It’s been two years since Donald Trump stood in front of the Capitol Building to solemnly swear the oath that would make him 45th President of the United States. Despite the fear and trepidation shared by many at that time, I’m not sure anyone could have predicted the quite the wild ride American citizens – and indeed global citizens – have been on since. Our existence is now one of alternative facts, widespread distrust of government institutions, and unrepentant discriminatory efforts from the most powerful person in the world.
In amongst all the doom and gloom, however, positives have emerged since Trump’s election; these include a reenergised and refocused women’s movement. A movement that made itself seen and heard on the very first day of his presidency, with worldwide marches attracting millions of people. This weekend those marches will be replicated, as they were the previous year, including here in Australia. It begs the question whether two years on, these demonstrations against Trump’s accession to office are still relevant?
“Why is the march still relevant? Because he’s still there, and we’re still here,” is the forthright answer of Bri Lee, Australian author and Women’s March Sydney Ambassador. Lee explains that marching is not only about what’s going on in the United States. She points to the disadvantage of women here in Australia too, particularly those who have been the victims of violence and lists a litany of injustices: “Craig McLaughlin has only just been charged with assault. Luke Lazarus doesn’t have a criminal conviction for his behaviour, and NSW and QLD are still reviewing consent laws. Survivors in Tasmania and the Northern Territory can’t tell their stories.”.
Last year’s Lee’s debut book Eggshell Skull was released to both popular and critical acclaim. In it she details the sexual assault committed against her as a child, her experience of the legal system as a young judge’s associate and ultimately, a decision to take action against the person who hurt her. The writing is honest and relatable, young and fresh. It is revealing that Lee’s story has become a rallying point for a new generation of Australian women who want to see legal and social change on family violence and sexual assault. Women who are drawn to participating in demonstrations like this one.
“Why is the march still relevant? Because [Trump’s] still there, and we’re still here.”
The 2019 women’s march in Sydney will focus on violence against women, partnering with Domestic Violence NSW to promote their Safe State campaign. The organisers will harness the power of women and their allies to draw attention to the crisis of family violence in this country. More than one Australian woman a week is killed by a man who once told her he loved her, whether a partner or former partner. Despite improved awareness of this dire situation in recent years (in no small part thanks to campaigners like Bri Lee, Rosie Batty and others) these devastating statistics aren’t moving.
“Whilst Donald Trump certainly inspired the original US protests, [he] is a symptom but not the cause of misogyny and inequality,” says lead organiser Meagan Date. “In Australia there is still very much a need to be loud and public about fighting for equality. Australia has a deep problem with sexism and misogyny, which has, among other things, led to the crisis of violence against women, girls, trans, and non-binary folks that we are currently experiencing”.
The march will recognise the link between violence against women both inside and outside the home, with broader issues of discrimination. It all stems from a culture that values the contribution and rights of women and girls as less than that of boys and men. And it is that same culture which means other issues of inequality are left to stagnant. Even in progressive, modern democracies like Australia.
Dr Anne Summers is also an ambassador for the march and a true legend of the Australian women’s movement. Her seminal work Damned Whores and God’s Police was first published in 1975. That was before enormous progress for Australian women including subsidised child care, the Sex Discrimination Act, and paid parental leave. Having now sold 100,000 copies, the lives of women has changed considerably since its publication. Yet at the same time, many of the stereotypes about women’s role in society and the limits on their full participation within it, remain.
Summers says “we have to improve women’s economic opportunities, enabling access to god job with equal pay and adequate retirement income. We also need to take urgent action to reduce and ultimately end violence against women. Our politicians need to be way more responsive on these issues”.
Bri Lee recognises the interconnectedness of the economic and inclusion challenges outlined by Summers, with violence against women. “Income inequality and lack of affordable childcare exacerbates domestic and family violence, which is all about power imbalance,” she says. “Media coverage of reductive, insulting stereotypes about women affect juror’s biases when they’re evaluating people’s evidence in the courtroom. Lack of representation in politics and sports filters down to what children can see and think they can ‘be’.”
In an era of social media, where people spend an average of four hours a day on their phones, it can be easy to dismiss public demonstrations as outdated or irrelevant. Not true, say organisers of the march. While online activism has become essential for connecting and rallying people in support of the modern women’s movement, it becomes meaningful only when translated to real world change. The enormous visual demonstration of women’s dissent following Donald Trump’s election became a defining moment in his Presidency. It damaged his authority from day one.
The women’s march hasn’t always got it right though, having previously been criticised for lack of inclusion and representation. This year’s organisers are determined to rectify that. “Women’s March Sydney has always strived to be diverse and inclusive, across our organising team, and represented in our event speaker, performer, and partner line-ups,” says Meagan Date. “I think it’s important to recognise that we can always be better, and that feminism that does not include the most marginalised of us isn’t really feminism at all”.
“Marching is important for us. It connects us with our personal power, it amplifies our voices.”
The NSW Women’s Alliance are partners in this year’s march and committed to seeing Australia move beyond a conversation to take real action to keep women safe. 69 women died last year as a result of family violence and 29,124 women were assaulted and that’s in NSW alone. Domestic Violence NSW, which is part of the NSW Women’s Alliance, supported 44,000 women and their children in 2018 but know that most victims never contact police and are still suffering in silence. CEO Moo Baulch says “We’re just beginning to get people to understand the prevalence, the impacts and the scale of the problem. If we’re going to end gendered violence it requires a commitment from all parts of society and the government backing over a long period of time to use all the drivers necessary to create attitudinal and behavioural change”.
The Women’s March Sydney will begin at 11.30am in Hyde Park on Sunday 20th of January. For further details you can sign up for their e-newsletter here. It’s likely to be a hot day, so make sure you bring sunscreen, a hat and easy shoes for walking (remember, it’s a march). If you’ve got a sassy or witty feminist sign to carry, or t-shirt to wear, then all the better. For details of marches being held elsewhere in Australia please head to Facebook and search ‘women’s march’ and the name of your capital city or regional centre.
If you’re hesitant about going along and wondering what difference could your attendance possibly make? The answer is, a lot. Media personality and MC of the Sydney march, Yumi Stynes says we shouldn’t underestimate the influence women have when they gather together for events such as this. “Marching is important for us,” Stynes reflects. “It connects us with our personal power, it amplifies our voices. It also connects us beautifully with our communities. I love going to a march and looking around at all the other people who have taken the time out of their day to stand together and say, “We believe in something!””
Main image clockwise from top: NSW Domestic Violence CEO Moo Baulch/Image credit: Dave Wheeler, Bri Lee and Anne Summers
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