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:
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.
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)
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.