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The politics of ending violence against women

In Sarah Capper, Sexual Abuse on May 24, 2013 at 12:03 PM


By Sarah Capper
Sheilas editor

May 24, 2013

A couple of months ago, I took a cab ride into Melbourne city. The conversation moved to what job I had – and when I mentioned the Victorian Women’s Trust, the young male cab driver looked a bit perplexed. I explained that the Trust funds projects addressing discrimination and disadvantage faced by women and girls living in Victoria, only to be greeted by more confused looks.

When he asked specifically what I worked on, I said ‘Communications and Policy’, and the conversation drifted towards law reform and I mentioned working on addressing men’s violence against women.

He asked about laws relating to this. I mentioned family violence, sexual offences and how many laws over history were created by men and not necessarily ideal in terms of outcomes for women. I then made the quip that it was only in the early 1980s that rape in marriage became illegal. This caused the biggest eyebrow raise, which I could see through his rear vision mirror from the backseat.

“Rape in marriage?” he said, with a high inflection in his voice that indicated a question.

“Well, when a woman, in this case, a wife, is forced to have sex with her husband, without her consent, against her will – as in raped,” I tried.

“But what do you mean?” he genuinely asked, followed by an incredulous, “She’s my wife!”.

I could see we needed a much longer cab ride to address the ‘confusion’. I had one more attempt at explaining, paid the fare, and was again reminded of the world I inhabit, and the disconnect between the ‘ordinary person’ and the sector I work in, and how there is a daunting amount of work to continue.


Last week I was at the inaugural White Ribbon International conference, where participants were overloaded in hearing three days of talks centred on the prevention of men’s violence against women.

The official opening of the conference included a panel of pollies – welcoming guests to Sydney and all talking the talk on their commitment to violence prevention.

We had the Federal Minister for the Status of Women, Julie Collins, open the conference with a $1 million announcement to set up a new national organisation to engage with the community on preventing violence against women and children. Collins apologised for the Prime Minister being unable to attend, because she was attending to a little document known as the ‘Federal Budget’.

Collins was followed by the Shadow federal Minister, Senator Michaelia Cash, who told us the issue was “above politics” and talked about how committed Opposition Leader Tony Abbott is in addressing the issue. So committed, she mentioned ‘Tony’s Pollie Pedal’ and raising money for the Manly women’s refuge in his electorate.

Cash departed after giving her speech – noted at the start of the NSW Women’s Minister Pru Goward’s address, “and I thank Senator Cash who is leaving now”, and the others followed suit soon after their official duties and the session ended.

Inside the conference booklet, we had a message from the Prime Minister Julia Gillard, about how the “Australian Government stands with White Ribbon in its endeavour”.

This was followed by a message from Victoria’s Minister for Community Services Mary Wooldridge, who wrote of the State’s Action Plan to Address Violence against Women and Children as covering “prevention, early intervention, and response measures”.

And finally there was a message from federal Green leader Senator Christine Milne, who wrote about campaigning to make domestic and family violence as a separate form of discrimination in law. On the surface, it appears that politicians really care about this issue.

The conference itself included a mix of speakers from around the country, with some international ‘gurus’ in the prevention of men’s violence against women also attending – like White Ribbon founder Michael Kaufman and educator and author Jackson Katz.

Both gave arresting presentations, with Katz in particular honing in on some home truths. Katz joked about being applauded for stating the bleeding obvious on various issues that even still seem to be missed by mainstream media discussion – for instance he talked about the gun massacres in the United States and noted that of the last 60 odd gun massacres, all but one were perpetrated by men – and how that if this had been reversed in terms of gender, there would be widespread discussion about ‘what is wrong with our women?’ – yet instead, the debate focuses on gun control and mental health, and is devoid of gender analysis.

Kaufman talked about the history of White Ribbon, and its humble Canadian beginnings around kitchen tables, and talked about how societies which have bigger gaps in gender equality and reinforce traditional roles of men and women, also have higher rates of men’s violence against women. Read the rest of this entry »


Using Thatcher’s death to rewrite history, past and present

In Ideology, Misogyny, News Limited, Sarah Capper on April 18, 2013 at 5:17 PM


By Sarah Capper, Sheilas Editor

Source: Sheilas
18 April 2013

When Germaine Greer penned a piece on the late “crocodile hunter” Steve Irwin for the Guardian shortly after his death from a stingray puncture, it was followed by howls of protest from all parts of the globe. Greer ended her ‘barbed’ take on the much-loved ‘Aussie legend’ with:

“The animal world has finally taken its revenge on Irwin, but probably not before a whole generation of kids in shorts seven sizes too small has learned to shout in the ears of animals with hearing 10 times more acute than theirs, determined to become millionaire animal-loving zoo-owners in their turn.”

As a result, Greer was lambasted as insensitive, cruel and GASP, “unaustralian” for daring to write such a critique. Some called for her to be banned from entering the country again. The National Portrait Gallery replaced a picture of Greer with – you guessed it – Steve Irwin.

In such situations, the assumption is that we should never speak ill of the dead, even if those who have died have been major public figures and divisive ones at that.

Former British Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher was indeed one such public figure, who at the helm of the United Kingdom during the 1980s presided over policies which had huge impacts on the people she governed. Her passing last week led to a barrage of global tributes from political leaders of various persuasions.

In response, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said that “as a woman, I am admiring of her achievements on becoming the first woman to lead the United Kingdom”.

Locally, conservative columnists took the opportunity to elevate the memory of Britain’s first and only female PM as a chance to sink the boot into Australia’s first and current female Prime Minister.

Under the headline ‘JULIA’S NO MAGGIE’, News Limited columnist Andrew Bolt lambasted Gillard’s response to the news as “pathetic and graceless”, as “Thatcher never sold herself as a victim or just a representative of her gender”.

Bolt used his column to have another spray at Emily’s List, a terrible organisation in the eyes of the Bolt’s of this world, which, god forbid, aims to support progressive women in political positions within the Australian Labor Party.

Referring to an Emily’s List function two years ago, Bolt quoted Gillard at the event as saying she “didn’t get here [to be Australia’s first female Prime Minister] alone … I think of all the women who made my journey possible … a century of activism by women of matchless courage and resolve.” Read the rest of this entry »

The round-up: For whom the poll ticks

In Fairfax, News Limited, Press Gallery, Sarah Capper on February 28, 2013 at 10:46 PM
Sarah Capper

Sarah Capper

By Sarah Capper, Sheilas Editor

VOTER support for Labor has jumped to its strongest levels since the last election to put the federal government within striking distance of the Coalition …

This story appeared not two years ago, not six months ago, but less than six weeks ago, on 15 January, 2013 (in The Australian newspaper, ‘Labor starts poll year with bounce: Newspoll’ by David Crowe).

Fast forward six weeks and it’s an entirely different story, with the mainstream media’s coverage on the federal Government’s opinion poll fortunes as being incredibly dire, with doom and gloom scenarios abounding – the resurrecting of has-been Kevin Rudd leadership challenge possibilities, with commentators once again (gleefully) issuing death toll bells for Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

The Murdoch press has never been a great fan of the Gillard Government, with a history of editorials and columnists aplenty going on the attack throughout the course of this minority government’s duration. Following last week’s Nielsen poll, which has the gap widening between the Government and Opposition, calls for Gillard’s head were not just limited to reports by News Limited journalists.

ABC Drum columnist Barrie Cassidy noted the switch in collective commentary, writing that:

Troubling for the Government, Fairfax at varying levels has joined News Ltd in baying for Julia Gillard’s blood.

Cue Mark Baker, Alan Stokes and Waleed Aly (and a raft of others) who wrote scathing opinion pieces last week which could cause even the most ardent of social democrats to choke on their Weeties and feel that all hope was lost.

Baker: It’s time, Labor. Time to end the delusion that Julia Gillard and her battle-scarred camp followers have any chance of political resurrection. Kevin Rudd might well be a very naughty boy, but Labor has no choice but to test whether he still has the makings of a messiah. It is the only card this discredited, demoralized and dysfunctional government has left to play.

Stokes: Julia Gillard, it is time for you to make your graceful, dignified, humble, selfless exit from the prime-ministership.

Aly: Labor’s problems are not nearly so managerial and technocratic. They are much, much bigger than that. Labor’s problem is ideological. It doesn’t really mean anything any more, and probably hasn’t since Paul Keating lost power in 1996. Read the rest of this entry »

Speculating Poll Dating

In Federal Election, Sarah Capper on February 14, 2013 at 8:22 PM
Margo’s note: Sarah Capper edits the Victorian Women’s Trust feminist monthly Sheilas. She’s an old friend who has kindly let AFHP publish her first column in 2013. Each month she interviews a bonza sheila and this time it’s Ita (registration for Sheilas is free). I love Sarah’s writing, this time on timing the election, and hope you do too.
227 Days of MSM Farce

227 Days of MSM Farce

By Sarah Capper
Source: Sheilas
February 14, 2013

If you google ‘election date speculation’ or ‘election timing’ and any of the last federal election year dates (eg. 2010, 2007), you get millions of results. So much so, that in the lead up to a federal poll (or state for that matter, where there are no fixed terms), a large media focus becomes fixated on the exact date on which we will vote.

When the Prime Minister surprisingly announced September 14 as this year’s federal poll date (at her National Press Club address a fortnight ago), it sucked a lot of oxygen out of a tedious debate that would normally ensue.

Of course, there’s always certain supposed ‘rules’ in setting election dates. The main ones to consider are that elections are not to be held to interrupt any religious (secular or sporting) festival. Yes, as a sports mad nation, the notion that we might have to vote and watch a football game on the same day for some is said to be sacrilegious.

For example, it is seen to be a no brainer that an election would be called on a grand final weekend. Even a clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald from June 1946 carries this ominous passage:

“CANBERRA, Thursday.-Victorian members of Parliament are frowning on September 28 as the Federal general election date because a big football match is to be played in Melbourne that day … They claim that the game will attract 80,000 people and will affect polling figures.”

The election was held on September 28, and Chifley was returned to Government.

According to the AFL, there have been nine federal elections that have fallen during the “football season” since 1946, which is presumably a bit of a broad statement given that the season lasts for nearly six months of the year and general elections are held on Saturdays.

But if you listen to the current doomsdayer commentary surrounding the latest ‘drugs in sport’ scandal, we might be lucky to actually get to footy finals this year (queue doctored tabloid images of Lance Armstrong wearing an AFL jersey, or a photo of random footballs from various codes with syringes in the foreground).

And presumably as a Western Bulldogs supporter the Prime Minister may not think she herself will be preoccupied with her team being in one of the finals.

Of course, whenever an election date is announced there will always be someone or some group unhappy. Queue the Member for Wentworth Malcolm Turnbull, who immediately took to Twitter to bemoan the coinciding date of Yom Kippur with this year’s poll date. Read the rest of this entry »