Efforts to pass laws banning full veils, burqa or chador, in some European countries — particularly France — have put the issue firmly on the agenda in many other Western countries. Left and feminist positions are being challenged. The dilemma is whether to defend the right for Muslim women to choose to dress as they like (for whatever reason) or to impose the Western perspective that, due to its oppressive nature, such dress should be suppressed.
In the lead-up to the November 27 Victorian state elections, the Council of Single Mothers Action Group has expressed its concern about the right of religious institutions to legally discriminate against gays, lesbians and single parents. Until amended last year, Victorian Equal Opportunities legislation granted religious bodies many exemptions. This meant they could discriminate against many groups of people in employment and service provision. The amendments did not remove the right to discriminate against gays, lesbians and single parents.
Campaigners for women’s reproductive rights are gearing up for a day of protest on October 9. A young woman and her partner from Cairns face charges under Queensland’s 19th century criminal code for procuring an abortion. The trial date is set for October 12. A National Day of Action (NDA) will be marked by protests around the country, demanding that all charges against the couple be dropped. The NDA is the initiative of three organisations: the Pro-Choice Action Collective in Brisbane, the Women’s Abortion Action Campaign in Sydney and Radical Women in Melbourne.
The heading at the top of the Emily’s List website says: “When women support women, women win.” But not all women will be winners from Emily’s List. If you’re an ALP candidate, the list wants you to win. It offers publicity, financial support, and networking to get you elected. Since it was set up in 1996, the political network dedicated to advancing progressive female candidates has donated $600,000 to election campaigns.
The approaching October 12 trial of a young Cairns couple on abortion-related criminal charges shows the need for repeal of the anti-abortion laws. In response, the campaign to decriminalise abortion is gaining strength. A July 9 book launch with author Caroline de Costa attracted 90 people. Jo Wainer, a long-time campaigner for abortion rights, was a special guest speaker at the event.
On September 15, France’s Senate passed a bill banning women from wearing full Islamic face veils such as the burqa and niqab. Similar laws are being considered in other European countries. In the New South Wales Legislative Council, Christian fundamentalist MLC Fred Nile has introduced a private member’s bill seeking to ban wearing the burqa. Neither major party supporta the bill, so it is expected to fail.
Momentum is building in solidarity with a couple from Cairns who have been charged under Queensland’s anti-abortion laws (see article on page 12). The couple is to face court in Cairns on October 12, and the Pro-Choice Action collective, Women’s Abortion Action Campaign, and Radical Women have issued a call for a National Day of Action to be held on Saturday October 9. The rallies will demand the dropping of the charges, repealing of the anti-abortion laws and free, safe, accessible abortion on demand.
A dinner to celebrate 30 years since the start of the historic “Jobs for Women” campaign was held on September 18 in Figtree, Wollongong. Pictured are some of the original group of 34 test case complainants in the victorious action against the discriminatory employment practices of Australian Iron and Steel (a BHP subsidiary at the time).
Rev. Fred Nile, leader of the Christian Democratic Party (CDP) and member of the NSW legislative council made the following comment on September 17: "I am very concerned that week by week the ALP is adopting the permissive agenda of the Green political party — first the Homosexual Relationship Register Bill, second the homosexual Same Sex Adoption Bill, then the proposed Surrogacy Same Sex Bill and now the Kings Cross injecting room."