Soapbox

Jenni Gough, WCHM Project Officer

Irrespective of personal political leanings and party policies, the recent downfall of Australia’s first female prime minister calls for wider reflection on the persistence of sexism within Australian culture.

Over three years and three days, and even before her rise to leadership, Julia Gillard endured with perseverance and composure denigrating sexist remarks from fellow politicians, the media and the Australian public. These very public comments have in a multitude of ways stifled her phenomenal political achievements in one of Australia’s toughest political climates, detracted from her role as leader and subsequently, revealed the ugly face of vicious sexism and misogyny alive in this country.

The language used to critique Gillard was not clever, nor was it witty; rather it was cheap shots which alternated between consciously contrived political and journalistic remarks to seemingly flippant musings on talk back radio. Such descriptive terms as old cow, lying bitch, moll, witch and menopausal monster cannot be described as anything but sexist and gender specific. It is ugly, unwarranted and shouldn’t have a place in public discourse.

Preoccupation with Gillard’s physical appearance, notably her hair, dress and body shape, objectified and mocked her http://bit.ly/182qGXP. The remarks were cutting to the bone, humiliating and in the end added nothing of substance to Australia’s political discourse. Rather, they added weighty substance to the lack of sophistication in our public debate.

Another disturbing undercurrent to the treatment of Australia’s first female prime minister is the violent leanings of public dialogue. Voices were alarmingly aggressive and included such statements as throwing her in a chaff bag and putting her out to sea, slitting her throat and kicking her to death http://bit.ly/1b6SWXS. Not to mention Abbot’s comment “Are you suggesting to me that when it comes from Julia, ‘No’ doesn’t mean ‘No’” http://bit.ly/aUx83j. This comment which referenced an anti-violence against women campaign, was brushed under the carpet by Abbot who later defended his remark with ‘‘I’m the father of three daughters…No-one respects women more than I do’’ http://bit.ly/aUx83j. Irrespective of anyone’s relational proximity to females, blatant sexist leanings cannot be negated.

Nudging is part of the performance banter of the parliament but when this becomes nasty, sexist and violent, shouldn’t there be parameters? Sexist jokes based on out-dated gender stereotypes have no place, not in the discourse of our country’s leaders nor anywhere.

For me, this disrespectful and degrading performance by politicians, media and public is not necessarily all concerned with women’s access to powerful decision making roles; it stirs rather a deep concern over the effect of entrenched sexist and discriminatory behaviours and attitudes which are manifest in our day to day interactions. Most concerning is that this form of behaviour is persistent, encouraged and alarmingly, when Gillard called for it to be addressed through her gender inquiry, she was accused of not addressing the real policies and being detached http://bit.ly/11IuPLc. There is staggering evidence which exists for the enduring prevalence of gender as a site of inequality, at the Women’s Centre for Health Matters (WCHM) it stares us in the face every day. Bringing this to national debate, however uncomfortable it is for both men and women, is critical.

This reflection does not derive from the notion that Julia Gillard’s plight represents that of all women; rather it calls to question our community’s consciousness as a whole; women and men. Did the media and the cabinet touch a place in mainstream social psyche which couldn’t digest a woman in the top job? Was Australia progressive enough for a female prime minister? Were we ready? Perhaps not, but what this rhetoric does suggest is that we sure are ready for a gender agenda. So let us take a leaf out of Julia Gillard’s final remarks and approach this issue with sophistication.


Review: Report on the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Funding for Certain Types of Abortion) Bill 2013 by the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee

Angela Carnovale, WCHM Health Promotion Officer

In April 2013 WCHM participated in a submission process on the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Funding for Certain Types of Abortion) Bill 2013. The Bill is seeking to amend the Health Insurance Act 1973 to ensure that Medicare benefits are not payable for medically induced terminations carried out solely on the basis of the foetus’ sex.

Schedule 1 of the Bill proposes to amend the Act by inserting a new section 17A. The proposed new paragraphs—subsection 17A(1)—would provide that a Medicare benefit is not payable if:

  • “a medical practitioner performs a medically induced termination on a pregnant woman, or provides a service that relates to or is connected with performing such a medically induced termination; and
  • the termination is carried out solely because of the gender of the foetus.”

Prior to going before the Senate for consideration by senators—where it currently is—the Bill went to the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee for further investigation. The Committee’s report was released at the end of June and is the subject of my review. I’m reviewing the report because contrary to my (perhaps) naive notions, the Committee did not make a recommendation in relation to the Bill, but rather, undertook “its inquiry into the Bill in order to provide information for senators on the arguments received about the proposed amendment to Medicare funding”.

I do not think it reasonable to agree that the Committee conducted an inquiry into the Bill. The Report reads as a simple summary of the submissions made in support of the Bill and those made in opposition to it, with great meaty quotes from individual submissions and references to studies cited.

My concern is not with who submitted what (even though I might not always agree with what is submitted, I do celebrate the basic principles of public consultation). What really bothers me is the apparent lack of analysis, further research and critical comment by the Committee on the evidence tendered in the submissions. Particularly the submissions made in support of the Bill.

The Committee have presented findings of studies cited by submitters as authoritative, without providing any context to the studies that would enable readers to judge them on relevance, appropriateness or reliability. For example: “… the Australian Federation of Right to Life Association’s survey found that 82 per cent of respondents did not support late term (after 20 weeks) abortions for non-medical reasons …

Or:

“… an Adelaide Now media survey also found that 82 per cent of Australians felt that parents should not be given the right to choose the gender of their baby …”

These studies are cited in support of the first Term of Reference, “the unacceptability to Australians of the use of Medicare funding for the purpose of gender selection abortions”, even though readers are not provided any additional information about the legitimacy of the studies such as sample size or methodology.  In support of the fifth Term of Reference, “concern from medical associations in first world countries about the practice of gender-selection abortion, viz. Canada, USA, UK,” readers are offered this:

“Research in England and Wales shows that among India-born women, the sex ratio at birth for all third children was 114.4 boys per 100 girls for births between 2000 and 2005.”

Or:

“… studies of Canadian and United States’ birth rates that indicated some evidence of gender selective abortion occurring in some communities including immigrate [sic] communities from India, China, Korea and Vietnam.”

Or, my personal favourite:

“While the overall United Kingdom birth ratio is within normal limits, analysis of birth data for the calendar years from 2007 to 2011 has found the gender ratios at birth vary by mothers’ country of birth. For the majority of groups, this variation is the result of small numbers of births and does not persist between years. However, for a very small number of countries of birth there are indications that birth ratios may differ from the UK as a whole and potentially fall outside of the range considered possible without intervention.”

Emphasis added.

I cannot imagine in what context it is acceptable to use studies to construct an evidence-base without providing the details of the author, publisher, methodology, sample size, purpose or actual findings of those studies. And yet this is precisely what the Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee have done in compiling their report—a report to be used by Australian senators when considering whether or not to pass laws affecting Australian women’s access to health services.

I find that deeply worrying.

To read the full report visit:
http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=fapa_ctte/health_insur_amend_bill_2013/report/index.htm

To read the Bill visit: http://parlinfo.aph.gov.au/parlInfo/search/display/display.w3p;query=Id%3A%22legislation%2Fbills%2Fs909_first-senate%2F0000%22;rec=0


Media Watching Women

Annelise Roberts, WCHM Health Promotion Officer

Media Watching Women is a new section of our e-bulletin which delivers snack-sized summaries of themes in global media coverage on women. We hope you enjoy. Bon appetite!

Politics and misogyny: After Rudd deposes Gillard, gendered analyses of the leadership issue abound. Anne Summers thinks that the whole thing stank of misogyny and worries that “young women today will look at what’s happened to [Gillard] and think ‘my god why would you want to put yourself through that’.” Shakira Hussein is more cautious, taking a moment to reflect on those single parents shafted from the “already meagre” parenting payment onto Newstart – “Howard-era” measures introduced by Gillard’s government.

Violence against women: Graphic photos of Nigella Lawson being assaulted by her husband Charles Saatchi are splashed across news outlets, making a tabloid sensation out of domestic violence. Australian radio presenter Dee Dee Dunleavy immediately says Nigella shouldn’t expect public to buy her books unless she “makes a stand on domestic violence”. There is a big backlash against these comments, including this article from Annabel Crabb.

Women and trivia: A study funded by the U.K. government reportedly shows that women are “far less knowledgeable” about the news and current affairs than men. Could be that women are just dumb. But a more compelling interpretation would take into account a whole range of things to do with how journalism is done, the accessibility of media, how knowledge is framed as valuable, and whose opinions are given weight. Also, the news is pretty male-obsessed: after the London Times’ ran its headline hailing tennis champion Andy Murray, writer Chloe Angyal tweeted: “Murray is indeed the first Brit to win Wimbledon in 77 years, unless you think women are people.”

Tootsie: The internet’s in a flurry about the Dustin Hoffman interview in which he reveals the “epiphany” he had about gender while filming Tootsie – maybe saccharin, maybe not a revelation to anyone else, but still a bit sweet.


WCHM Women and Work

Angela Carnovale, WCHM Health Promotion Officer

The past three months have been a productive and satisfying time for the WCHM team. We were successful in securing three grants in the Office for Women’s ACT Women’s Grants 2013 Funding Round. The first is to undertake a women’s safety assessments project aimed at enhancing the personal safety of women in the ACT; the second is to work with ACT journalism/media industry to develop a set of media guidelines on respectful reporting of violence against women; the third is to undertake a financial literacy project focussing on the financial literacy needs of older women, women from a refugee background in the initial phases of resettlement, women leaving domestic and family violence and women transitioning out of prison.

WCHM also applied for and were successful in securing funding through the Confiscation of Criminal Assets Trust Fund to develop a set of posters to be displayed in men’s toilets in social venues as part of the Summer of Respect 2013-14 campaign. In addition we will be undertaking a project with the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre funded through the ACT Women’s Grants to create an audio-visual resource for Summer of Respect to be advertised on traditional and social media websites.

WWDACT were successful in securing funding for a Circus Day through the ACT Women’s Grants. “Strong Women, Circus Sisters”—a continuation from the “Strong Women, Strong Voices” flash mob held in 2012—will be held on December 3, which is the International Day of People with Disabilities. WWDACT is planning to make this International Day of People with Disabilities one of the most amazing days, showcasing positivity, energy and exhilarating contributions of women with disabilities in the ACT. Australian Catholic University (ACU) Social Work Placement Student Joanne Long was instrumental in helping WWDACT shape the circus day. Thanks Jo!

WWDACT have also received funding from the Victims of Crime Commissioner and the Domestic Violence Prevention Council to undertake a project to develop a contingency plan for a crisis personal care service for women with disabilities escaping situations of violence, sexual assault or abuse. And finally, they have received funding from the ACT Disability Advisory Council to undertake a data collection project to identify data sets relevant to women with disabilities in the ACT. What a successful year so far! Three cheers for WWDACT!

The Women And Prisons (WAP) Group secured an ACT Women’s Grant for volunteers providing peer-support to participate in formal supervision. They were also successful in securing funding through the Confiscation of Criminal Assets Trust Fund for the WAP volunteers to maintain weekly peer support visits to women incarcerated in the Alexander Maconochie Centre (AMC) and Bimberi Youth Centre. The Group have also received consultancy funding from the ACT Human Rights Commission to undertake interviews with women previously incarcerated at the AMC to inform the Commission’s audit of the women’s prison at the AMC.

And these weren’t the only successes for WAP in the past three months. WAP volunteers Christine and Kathy have completed and successfully piloted awareness raising training with a range of community sector and government employees, including many working in the criminal justice system. The pilots received very positive feedback and guidance on fine tuning the training in preparation for roll out, which will commence in the next quarter. Three cheers for WAP, another successful year underway!

In staffing news, Bess Harrison has completed her project documenting the WAP peer support model and has commenced a permanent part-time position with the Centre. She will be working on mental health sector engagement and advocacy and will continue her work supporting WAP to undertake and develop their peer support activities. Silvia Page has now commenced a new role coordinating the Centre’s health promotion initiatives, including progressing the Women’s Health and Wellbeing Hub, coordinating health information events and maintaining the WCHM website, weekly and e-bulletin. For all of those who have been following WCHM for a number of years, you will remember the excellent work that Jenni Gough completed with us two years ago on the women’s peer support research project. Jenni is now back on board and assisting with the design, development and implementation of the financial literacy project. And last, but by no means least, Natalie Liosatos has come on board to complete the WWDACT contingency planning project and coordinate the working group for Reclaim the Night 2013.

In other news, Marcia will be taking a very-well-earned break over August and September and Angela will be acting in her role during this time. Marcia will be back in time for the AGM, which this year will feature a showcase of the excellent work of WAP and WWDACT. We will be sending out invitations to the AGM in the coming month and very much hope to see you there.

And finally, if you haven’t renewed your membership for 2013-14 don’t forget to do so! Membership if free, so if you haven’t been a member before maybe now is the time. To become a member all you need to do is download, complete and return the membership form, which is available from the WCHM website.


Worth Checking Out…

Bess Harrison, WCHM Health Promotion Officer

Hearing Voices Network Australia is part of a global movement to raise awareness and understanding of experiences commonly understood as symptoms of psychosis—hearing voices, seeing visions, tactile hallucinations etc. The hearing voices movement has been instrumental in slowly shifting orthodox approaches to the “treatment of psychotic Disorders” towards more innovative, empowering, holistic recovery approaches. While there is no particular focus on gender, feminist principles—the personal is political, people’s stories matter and critical analysis of power relations—are part and parcel of the movement. You can register to access free webcasts—definitely worth registering! World Hearing Voices Congress 20th- 22th November in Melbourne.

Liptember “Kiss away the blues”: In the spirit of Movember, Liptember is a campaign to raise funds for the Centre for Women’s Mental Health (CWMH) and to raise awareness of gender specific mental health issues. “Lippettes” are encouraged to seek sponsorship to wear a certain brand of lipstick for the month of September.

Keen to hear people’s thought on the campaign—no doubt the use of lipstick to raise awareness of women’s mental health is….well….you don’t have to be a cultural studies graduate to sense the unacknowledged irony in this. Nevertheless the Centre for Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Women’s Hospital in Melbourne is dedicated to mental health research and services specifically for women and a worthy cause.

Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre: For more interesting research on gender and mental see the Monash Alfred Psychiatry Research Centre – a surprisingly diverse and interdisciplinary research program despite the name! They also offer a variety of programs specifically designed for women.

Brene Brown: Maybe Stories are Just Data with a Soul: Brené Brown, Ph.D., LMSW is a research professor at the University of Houston Graduate College of Social Work. She has spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame. In 2010, Brene delivered a TED X talk “The Power of Vulnerability” in which she shared her experience of being profoundly, personally challenged by the findings of her own research. She has since become a world renowned speaker and author. The packaging is ‘a little bit Oprah’ but she has important things to say!