think we have to create new ways of doing instead of perpetuating the
male paradigm. We can't put women into the male structure and expect that
they can change things from within. I think we have to take a different
I come from a very
conservative background: that you must never speak about politics or religion
was something often mentioned in our house.
My father brought
home the Sun and we went to the sport pages at the back first. We never
talked about political issues at all. The family voted Liberal, and my
mother was convinced that you always had to remain private.
For example, the
police were to be regarded as people you had nothing to do with at all.
Even if you were burgled, you didn't report it, because you didn't want
to get on anyone's records.
The same attitude
prevailed at the conservative, private girls' school I went to. We stuck
to rules and regulations - everybody conformed. We did the same thing,
we looked the same, we acted the same and we dressed the same.
At university my
early training was in education and that was conservative. I don't know
what happened to me, but I always felt I didn't fit in. If anyone was
doing something slightly out of step, I was most likely behind it, but
I was still conservative. I wasn't exposed to anything that was a challenge
in any way.
The first time I
voted, I voted Liberal. This was at the time when we had the referendum
to amend The Australian Constitution Act of 1900, so indigenous people
could have Australian citizenship rights and be included in the national
census. And I remember thinking "Why shouldn't they?" but it wasn't in
my consciousness to wonder who these people were, or anything about them.
I had no exposure to this information at all.
I taught for the
three years while I was bonded by my studentship, then a group of girl
friends resigned and we went traveling for four years.
I was out of Australia
from 1969 to 1973, living pretty well like a gypsy , living in a little
car, an ex Post Office, Morris Minor van from Scotland, and travelled
through North Africa, Europe and across the unforgettable overland trek:
Europe to Australia. It was a girl's true life adventure. That was when
I started thinking differently and living differently.
My mother, in particular,
had never regarded status or having a lot of money or possessions as important,
so I had that at the back of my mind. I realized at that time, what was
important in life was not consumerism or what you had, but about how people
related to each other.
The experiences we
had when we were traveling were not those of a tourist, trying to compare
what we saw with what we had come from, as we were trying to be part of
the community we were traveling through, trying to learn as much as we
could about where we were. We didn't even take photographs - we didn't
want to be seen to be voyeuristic outsiders. We wanted to be part of the
communities we were with.
That experience changed
me a lot. Those four years made a big impact - I don't think I have ever
been the same since. I certainly never had ambitions to be a big consumer
or seek out status or a big bank balance from that time on.
I developed the
feeling that there needs to be one global community of people, and I felt
I wanted to be part of actively sharing what we all have - this planet.
Part of the travel
experience was recognizing how affluent we are and how other people, just
by chance of birth, are in situations which are extremely difficult and
where they don't have opportunities. They are disadvantaged, and this
has nothing to do with their capacity or their skills, but just the fact
they were born in that spot. I think gaining that understanding affected
my life from that time onwards.
That is really how
I see the globe and I think we have a responsibility to give back to those
who haven't been fortunate enough to land in our shoes, not just to sit
back and think we are the 'lucky country' and have a right to all that
is in it. All my activism is with this in mind.
When we were in London
at the end of the sixties there were feminist slogans all over the place.
I remember saying to my friend "There must be something very strange happening
here. Why are these women complaining that they are being hard done by?"
I felt things they were objecting to were not happening to women in Australia.
How naive and stupid was I?
Of course, we weren't
around at the time when there was a lot of activism at home. We didn't
see newspapers - we only had local news of wherever we were. We were learning
in a different way - from the communities we were living in and the people
we were meeting, rather than knowing what was happening globally, particularly
I came back to Australia
with no more insight about feminism than when I left. When I returned,
I started working in teacher education in Ballarat, and when I went to
a conference about women in sport, all feminist issues were being discussed.
I just thought "Yes!
Now I get what this is about. This is it". Suddenly all the lights went
on and the experience of 1,500 women together, a whole conference of women
talking about women in sport and the disadvantage they were experiencing,
(which I hadn't thought much about before) flowed over into other areas
and I was changed forever.
So as well as my
concern for all on the planet (not only the human species) I now had this
overlay of feminism as well. Feminism became my passion, one manifestation
along the continuation of the same thing -consideration for others and
the whole species. But feminism is the most luminous spot on this continuum
My feminism is that
which promises to move all humankind in a different and more positive
direction. I think women have the potential to change how the globe functions,
how we respect each other and how we respect the planet.
has had the most influence over the last 30 or so years and this has been
great in giving women more independence and individual choice but has
done little for communities as a whole, specifically the global community.
I think we have to
create new ways of doing instead of perpetuating the male paradigm. We
can't put women into the male structure and expect that they can change
things from within. I think we have to take a different direction. The
male structured institutions are so strong they socialize everybody who
gets into them.
So, if you are a
woman who goes into politics, the male political system, or the military
system, for example, there is no way you can change what you have been
trained to perpetuate.
within the male systems are well established, they use an extensive process
of socialization for all who come in and women learn that if they don't
take up the expected behaviours and attitudes, they will be forced to
drop out just like the males.And women learn to act male, extremely well,
often better than the males themselves. Maggie Thatcher was a champion.
But if we don't replace
these institutions, we will be heading for the cliff edge. Too many behaviours
are extremely destructive. If it comes to conflict and we use military
might, nowadays that doesn't mean just hitting someone over the head with
a club. Those hell bent on power and controlling others have become extremely
efficient in how they can kill people: how they can annihilate people.
We can't keep going
forward as a species perpetuating these legitimized acts violence which
are so destructive. Human beings just won't survive. And acting to root
out, the ever present 'enemy', compulsory in the male paradigm, is far
from being civilised and socially disastrous.
If you look at environmental
concerns, the way we are using and abusing our environment - well the
environment is finite. We have to take a different direction, one which
emphasises positive human interaction and care for the planet as a whole,
rather than the present structure, which is one of domination, using and
abusing, and environmental destruction.
Plundering the earth
for profit can hardly be 'world's best practice'. We can't just go into
a male structure and hope to reform it. It doesn't work.
Women straddle two
ways of being and have had an 'other' experience, from our species herstory
as well as our present history, of being concerned for other people: of
nurturing rather than destroying. I think it is vital for us to lead,
to take a new path to develop those capacities and shape new ways of living.
Certainly the feminism that I adhere to is of that sort.
A good example of
this is the Revolutionary Association of Women in Afghanistan (RAWA).
It is an amazing organization. It is an example of exactly how women can
create a different paradigm.
RAWA is unique. Their
model is something that could well be taken up in other societies for
the better - for everybody's betterment - not just women's betterment,
but for everybody's.
RAWA started in 1977.
It started with one woman, Meena, who was on all accounts, very charismatic
and visionary. She devoted her life to the pursuit of women's human rights
in Afghanistan. This was at a time when championing feminist ideas was
within a culture that was not just fifty years or a hundred years behind
in such ways of thinking, as was feminism here in the 1970's, but centuries
- light years behind.
But here was a woman
speaking out, demanding that women be granted their human rights, knowing
that the population as a whole would be better off if women had this recognition.
She had a group of women who linked up with her to have this movement
start and an extraordinary organization was born.
RAWA is strongly
political but also active in assisting the most needy, especially women
and children and runs many lifesaving programmes: health care, orphanages,
small business programmes for widows and prostitutes and the like.
They support women,
personally empowering them and leading them to become politically minded
and active to bring about social change.
Education is a key
part of RAWA. Their educational philosophy is not just about having everybody
reach their potential, but about encouraging women to be politically minded,
plus being concerned for others, and linking with others, and supporting
It is about including
everybody - not having ethnic differences, financial background differences,
but having everybody working together.
It is about respect
and educates males to think differently about women and themselves. The
revolution they want is through pen and paper - having women educated
so they have the capacity to be able to bring about change in the community.
RAWA's leader, Meena
was assassinated ten years after she started for being so politically
outspoken. She was a threat: a threat to the fundamentalist/conservative
elements, so they got rid of her. They would have presumed that this was
going to be the end of these threatening, ratbag women but it worked in
the opposite way.
Those who were working
with RAWA just changed how they organized themselves and RAWA, the unique
organisation, was developed.
They went underground
and created an organisational structure that protected their security.
They abandoned the
role of leader, and introduced a flatter and more widely distributed form
of decision making with members working in semi-autonomous committees.
This was done for security reasons, mainly, but it has been a useful way
to empower more who are in the group and to give a greater number responsibility.
Within RAWA there
are a lot of women who have had extremely traumatic experiences and who
need a lot of emotional support, who are illiterate, who have had family
members (particularly male family members) killed, so they don't have
any capacity to earn an income.
These women are all
taken in and supported. Everybody has a part within the organization,
which is one where all teach and help those who are less able, and are
then taught and helped by those who are more able.
Even if you send
the organization an email, the response is warm, so even an outside stranger
can notice the difference in how interaction takes place.The emotional
attachment to the organisation is very strong as a consequence.
All members see themselves
as 'RAWA', not individuals, and RAWA is the collective whole. The commitment
the women in RAWA have to the organization is extraordinary.
RAWA is 2,000 strong
at the moment. It has at least as many male supporters who are quite happy
to go along with this group of women taking the lead. Some of them are
husbands, some are fathers and brothers or other relatives, some are friends.
They also risk their
life in being a supporter. This is extraordinary. Here is a group of women
who are extremely competent - they run a refugee camp in Pakistan and
their own hospital. They run mobile health care, orphanages, primary and
secondary schools, handicraft programs for widows and women who need assistance,
small business projects and make all the decisions. And men follow.
Where else does this
happen? They also work with prostitutes. Many women are forced into prostitution
because of a husband being killed. In Afghanistan this is ostracized:
anyone who is a prostitute is treated as a leper. Any who work with prostitutes
are also treated as lepers, but they do it.
So this group of
women are doing culturally revolutionary things: they make the decisions
and they have male supporters. But they are not just working in community
support areas. They are outspoken for women publicly and politically.
For example, their
website: it a public statement. It has been fantastic in getting human
rights abuses against women in the public eye.
They have conscientiously
documented and photographed instances of abuse and put them into the public
arena. They are well known, even though they are under cover.
They put out many
political publications. They have their 'Payam-e-Zan' or Women's Message'
magazine which is a very strong political analysis of what is happening
and a clear statement of the direction they want for the future of Afghanistan.
They are very strongly
outspoken against the Taliban and fundamentalist warlords who have been
responsible for the enormous amount of violence against women and men.
They regularly organise
political demonstrations in Pakistan, despite the risk. In Afghanistan
it would be much too dangerous: a women's only organisation, a publicly
outspoken one at that, is completely outrageous in a conservative environment
They don't use their
own names - they don't even know the names of other members, for security
reasons. If anyone is caught they can't give information about anyone
else. They have no headquarters and no landline phone.
They have been extremely
competent in adapting following what that happened to Meena. They had
to find a different model to function, and this is how they have chosen
to do it. Amazing!
Here, we are a bit
shy about thinking of a group of women as a legitimate entity. We are
a bit embarrassed that we are just women. We don't stand up with the confidence,
for example, of a male football club and feel that what we say and what
we do has validity.
In RAWA they don't
find this is a problem at all. They have no problem in being an organization
made up of women, and being quite strong about it.
This is why I find
RAWA such an extraordinary organization that we can learn much from.
Mariam Rawi, the
RAWA member who was here in Melbourne quite recently, gave the annual
human rights oration of the Mornington Peninsular Shire.
The CEO was standing
in front of the audience, introducing the opening address in a very neat,
well-tailored suit, with bow tie and expensive glasses: obviously on a
good salary. I am not meaning to knock him but he looked conspicuously
different compared to Mariam.
She was standing
beside him in borrowed clothes with her coat, a community coat from RAWA,
her jeans from a secondhand shop and her second hand shoes really ready
to be throw out, she told me. They were not holding together well because
they were mice eaten.
What Mariam receives
for her work is food and board: a very modest sum. Here is a woman who
is a key figure in an organization of 2,000 members, 2,000 local supporters
and an extensive international network of support and she gets close to
She works all night
because she is a married woman with a child and night is the best time
for her work, and the electricity stays on all night (if they are lucky)
so the internet works best then.
During the day it
doesn't function too well at all. They work in the night but when things
are functioning, in the day as well . The amount of time she works and
the amount of effort she puts in, like all RAWA members it seems, is extraordinary.
The work she does
has a major effect on many, many women who are in extreme, often life
and death, situations.
I was acutely aware
of the stark contrast as to how we value lives and how we value work from
one side of the globe to the other: where you are located, counts. Someone
in Afghanistan, particularly a woman, is not given the same value in spite
of her amazing efforts.
It is really quite
moving when you think about it. I gave Mariam her Australian tour timetable
and asked if it was too much, but she said "Whatever you give me, I will
do". For a whole month she worked 'full speed ahead' with never a request
for a breathing space.
Her passion and commitment
left me spellbound. Actually her audiences were spellbound, too. After
the presentation at Toorak College, from just one person who heard her
speak, a cheque for $10,000 was put into the RAWA account.
Talking about her
experiences, the commitment of RAWA and the future they want for women
and Afghanistan, just knocked people out of their socks. They really are
quite extraordinary women.
People really wanted
to get behind what they are doing at RAWA and to be supportive. They could
see the great significance of these women's work. And this is what I am
hopeful will happen here in Australia as well: that we will have a rejuvenation
of women actively following women's wisdom (you can call it that), looking
for new directions and building new social alternatives rather than trying
to change the male paradigm. That doesn't work .
And we can do better
than a mould an ocean of Margaret Thatchers. I think we can learn a lot
from RAWA - that women have the capacity; that we can take a different
direction which is outside the male model; that we should have the confidence
in what we are and who we are; that we matter and that we should be taken
notice of. RAWA has arisen out of adversity and whether this always has
to be the case to stimulate new thought and action, I don't know.
Perhaps the more
comfortable we are, the less likely we are to create something as effective
and 'revolutionary' as RAWA, but hopefully we can learn from it.
RAWA strongly acknowledges
its herstory, and Meena and her contribution are a constant part of RAWA's
present. It concerns me that the tradition that we have as women here
and the herstory we have as women is not something that is constantly
part of us or passed on or remembered continually.
The male tradition
never dies. For example, every Saturday in winter you hear the history
of every football club, who kicked what, when, etc. There is non-stop
reinforcement of the traditions of the male paradigm. Amongst women, we
don't have this.
Even with the Union
of Australian Women and all the fantastic work they have done, there is
not a stream of young women who are part of the same process - picking
up the work and going on with it. We tend to go ahead in fits and starts.
The Women's Festival
that Sue (Leigh) and I started in 2002 was to try to address that to some
extent, to get a big celebration on International Women's Day (IWD) going,
which would make women feel that a large and public festival by and for
women is appropriate. We really do need to celebrate women and feel positive
about who we are - that we are quite justified in having a large space
on the globe, as women.
The 'One Day of the
Year' for us should be IWD: a large festival, equal to the International
Comedy Festival or bigger. All the festivals we have in Melbourne have
got larger, year by year.
But on International
Women's Day there aren't banners hanging from Flinders Street Railway
Station and all down Swanston Street, letting everyone know it is International
Women's Day. We have to scratch around on the internet to try and find
something, anything, that is happening. I find this distressing.
Also, it is important
that women of all cultures should be involved in IWD. And all ages should
be together so we don't have broken ties with what has gone before: Everyone
should be part of women's organisations. Older people can then learn from
younger people, and younger from older, and we can all put our two bob's
worth in and we can all benefit together. That is really important.
It really struck
me just how disjointed even our recent path has become when I attended
a Reclaim the Night collective meeting some time ago and one young woman
read out the collective's statement. It said something to the effect of:
"For Reclaim the Night this year, this is our statement: women will be
liberated through the liberation of working class men". She then proceeded
to explain the herstory of feminism since about the nineteen sixties which
really didn't seem to match my memory of things or recorded events.
I found myself saying
"I don't think that is quite right" but she knew differently. And this
is only over one generation: she was of an age where she could have been
my daughter. I was troubled by her understanding of Reclaim the Night.
Another thing that
is imperative to bring about change for women and the community as a whole
is for males to be actively campaigning to change male attitudes and behaviour.
The feminism we now
have, which puts the onus on women to make demands that women have rights
and expect to be treated accordingly, is not enough. Men have been given
this information for decades but information about the rights of women
doesn't change the male belief system and men acting as agents of this
regularly had allegations of pack rape made against them with the sexual
violation of women part of their bonding process. Males prostituting women
is still seen as 'civilised' behaviour for men.
The 'flesh trade'
is on the rise, not fall, and the sexual trafficking of women, to 'service'
men is an ever expanding, global pandemic of abuse.
There was some research
done by Angela Taft recently looking at 18 to 20 year old Australian women
and a quarter of them said they had experienced domestic violence and
half of this was with an intimate partner.
male behaviour hasn't changed too much. It is interesting too that abusive
male behaviour here has become more cunning, so acting violently against
a women without thought, has been replaced by acting in a sneaky, premeditated
There is a significant
increase, for example, in men who are spiking drinks before sexually assaulting
and raping women. They know this behaviour is not appropriate, but they
are still doing it - in a calculated way, even worse than just acting
from a knee jerk reaction.
The Australian Institute
of Criminology 's recent study found 60% of spiking related sexual assaults
happened in the home by someone known. It has to take males actually out
there, on their soap box, (as feminists did in the seventies) demanding
that males change their behaviour, if women's circumstances are to change.
Then you have ridiculous
comments like those from John Howard, the prime minister, and Mark Latham,
stating we need more male teachers in schools because boys aren't getting
the male message. They need male role models.
In a football team,
where could you find more males being supportive or bonding, providing
more male role models in the one spot than anywhere else? And what behaviour
do they encourage? - violence against women and misogyny.
It doesn't work that
having 'x' more males in a male's life means that a boy is automatically
going to become a better human being.
Going back to RAWA,
they have been running their schools with an innovative education policy
of tolerance and respect for everybody with much success. Boys who have
been coming through their schools have been educated to have a different
understanding of gender relations with a much more respectful attitude
towards women and girls than those who have been reared in the misogynist
and fundamentalist madrases of the Taliban, training orphaned boys.
It is not what gender
does the educating that matters. With RAWA it is the implementation of
a different system of education which has changed their boys' outlook
for the better, and this translates into a better future for the whole
We need RAWA schools
and RAWA's initiative, women's initiative, for everybody's benefit - males