This is how we kill our blacks by @thekooriwoman & @donayrials

There has been much discussion on social media in Australia about the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri. A young black man (Michael Brown) was shot dead by a white policeman and yesterday 25 November 2014 that white policeman was not indicted (that is to say there was not enough evidence to bring charges against him) for murder. Regardless of the circumstances of Michael Brown’s arrest, which many people have been happy to point out, it does not warrant such a heavy handed response from police, – let alone to not face any punishment whatsoever.

Put into context Michael Brown’s death was just another example of institutional racism within the US. Only 2 or 3 days before (need to check date) the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the white policeman a 12 year old boy, yes you read that right, was shot dead by police. This 12 year old boy was playing with a toy gun in his schoolyard but because the white policeman saw him as a young black man brandishing a weapon this 12 year old boy was shot down.

While the majority of reactions in Australia has been shock, disgust and surprise for those of us who face discrimination and institutional racism in this country on a daily basis the blatant racial aspects of these two cases are not surprising. What is surprising though is the willful ignorance and disinterest from the general white population in Australia. The correlation between the poisonous race relations in the US and our own situation is obvious.

As it was so succinctly pointed out on twitter yesterday, we don’t kill our ‘blacks’ on the street. We kill them, in record numbers, when they are in custody. The number of Aborigines who have died in custody is 1400 since 1980 when figures started to be officially kept. That number though would in reality be in the tens of thousands before then.

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was held from 1987 to 1991. The Commission investigated 99 cases of aboriginal deaths in custody between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989. The conclusion was that the 99 deaths were not caused by police violence, despite the fact over 90% of victims showed evidence of extreme force to their bodies and heads.

Can one of the reasons why Aboriginal deaths in custody doesn’t cause such an outcry in Australia is because it is not occurring in another country? Is it easier to appreciate racism and police shootings if it is occurring elsewhere? Why does Australia have its head in the sand about this issue?

To date only one police officer has been arrested and charged with a death in custody, that of Cameron Doomadgee. He was indicted, charged and consequently acquitted by a jury in June 2007. The town where this occurred had their own riot, shown on national TV.

Where was the outcry from our fellow Australians when the white policeman was acquitted of all charges?

Let’s stop pretending that record numbers of Aboriginal people (you know like the ones you embraced in the ground breaking TV show First Contact) aren’t dying in our institutions.

What will it take?

‘Feminism Lite’. A response from Intersectional feminists by Christine Donayre

So a white bloke has figured out what’s wrong with feminism and has discovered ‘Feminism lite’? Really? Is ‘feminism lite’ is the new name for liberal feminism? Perhaps I should ask a man to explain it to me.

Right through the article by Antony Loewenstein on ‘Feminism Lite’, the author claims that men are scared of commenting about feminism for fear of backlash from women. Now, I don’t want to make light of any fear that the author may have genuinely experienced when deciding to comment on ‘feminism’ or not. What I will say is that surely this experience of feminists berating a white man expressing his opinion is not comparable to the reality faced by women on a day-to-day basis. The fear of walking down a dark street by yourself at night time anywhere in Sydney, walking past a group of men, having to confront dominating people in your life, reacting based on past abuse, or the fear that came across me just yesterday when I spotted an abusive ex-partner had viewed my LinkedIn account. These are fears women deal with every single day. Myself and hundreds and thousands of other women get that and all the fear that comes with being a woman. Maybe we should paraphrase Margaret Atwood:

‘Author is afraid feminists will be mean to him. Feminists are (still) afraid men will kill them’

.

Perhaps the author also gets mean comments because his position is patronising, and well… wrong.

It’s quite ironic isn’t it, that men feel that they can comment on feminism and how it is practised in Australia? Well thankfully for some, they have the luxury of having a platform to espouse their views that most feminists do not. This is a reference not just to the author of the piece but to mainstream feminists who purport to speak for all women, who also have platforms from which to preach their version of feminism. Nor, frankly, are even these least challenging of feminists offered a platform as often as men.

A brief feminism 101: what is being critiqued in the article is called ‘liberal feminism’. Yes it has its faults – the most common criticism is the idea that women can ‘win’ without acknowledging the inequitable power structures of capitalism, race, and ciscentrism. Yes this is wrong, exploitative even, particularly for low paid workers, and yes it does mean that not all women are represented. Thankfully we feminists have already been critiquing the wrongs of liberal feminism for quite some time now. We have managed to figure out some things about capital, power structures and patriarchy and their interconnectedness. There’s even a term for it. I’m not sure it’s in the womansplainer’s shopfront, but you could start here. The term to look for is ‘kyriarchy’ and/or ‘intersectional’.

There are feminists, not only in Australia but around the world, critiquing liberal feminism and doing other feminism at the same time.

Not only are individual feminists busy writing, representing, advocating, activating on behalf of the women that are left behind by liberal feminism but we are doing so on alternative media platforms. Firstly, obviously, we are not generally offered weekly columns in major publications to talk about race, class, disability, and feminism. Secondly, the feminism on offer in a lot of publications and the liberal feminists offered a platform do not represent us.

The group of intersectional feminists I work with have to beg for a platform – and we have to fit the work around our jobs, our children, our lives, and other commitments – for free. In fact it’s almost like people prefer to hear from mainstream feminists and white men on feminism. Go figure.

Whilst you may think that mainstream feminism is ‘feminism lite’ there is a place for it. It reaches people who have had no exposure to ideas around gender equality before. You start with the basics then you move on to other more complicated issues that intersect with feminism such as class, race, queerness, able-ism and the like. Let’s not touch on the other variations because we’re clearly still at 101 – see above, definition of liberal feminism. But surely this isn’t to argue that no feminism is better than liberal feminism?

It says more about the critics of feminism than it does about feminism itself that an assumption can be made that liberal feminism is not being critiqued or taken on enough in Australia. The feminists that have the ear of this nation, the Mia Freedmans etc do not represent all women. They sure as shit don’t represent me. For what its worth neither does the author.

I’m trying really hard not to put the boot in because I know that Antony is a decent person with decent politics, but please let’s not pretend that power structures aren’t at play here. Antony, is a white western male journalist, telling me and other feminists like me, that we are not doing feminism properly. From his published story in a major outlet, which he was hopefully paid for.

Feminists of colour, feminists with disabilities, intersex, cis-gendered, tran-sw*myn, indigenous feminists, eco-feminists, intersectional feminists – all of us – we have a voice. We are here. But for some it’s an uncomfortable voice to hear. And some, perhaps Anthony being one of them, don’t look for us.

The best thing to come out of the article for me has been the reactions from feminists, both here & abroad. To get a mention in the esteemable feminist blog Shakesville is no mean feat.

So next time it crosses your mind (white men and mainstream feminists) to talk about feminism, please do some research because then you will see that there’s a whole world of feminism out there and hopefully you will wonder why they aren’t getting the same kind of platform that you have and maybe, just maybe you can talk or write about that.

Here’s a handy listicle by Amy Gray which is a good counter article to Loewensteins.

Christine Donayre
@donayrials

@ebswearspink on the changes to the Racial Discrimination Act, 1975

The wise Ebony aka @ebswearspink dissects the implications of repealing section 18C and other proposed changes to the Racial Discrimination Act 1975:

http://thetravellingunicorn.com/?p=865

Ebs writes:

While the Racial Discrimination Act does not limit freedom of speech (a right that we have largely implied we have in Australia thanks to our adoration of the US) or take away the pain that can be caused from racial vilification, it does act as a deterrent to some which for me is incredibly important.

While the current protections within the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 are not much protection, as far as actual protection goes, it is still something that those of us living in this country who suffer or have suffered from racial comments, vilification and abuse rely upon.

If you are wondering what this has to do with intersectionality I suggest you read our post Intersectionality and Solidarity.

 

Many thanks to Ebony (@ebswearspink) for allowing us to reblog her post.

You can find Ebony on twitter @ebswearspink or her blog http://thetravellingunicorn.com

 

 

 

Intersectionality and why we need it by Saman Shad @muminprogress

A quick post bringing your attention to a great article by Saman Shad (@muminprogress) on Intersectionality & why we need it. This article was first published on the Ideas at the House website on Monday 10 March 2014. Check it out:

http://ideas.sydneyoperahouse.com/2014/column-intersectionality-and-why-we-need-it/

Domestic Violence against Indigenous Women is Everybody’s Problem

During my time as family violence prosecutor I met many victims of family violence. The vast majority of them were women, many of them were children. Working at the coalface of the impacts of family violence allows you a small window into the lives that so many women and children are living. Through that window I have seen unspeakable acts of violence: levels of cruelty and degradation difficult to fathom. No matter the age, background or socio economic status of the women I worked with there were some common themes. Fear. Courage. Despair. Survival. Overwhelmingly though the one universal theme common to almost every single victim of family violence I dealt with was that they just wanted the violence to stop. This was so whether they spoke English, were employed, were a mother, had a disability, were going to stay with their partner and yes, it was absolutely so for the Indigenous women I dealt with. When I reflect on that work I am always struck by the profound simplicity of that common desire amongst victims, no matter their circumstance, to free their lives of the violence perpetrated against them. Indeed, I am humbled by it.

This piece can’t end there though. Whilst my experience of the common longing of victims of family violence is worthy of recognition and identifiable similarities can unite us in the struggle, it is the differences among some victims of family violence that we really must confront. The reality for Indigenous women: for me, my tiddas, my aunties is that family violence is more likely to touch our lives at a level so unacceptable that it should shock you. But I don’t think it does. It should compel you to action. But it doesn’t. It should make you rethink where symbolic gestures are getting us. But you prefer not to think too deeply about that and sport your ribbon, wristband or t-shirt instead. I think you’re almost immune to the appalling statistics that reflect the position of my people that this one is just one more area with a gap.

On any available statistical analysis Indigenous women are significantly more likely to be a victim of family violence. To be hospitalised because of it. To die as a result of it. Some would argue to have their children removed because of it. Ridiculously Indigenous women appear more likely to be criminalised themselves for their engagement with the systems charged with protecting them when they report family violence.

These are complex issues. No-one gets that better than I do. There are layers of complexity for Indigenous victims of family violence that aren’t at play for non-indigenous women. The imprint of the historically fraught relationship between my mob, the criminal justice system and the State, permeates any interaction Indigenous women have with the systems in place charged with keeping them safe (and let’s be frank, those systems struggle to provide safety for non-Indigenous women).Indigenous women are often rightfully cynical of the mainstream remedies available to them when they are the victim of family violence. I know from my own experience there are racist undertones that accompany the way family violence amongst Indigenous people is dealt with by many mainstream services and systems – there’s a ‘leave ‘em to it, it’s their way’ mentality that Indigenous women work against to be taken seriously as if somehow victimhood is part of our cultural legacy (it isn’t). And our own specialised services often suffer from acute underfunding.

The situation for Indigenous women in some rural and remote areas is so dire that you prefer to avert your gaze. Recent figures out of the Northern Territory suggest that Aboriginal women are 80 times more likely to be hospitalised for assault.

Eighty. Times. More. Likely.

You can imagine the frenzied response if that statistic was being played out amongst young white men on the streets of Sydney’s Kings Cross.

Alcohol abuse is often cited as a major contributor in that region which is no doubt the case but what is often left out of the sound byte analysis is the underlying factors that contribute to that abuse and lead to violence like limited and overcrowded housing, the ad hoc nature of funding for support services or the complete absence of any support services at all. Continuing to focus on the symptom will see the cause remain & the cycle persist.

Within our own communities we are acutely aware of the appalling rate at which our brothers, husbands, uncles and sons are marching into prison. We want our men to be part of the solution and a great many of our brothers are. Equally though, we want our women and children safe. We are justifiably wary of what it means for our men when we confront the brutal reality of the lives many of our tiddas and their children are living. We must come to grips with that tension when we have this conversation and speak about solutions.

We must be brave and you must be brave with us. Our politicians must be brave and support proper, long term funding and community led solutions recognising a one size model of solution does not fit all. Ensuring the full protections & supports, such as they are, available to non-Indigenous women are equally available to Indigenous women wherever their community, is a start. You have to listen to us – even when you don’t agree with the apparent politics of our message because it’s our lives and the lives of our families on the line. Because at the end of the day, Indigenous women just want the violence to stop too.

So when you think about the position of Australian women on International Women’s Day spare a thought for your sisters whose greatest struggle isn’t getting on a corporate board or ‘having it all’. Think about the women contemplating their very survival and then think about the position of the Indigenous women in that category – they are the litmus test of how far we have to go.

Louise Taylor

This is an edited version of this piece that first appeared in Daily Life on Monday 10 March 2014.

Reflections on International Women’s Day 2014 (or the only X in the village)

Reflections on International Women’s Day 2014 (or the only X in the village)

 

Christina Ryan

This week women all over the world have celebrated International Women’s Day. As usual I spent the week attending various functions in Canberra. This year included the launch of Australia’s new Global Ambassador for women and girls, and lunch at the National Press Club. There is more to come with a breakfast next week.

I enjoy attending these events. They bring together all sorts of women and provide a real opportunity to celebrate women’s achievements while catching up with old friends and acquaintances.

This year, though, I finally got really tired of being the only (evident) woman with disability in the room. Sure it’s been happening for years, but you never get used to it. I don’t feel token – I’m there in my own right as a woman of achievement – but you bet I’m the token crip, oh yeah. Without me there would be no women with disabilities, so I provide a handy way of ensuring that we don’t look forgotten by the various powers that be. Although, truthfully, if we weren’t there I don’t think anyone would actually notice.

So, why did it hit home so hard this year? What finally got up my nose when I should be used to what’s going on?

It was the talk of gender equality. We have a new Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women (yes that mouthful really is her title). I’m not sheeting the blame home to her, absolutely not, but the conversation has shifted a bit with the new government as it always does, whoever that government is. New governments always bring their own rhetoric and language with them, and that helps to look at things with fresh eyes. This is a good thing, but it can also highlight intractable issues.

At the launch of the new Ambassador I was in a room full of impeccably dressed well educated (mostly) white women in impressive footwear. The talk was about gender equality, a key focus for our new Foreign Minister. At the National Press Club diversity of women was slightly more evident, but effectively it was still a room full of privileged well educated white women. The young women were private school girls or similarly constituted NGOs. Once again the term gender equality was thick in the air.

Don’t get me wrong, these are all fine women, they do amazing things, and they are very pleasant to talk to. I congratulate every single one on their commitment to gender equality, their preparedness to call themselves feminist and celebrate International Women’s Day. I genuinely do.

How many of these women are aware that 15% of the world’s women are women with disabilities? In Australia it is closer to 18% of women who have disabilities. Yes, close to 1 in 5 women in Australia have a disability, yet I was the only one in the room. What?!

So, for all the language of gender equality and ensuring that women are in the room and part of the decision making, almost 1 in 5 of our women are not there. We don’t even get factored into the decision making. When all of these women have a picture in their head of what Federal Cabinet, or ASX company boards, should look like, does that picture include any women with disabilities? I bet it doesn’t.

What they probably see, and yes I guess I’m projecting, is a room that is equally split between privileged white well educated men and privileged white well educated women. How is this gender equality? How is it actually progress? What has really changed?

Can these women speak for the 1 in 5 of their Australian sisters who have disabilities? No, and nor should they. Just as they shouldn’t speak for our Aboriginal sisters, or our LGBTI or culturally diverse sisters. The experiences of women of diversity are different and relevant. We bring enormous depth and difference to any conversation on any issue. Most importantly we aren’t just focussed on our own space. Just as women generally will talk about finance, geopolitical events, and architecture (for example), and not just stick to childcare or maternity leave. Women of diversity will talk about finance, geopolitical events and architecture, but we will talk about them with very different eyes and understanding.

Equality means a presence of diversity in every room and at every level. If the women’s movement isn’t fighting for this then something has gone seriously wrong. Broadening one privileged group by adding another will not add diversity to the outcomes of decision makers.

At the National Press Club lunch ABC journalist Virginia Hausegger suggested we should be asking “where are the women”. What I want to know is “where are ALL of the women”. Just as we expect men to do something about the lack of women in Cabinet or in board rooms, women with disabilities expect women of privilege to do something about the lack of diversity in their rooms. I am not responsible for the lack of women with disabilities in your room, you are, do something about it.

I will not turn into a white well educated woman of privilege to gain access to your room, why should I? Rather I will bring me and all of my value to the conversation and you will love the richness that this provides. Some of it might be confronting and tough to hear, you will need to learn to stay quiet and think, but these are good skills that we should all have to learn. Don’t be frightened of them.

Until ALL women are in the room, have a role in decision making, and are present in numbers there can be no gender equality. I expect my privileged white well educated sisters to get this (quickly given your levels of education) and to do something about it. It is up to you to make sure women of diversity are invited to sit with you, are invited to talk, and are invited to join your networks. It is up to you to make space and to listen.

Gender Based Violence meets Disability Violence

Gender based violence meets disability violence

 

Christina Ryan

 

 

The intersection of gender based violence and disability violence is the single biggest issue for women with disabilities globally. Across all of our cultures, our circumstances, and our levels of activism, violence tops the list every time. Yet little is being done to combat this major element in the lives of women with disabilities.

 

Why? Is it that it’s too hard? Is it that it’s not being approached through the lens of intersectionality? I would argue that it’s a bit of both, but it’s really the lack of an intersectional approach that is the biggest problem. The women’s movement forgets that women with disabilities have disabilities, and the disability movement doesn’t like to look at gender based violence. So, we’re stuck in the middle and get nowhere.

 

The National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and Their Children (the National Plan) lists women with disabilities as one of the key demographic areas requiring significant attention. Yet only one small project was funded under the major funding round in 2012 to support the Plan achieving its targets. Not because good projects weren’t put forward, there were plenty, but because other areas of work have higher profiles, more political pressure attached to them, and are less uncomfortable to talk about.

 

You would think that the appallingly high rates of gender based violence experienced by many other Australian women might cause a similar effect, but somehow the 90% sexual assault rate for women with cognitive disabilities (Valenti-Hein, D. & Schwartz, L. 1995) trumps the lot when it comes time to look the other way. People really don’t want to know, much less do something about it. And the women who are affected are not women who are getting out in the street, or writing blogs, or being high profile about the need to make change. Many of the women affected are unable to get out in the street without the perpetrator supporting them to do so.

 

90% is just one statistic in this field but it’s pretty appalling.

 

Another one to look for is the incredibly high rate of rape and sexual assault for women in institutions and residential care – the women with disabilities who need high levels of daily support to survive. The UN CEDAW committee told Australia in 2010 that the level of violence perpetrated against these women needed to be urgently addressed, yet the National Plan hasn’t done anything about it, and nothing is currently being worked on. It’s not even recognised by the law as domestic violence.

 

In the end Women with Disabilities Australia was asked to provide evidence of the levels of violence, and its widespread nature despite two decades of work, research and publications about the issue. After some intense lobbying a project to gather evidence was funded.

 

One of the biggest barriers to addressing violence against women with disabilities is the lack of understanding about what it looks like. Sure, there is the same horrific gender based violence that all women are at risk of experiencing, but the added layer of disability violence changes the picture entirely. That 90% figure doesn’t come from nowhere, it’s about an extension of the power dynamic that is gender based violence, and how it intersects with disability violence and its dehumanising of people with disabilities.

 

Women with disabilities experience violence in a number of ways, some of which are not even recognised by government policy makers as “violence” and this is part of the problem. If policy makers won’t even recognise that this is a form of gender based violence then we will continue to get nowhere.

 

Women with disabilities are physically and chemically restrained, have their aids and equipment withheld, are told they are “ugly sluts” yet are raped at higher levels than other women, have their disability used against them through either verbal or physical abuse, are sadistically experimented on to “see what happens”, are sexually coerced and exploited, are raped after being immobilised by drugs or having their mobility equipment taken away, are locked up in back rooms,  are gang raped in their workplaces, have their children removed, and are sterilised.

 

Gender based violence uses power as its ultimate weapon. Disability related violence uses the person’s disability as the weapon by turning it back on the person with disability. Women with disabilities live with a combination of the two forms of violence perpetrated by those most close to them on whom they must depend on.

 

Many many women with disabilities are not safe in their homes or places of residence, and are not believed when something happens. Many are disbelieved or accused of crying wolf to get attention. It is quite common for the perpetrator to also be the person who facilitates contact with the outside world, so the women is left with no option but to stay silent. Worse still these places are often not covered by domestic violence law (pg8) as they are not defined as “domestic”, despite being where women with disabilities live, so the exit pathways are limited to common assault with its heavier burden of proof.

 

Families keep their daughters locked away for “safety”, or put them under guardianship to prevent them being anywhere they don’t know about, or tell them to “move on” if they have been raped. The barriers other women face in speaking out about rape and violence are compounded by the need to seek permission from families to speak out. Many just bury it and try to forget, or don’t bother speaking up next time it happens.

 

Ultimately, gender based violence towards women with disabilities is very hidden, rarely responded to by the justice system, and poorly responded to by both disability services and women’s services. Recently there has been substantial work done to increase the capacity of women’s services to respond to women with disabilities but these systems still rely on women who are able to initiate their exit pathway and who can operate fairly independently.

 

I work with women with cognitive disabilities and am daily confronted by the 90% sexual assault rate. Some years ago I realised that just about every women I came into contact with through my work had most likely been raped or assaulted, sterilised, had her children removed, and/or been sexually exploited at some time in her life. Most women experience many types of violence and more than once. Disturbingly, many women know something is wrong (pg7), feel uncomfortable about it, but accept that this is just what being a woman with disability is about.

 

Until violence against women with disabilities is responded to through an intersectional lens, which recognises that this is about both gender and disability at the same time, it is unlikely we will make any progress towards addressing what is going on. We need a disability sector which understands gender based violence, and a women’s services sector which has a better handle on understanding disability. There is no other way. We can’t just keep pretending it isn’t happening and hope it will all go away.