Women’s Rights are Human Rights

Image: Women's March Toronto via: Now Magazine

Image: Women’s March Toronto via: Now Magazine

Those of us who support women’s reproductive rights watched with horror this month as the clock was suddenly turned back on women’s access to health care. Several days into Donald Trump’s presidency the ‘Global Gag Rule’ was reinstated, a signature on a dotted line on a document in the US, which in effect prevents non US-based organisations and health care workers in a range of different countries around the world from providing information to women about abortion services.

There is now a real concern that the health of women will be seriously compromised due to this limitation on their access to information, knowledge and services. Indeed, any barrier placed in the way of women knowing more about their bodies, rights and health takes us right back to a time when knowledge was feared and women’s empowerment was seen as a sign of witchcraft.

Fortunately, there are other signs that we are not still living in those days with respect to women’s rights: on 21 January, 673 Women’s Marches took place in a world-wide protest involving an estimated 4.78 million people. The marches in our own cities of Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney all shared in the collective call to restore our minds and reproductive parts back to the present day.

The marches were inclusive and intersectional; they united around a common goal of creating a society in which all women, without exception, are free to live their lives in safe and healthy environments. Perhaps, as always, Angela Davis most eloquently summed up the meaning of the marches when she said that the women’s marches represented the promise of feminism.

The ticking clock, so often associated with a woman’s reproductive system, takes on a new meaning in the context of the times we live in. There are forces pushing the political clock on women’s reproductive rights backwards, whether it be through new legislation, by limiting resources and funding to women’s health, or by progressively shifting responsibility for women’s health care from the community to the individual. Now, more than ever, let’s hold on to the fact that women’s reproductive health is, literally, what keeps the world ticking over. It needs to be valued.

Giving a problem a name

Image// IB Times UK

Image// IB Times UK

The 16 days of activism against gender-based violence are very special days in the political calendar. Right now, all over the world, including here at home, people are honouring women and girls, and recognising our right to live free of gender-based violence. We all come together in an intensive effort to name the harms caused by violence against women and girls, to dismantle the systems and norms that support and perpetuate it, and to create a new vision for a world without it.

And while we don’t always talk much about feminism during these 16 days, we do owe a huge historical and ongoing debt to feminist activists who have brought the issue of violence against women and girls to the world, and who importantly, have created the language that we use to talk about it.

By creating words and concepts like patriarchy, sexual harassment, misogyny and intersectionality, our feminist sisters have named women’s oppressions, the harms caused and the strategies to fight them. Happily, we now take this lexicon for granted so that it is no longer surprising to hear misogyny being called out, or to share a conviction with the majority that sexual harassment is wrong. But feminism is not a dying or historical movement: it is alive and well and feminists continue to play a crucial role in moving the thinking forward.

So during these 16 days of honouring women, we would like to send a special shout out to our feminist faves: the wonderful likes of Angela Davis, Kimberle Crenshaw, and Marai Larasi who have made it possible to name what we see. As another of our bests, Sara Ahmed has said, naming an experience as sexist not only gives an account of something that is wrong, it is also a demand for transformation. It is a way of saying ‘no’. The wrong is no longer acceptable.

Embracing hysteria

Image via zazzle.com

Image via zazzle.com

The ovaries, along with their BFF, the uterus, have received some well-deserved media attention this month. Here at MCWH, as far as media coverage of body parts go, this was a welcome reprieve from those sports columns that regularly report on the already well-reported groin.

For anyone who missed it, journalist Van Badham and radio commentator Steve Price, both guests on Q & A, responded to a question from audience member Tarang Chawla about the links between misogynist humour and violence against women. In the course of the discussion, in which Steve Price’s characteristic response (for the uninitiated, just Google ‘mansplaining’) was met with Van Badham’s reasoning, understanding and actual facts, Price labelled Badham ‘hysterical’. A collective gasp was heard across the audience at Price’s pitiful choice of words, followed by laughter and applause at Badham’s quick-witted response, attributing her good sense to her ovaries.

Price’s intent was to put Badham down for her ‘hysteria’, but at MCWH we have a different view. We have found that lady parts can in fact take hold of a person’s emotions and thoughts and lead them to make intelligent, incisive comment on social issues. We are speaking metaphorically, rather than biologically of course: as we saw, Tarang Chawla’s considered question shows that one doesn’t need to be a current owner of a uterus to hold some admirably hysterical qualities. Interestingly, hysteria has been attributed in the past to anti-racist and LGBTI rights activism, as well as feminist advocacy.

So in the light of this most recent acknowledgement of the power of the womb and its ovarian side-kicks, we suggest that social justice activists fully embrace our hysteria, along with the passion, anger, tenaciousness, courage, persistence, love, caring and desire for a just society that seems to go along with that admirable condition. We pay homage to the hysterics who envisage positive change for marginalised people and who spend their days contributing to the achievement of a more socially just and equal world. If you’ve never considered yourself a hysteric before, but you’re wondering if the time is right to join the movement, we say yes! There has never been a better time to ‘grow a pair’.

Why breastfeeding is a feminist issue.

Image via theknitter.co.uk

Image via theknitter.co.uk

 

In August we celebrated World Breastfeeding Week (yes, it exists!), which this year aimed to highlight the importance of empowering women globally to combine breastfeeding and work and to make workplaces more breastfeeding-friendly.

For women who breastfeed, this empowerment is certainly important, but there are so many other reasons why breastfeeding is a feminist issue. Nursing mothers face a well-documented history of public discomfort and shaming that leads to discrimination and stigma. Everyone seems to have an opinion: whether you should or shouldn’t breastfeed, how long to do it, where and when is appropriate – advice and opinions on these issues can often be scathing and there’s nothing that says sisterhood or women’s empowerment in that.

Not to mention the double standard of our society gratuitously flaunting breasts in advertising and other media in a bid to sell more stuff, yet deeming a woman breastfeeding her baby as unacceptable to be seen in public. Once the breast’s role is no longer to sexually gratify or to be a source of pleasure, but is instead used and controlled by women to nourish a child, it suddenly becomes something society shouldn’t see. Breastfeeding is an issue that ticks all the feminist boxes – autonomy over our bodies, social and gender ownership of what is an “acceptable” female body.

For immigrant and refugee women too, the stigma, shame and judgement around breastfeeding can be a strong disincentive to make an active and free choice about whether, when and how to breastfeed. Add to the mix cultural identity (both personal and communal), traditional and family practices, as well as social isolation and barriers accessing and understanding the myriad of information and advice, and you start to wonder why we don’t just throw up our hands and reach for the formula.

One recent study found just that: Interviews with first generation immigrant Indian women in Australia, revealed that breastfeeding was inexorably linked to cultural identity and heritage for new mothers, with all participants viewing breastfeeding as an essential part of motherhood. After birth however, all but one of the women began formula feeding before 6 months of age, due to breastfeeding difficulties, return to paid work, conflicting advice from healthcare professionals, and cultural isolation and lack of support.

When not even a supermodel can manage to normalise breast feeding without public backlash we really, as women, need to band together and get behind the movement. The law in Australia prohibits discrimination against breast-feeding women, but like many laws surrounding the discrimination and equality of women, these values are not always reflected in social practice and community attitudes. We need to facilitate women’s free choices about breastfeeding wherever and whenever they choose. It’s time that attitudes to women breastfeeding in public entered the 21st century. It’s up to women to lead this change together.

For our part, we want to celebrate the women who advocate for the right to make free and active breastfeeding choices. Whether you are a woman who flies back in the face of judgement about the length of time she breastfeeds, or you proudly display your choice to continue the long held tradition of breastfeeding children other than your own, or you work to increase the visibility of the diversity of women who breastfeed, we would like to honour you and value your contribution to making women’s mothering easier. Our mothers and babies need you

Celebrating the Party Spoilers

Untitled (Sergey Sus/flickr)

Sergey Sus untitled

Whether it’s the end-of-year work parties, the start-of-summer BBQs or family get-togethers, for many of us December is a time of intense socialising. That’s why December is also a particularly dangerous month for becoming ‘the party spoiler’.

We have all been there: standing around at a party, overhearing someone telling a sexist joke or a racist joke or a sexist and racist joke, and thinking, I really need to say something but then I’m going to be labelled “the party spoiler” or “the troublemaker” or “the one who can’t take a joke”.

Each of us will have a different level of comfort about speaking up. Some of us wouldn’t hesitate. But it is not always an easy thing to take the plunge and “spoil the party”, particularly if the “offender” is someone you want or need to get along well with: your uncle, your neighbours or your partner’s new boss. Power relationships still exist at parties and many of us can be intimidated to disagree with work colleagues in positions of power, or with relatives who may be our elders. As immigrant and refugee women, choosing to speak out in these situations can make us feel like we’re creating more distance between ourselves and the person whose opinions we find offensive. And it’s a party, after all, we should just let it go, shouldn’t we?

There is no right or wrong way to handle these situations and everyone is different. But at this time of festivity and joy, we’d like to celebrate all the party spoilers out there. Thank you for speaking out, thank you for taking the lead in reducing racism and sexism in our world, and thank you for taking risks on our behalf.

We wish you well this December. Because it’s your party too, and you don’t need an unchallenged sexist or racist joke or opinion spoiling it for you. And if you look around there will probably be someone else at the party, standing not very far away, maybe even next to you, whose great time was getting spoiled too. And to them, you just saved the party.

Nothing but blue skies

Kate-Ter-Haar-Nothing-But-Blue-Skies-Do-I-See

Nothing But Blue Skies Do I See. Kate Ter Haar (2011) flickr.

 

Feminists are amazingly diverse. There is such a wide range of approaches to the question of what causes women’s oppression, and what to do about it. But if there is anything that binds feminists across time, space and ideology, it has to be that they are good at having ‘vision’. Feminists, like all social justice advocates, have a wonderful capacity to imagine a different world.

Simone de Beauvoir imagined a world in which women were fully recognised as acting, experiencing subjects, rather than merely objects of the patriarchal ‘eternal feminine’ myth. In the radical feminism camp, Shulamith Firestone imagined a world in which women lived free of the burden of reproduction and the regressive limitations of the traditional nuclear family. For liberal feminists, from the sassy suffragettes to our very own Women’s Electoral Lobby, the new world was one in which women, through the mechanisms of the state, were equal actors in the public sphere.

Here at MCWH, our favourite world to live in would be the one imagined by the intersectional feminists, from the materialist to the post-colonial, who made us all think a little differently again about gender. Specifically, they helped us to think more broadly about the ways that sexism as a system of women’s oppression intersects with other forms, such as racism, capitalism, ageism, and ableism.

Feminists such as Angela Davis, with her landmark 1981 book, ‘Women, Race and Class’, alerted us to the role of racism and eugenics, hand in hand with sexism, in holding back women’s reproductive rights. Aileen Moreton-Robinson has articulated the impact on Indigenous women’s lives of gendered oppression in the context of colonisation in Australia. Helen Meekosha has written of the impact of colonialism and capitalism, thinking through the ways that these systems intersect with gender oppression to cause disability in the global South. These are the many ways that we have been reminded that it is not only sexism that contributes to women’s oppression.

Such feminist thinkers, from bell hooks and Gloria Anzaldua, to Kimberly Crenshaw, Chandra Mohanty and Gayatri Spivak, have expanded the vision from one in which women are equal to men, to one in which inequality and oppression on any basis ceases to exist. An intersectional approach gives us a vision of gender equality that does not simply even up the circumstances of women and men within each class, race or culture, leaving the rifts between classes and races intact. Rather, it imagines a world without structural inequality itself.

That’s a difficult world for us to picture now, an almost unfathomable change in what we know and what some of us experience, but look how far we’ve already come. We need to keep the blue skies of intersectional feminism firmly in our sights, and make sure we take the time to appreciate its variation, its subtleties and its colour.