked in detention centres, until our indigenous sisters have their culture respected and true land rights, until we have a safe climate future and our global sisters are no longer the victims of the big polluters who are destroying the earth and its ecosystems and until there is no more violence in the street and in the home...

Until then our struggle continues. But I believe that if we fight, we can win!


From GLW issue 943