Trades Hall president: 'Sexism and mysogyny are hardwired into society'

November 6, 2015
A Reclaim the Night rally in Melbourne on October 24. Photo: Louise Chen

This is an edited version of the speech given by Jackie Kriz, the president of Geelong Trades Hall Council, at the Geelong Reclaim the Night rally on October 31.

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I would like to thank the women of Reclaim the Night collective who, with support from Geelong Trades Hall, have worked tirelessly for months to organise this rally.

I remember coming to a Reclaim the Night rally here when I was a young woman back in the early 1990s. We haven't had a rally here for some years, but the growing level of violence against women has inspired women to once again take to the streets to raise awareness and say it is our right to be free to walk safely without fear of being attacked. No matter what we wear, we have the right to reclaim the streets.

Isn't it sad that 25 years on, we still have to organise rallies like this to fight for women's equality and women's rights. At a time when we are talking more about violence against women — it is in our faces more, it is widely spoken about, researched and discussed openly — and the figures are getting worse.

We've heard the statistics before but let's just revisit them.

In Australia, one in three women and one in six men will be sexually abused before the age of 16.

One in five women and one in 20 men have reported experiencing sexual violence since the ages of 15.

One in three women will experience physical assault in their lifetime, and two women are killed every week by their partner.

These statistics, sadly, are growing every week — 75 women have been killed so far this year.

And this is not by some random, creepy, deranged stranger. No, this is by someone who supposedly loves them, someone they trust.

These statistics mean that a third of the women here have experienced some form of physical violence if not sexual assault.

These statistics are so damning of our society that we have to ask ourselves: how has this happened and what the hell is going on in our communities where violence against women has become “the norm”?

Geelong has the third highest reported rates for family violence in Victoria. The Geelong Advertiser reported in June that there has been a 99% increase of family violence since 2010. Yes, our beautiful city has a dirty secret. And that secret is violence.

Sexism and misogyny are hardwired into our society. It is woven into the very fabric of our institutions. It is in our schools, our sporting clubs — especially our sporting clubs — our workplaces, our churches and our city council. It is everywhere. It is institutional sexism. It has become acceptable through the TV shows we watch, the products we buy, through the media, magazines and through advertising.

The objectification of women, the sexualisation of women and now girls at a very young age and the commodification of women has dire consequences for women in our society now.

Underpinning this is capitalism. Capitalism's very survival depends on the oppression of women and the unpaid work that women undertake in the home and in caring responsibilities, which equates to 50% of the GDP. No wonder we're always tired.

The consequences are the ever growing violence against women.

Is it any wonder we're a bunch of angry women — and we have every right to be angry, because we're sick of it. We're not just a bunch of crazy rad fems with hairy armpits and hairy legs burning our bras and running around without aim. We're angry for a reason. These figures are totally unacceptable.

Violence against women is the real terrorism of our modern era — two women dying each week at the hands of their partners. We can all recall the terrible ongoing sadness of women we either know, or we have seen in the newspapers or on TV, who have been tragically murdered by someone close them.

How do we fight the ever growing hatred and violence against women?

First of all we have to be brave and we have to challenge it. We have to speak out when it is so obvious and so very wrong. We have to expose it at every layer and chip away slowly.

We have to demand respect from our community leaders and from our politicians.

We have to demand the refunding of women's programs, health programs, women's shelters, legal aid programs, which were decimated in the 2014 and 2015 budgets.

We need to restore services to our Indigenous people who, are suffering from all of the effects of colonisation and dispossession, and support their self-determination.

We need to advocate for refugees and asylum seekers and demand the closure of all detention centres, which, according to Patrick McGorry (Australian of the year 2010), are “factories of mental illness”, especially offshore detention centers. They are the result of cruel policies by both Labor and Liberal governments, of locking up refugees indefinitely. We need to tell politicians that it is not acceptable to expose our sisters locked up on Manus Island or Nauru to gang rapes and then deny these women access to counselling and reproductive care.

At the stroke of a pen, bad public policy by governments can make women's lives totally miserable and unsafe.

We demand the restoration of cuts to the single parents pension made by the previous Gillard Labor government, with continued support from the Turnbull government. These changes that move mainly women off the pension and onto Newstart when their children turn eight, effectively put 84,000 women — and the numbers are growing — instantly below the poverty line, forcing many of those women and children back into high risk domestic violence situations.

We are now seeing the Turnbull government propose cuts to the Family Tax Benefit which will no doubt have the same bad effects mainly on women.

In our own back yard, we have seen mean-spirited cuts to health programs such as the Mental Health Nurse Incentive Program and now the Perinatal Emotional Health Program. These very worthwhile programs are now gone, causing job cuts and redeployments.

We can't forget the recent unnecessary closing of the Barwon Health laundry, which led to about 90 job losses, affecting mainly women. A lot of these women are older, single parents with caring responsibilities for their children and aging parents.

These are programs we know about. What about the community programs that surreptitiously disappear, that we don't even hear about. If we can afford to spend $87 million per day on military spending and if Rupert Murdoch and his News Corp can get an $882 million tax refund then we can well afford our health programs. The Tax Justice Network has exposed big multinational companies — American Express, Google, Apple, Glencore, Rio Tinto, BHP and Fortescue — for tax avoidance. Why do we stand for this hypocrisy when we have to have cake stalls and fashion parades to raise money to keep services going?

I belong to the largest union in Australia, the Australian Nurses and Midwives Federation. It is a predominantly female union and we work tirelessly to advocate against violence in the workplace, at home and in our communities. We have joined forces with Rosie Batty in supporting her Never Alone campaign for better education and awareness on domestic violence.

We need to educate our children from an early age that violence against women is not okay. We need to do this in and out of the classroom. So we have to turn the tide. But respect goes two ways. We also need our leaders to step up to the plate.

It doesn't stop with women it just starts with women. We also need to eradicate racism, homophobia and Islamophobia. We need to learn tolerance and respect for gender diversity, religious diversity and we need to stop politicians and institutions from using sexism and racism as a tool to divide us. We women want a peaceful and safe community for everyone and not just ourselves.

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