Women (and men?) Reclaim the Night

Rachelle Cole, Community Development Worker

Women’s Centre for Health Matters took on a coordination role for the Reclaim the Night event this year. The theme for the event was young people since sexual violence and public safety are significant and pertinent issues for Canberra’s young communities. The highest incidences of rape and violence occur against young women aged 10 to 19 years; five times more than the general population (ABS 2010). The event began in Glebe Park and was followed by the traditional march to Garema Place, where the participants at the event enjoyed bands, bellydancers, Kung Fu demonstrations, market stalls, roving performers, a BBQ and a DJ. The following opinion piece was written by Rachelle Cole, the Community Development Worker at Women’s Centre for Health Matters, as a result of her involvement with the event, and was submitted to various newspapers and online blogs. 

Canberra’s Reclaim the Night 2010 flyer states: ‘Men can show their support by challenging male attitudes that condone violence against women by participating in the march from the back.’ As a young liberal feminist committed to the notions of inclusion, I was affronted by the idea of segregating women and men. Why should my boyfriend, a long-term feminist sympathiser, not be allowed to hold the other side of the ‘there’s nothing sexier than consent’ banner at the front of the march? He supports this cause as much as I do, and everyone knows that if we are to make any progress towards eradicating sexual violence against women, men need to be part of the solution. My struggle with this idea of gender segregation has been ongoing, so this year I decided to get involved in my local Reclaim the Night event and challenge what I considered to be outdated and unnecessary confrontational practices.

To my surprise, at my first committee meeting, I came across a diverse range of views on the subject. It was obvious that this was a much debated issue. There was no Gen-Y bashing and I wasn’t expelled from the sisterhood. Instead, the traditional custodians of the event, the Canberra Rape Crisis Centre, took the time to explain Reclaim the Night’s historical significance and why it is important that the march be women-led.

Reclaim the Night (RTN) is historically a women’s only event. The first RTN – known as Take Back the Night – took place in 1976 at the International Tribunal on Crimes against Women, held in Brussels, Belgium. Two-thousand women from forty countries marched to protest the ways in which violence impacts upon the lives of women worldwide. A year later, following a spate of attacks by the infamous ‘Yorkshire Ripper’, a second Reclaim the Night march took place in the United Kingdom to protest police suggestions that women stay indoors in order to maintain their personal safety. The women of Leeds took to the streets, banging pots and pans, demanding their right to use public spaces safely without the ‘protection’ of men. While it can be unnecessary, and at times unproductive, to remain wedded to history, it is important to remember our feminist forebears and the origins of Reclaim the Night.

Since then, women across the world have gathered together annually to mark RTN. In more recent years, local RTN events have evolved, and the role of men has been renegotiated. In many places, including Canberra, men are now encouraged to participate – but to take a back seat. What this means is that men are invited to attend but must ensure that the march is women-led and that they remain at the back of the march. Given the fact that sexual violence is a gendered issue – that almost 1 in 5 Australian women experience sexual violence, and that the vast majority of perpetrators are men – I don’t think this is an unreasonable request. In many ways, and in many places, it’s still a man’s world! In Australia, women are still too often blamed for being sexually assaulted: she was asking for it, she was drinking too much, she was wearing provocative clothing, she shouldn’t have been by herself. Therefore, at RTN events, women must have the opportunity to band together to challenge these ideas and send the message that it is never OK. This is especially important for young women, who are the most at risk of sexual assault, but often don’t know if, where or how to seek help.

Asking men to watch from the sidelines does not equate to reverse discrimination, nor is it a personal attack. Most importantly, it does not mean that men aren’t part of the solution. At the root of this issue is the (often unspoken) fact that RTN is not really about men; it’s about women. It’s about women expressing themselves and voicing their concerns about safety in public spaces. It is about emboldening women to confront the issue and demand their right to freedom from violence. There are other avenues for men to take action to end violence against women and own that message themselves; the White Ribbon campaign is one such example. This campaign has been particularly successful in engaging men and boys through the use of high profile White Ribbon Ambassadors and calls for supporters to speak out and take an oath to never commit or excuse violence against women. It is a male-oriented event, just like RTN is a women-oriented event. It’s actually OK for both men and women to take a stand on the same issue in two different ways.

While Reclaim the Night is about raising awareness it is also a pilgrimage for many survivors of sexual violence. A women’s-only space at the front of the march is especially important for these participants. They are often not involved in the women’s sector, but they come out in droves on the last Friday of October every year and their stories are honoured and their strength celebrated.

Reclaim the Night is held on the final Friday in October annually around the world.

National Women’s Matters

New Minister for the Status of Women

Angela Carnovale, Social Research Officer

On Saturday September 11, when Prime Minister Julia Gillard announced the members of the cabinet in her new Government, she forgot to mention who would be taking over the role of the Minister for the Status of Women. She declared on ABC’s Insiders the following morning that Kate Ellis would be taking over the role from Tanya Plibersek, before adding (in response to being questioned about having omitted it from announcements the day before) that ‘we’re in a circumstance I suppose with the first female Prime Minister that maybe that portfolio can work a little bit differently.’

So who is Kate Ellis and how does she support the advancement of the status of women?

Kate Ellis has held the seat of Adelaide since 2004, when she became the youngest woman ever be elected to the Australian House of Representatives. She studied International Relations at Flinders University, where she was an active representative and President of the Students Association, as well as editor of the student newspaper. Prior to entering Federal Parliament, she worked as a Research Officer for State and then Federal parliamentarians, and has subsequently worked as a Ministerial Adviser for South Australian Minister Hon. Rory McEwen, and a Ministerial Advisor to the Deputy Premier Kevin Foley. Following the Labor Party election victory in 2007, Kate was elevated to the Labor Government ‘s frontbench as the Minister for Youth and Sport. In June 2008 she was given extra ministerial responsibilities, becoming Minister for Early Childhood Education, Childcare and Youth and Minister for Sport.

Kate attracted some controversy in 2009 by agreeing to pose for a body image special in Grazia out of concern for the negative body image of many Australian women. It’s hard to say if (the rather physically attractive) Kate Ellis in a little black dress and impossibly high heels really did that much to help Australian women feel better about their bodies. A nude photo shoot of Jennifer Hawkins with similar ambitions and comparable failings springs to mind. View article here in its original context [external link]

Kate Ellis did, however, follow through on her concern for Australian women’s body image by creating a National Body Image Advisory Group in 2009, chaired by former magazine editor Mia Freedman. The Advisory Group released the Voluntary Industry Code of Conduct on Body Image in June 2010, which makes six demands of fashion advertisers and retailers to support positive body image. A national body image friendly awards scheme is now being developed to encourage the uptake of the voluntary code; however, as this initiative was pursued through Kate’s role as the Minister for Youth, it is unclear whether it will continue under Peter Garratt as the new Minister. View media release in its original context here [external link]

Other than her concern for women’s healthy body image, Kate Ellis has written about the importance of role models such as Natasha Stott-Despoja and Quentin Bryce in broadening the aspirations that young women hold for their future.

The vision that Kate will bring to the role of Minister for the Status of Women will become clearer over the coming months as she acquaints with the women’s sector and the myriad issues affecting Australian women. If we look to history, Kate has expressed a view of the contemporary women’s movement that demonstrates desire for inclusivity and the celebration of diversity. Let’s hope that Kate’s contemporary definition of feminism doesn’t equal Julia Gillard’s insinuation that with a female in the top job, there is not as much work for the Minister for the Status of Women.

We mustn’t allow feminism to become captive of any one narrow view of the world but rather an umbrella for all of us who seek to increase women’s rights and opportunities. I don’t really care whether you are old, young, lesbian, heterosexual, big, small, have long hair or short or what your race or religion is – while women have made great leaps forward in our quest for equality we have many battles which remain ahead and the more hands on deck the better. View the PDF article in its original context here [external link]

Click here to read Labor’s Equality for Women Agenda and their Equality for Women Election Platform.

1800 RESPECT – New National Helpline

A new national telephone counselling line for individuals who have experienced or are at risk of experiencing physical or sexual violence has recently been launched. 1800 RESPECT is a confidential service that is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week; where qualified and specialist counsellors provide counselling, information, advice, and referrals.

The service will also provide professional support to staff from small and isolated services which deal with people who have experienced physical or sexual violence.

Over the coming months 1800 RESPECT will also be expanded to include online counselling and coordination with existing State and Territory domestic violence and sexual assault services.

An advisory board will oversee the implementation of the counselling service and ensure ongoing improvements to service delivery. It will be made up of experts from the family, domestic, and sexual violence sector.

Adjustable-height Examination Beds Mandatory in GP Surgeries

In November WCHM endorsed a collective submission coordinated by Women With Disabilities Australia to the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners which highlighted concerns that many people with a disability do not have equitable access to the same quality of health care at general practices as other patients. It was also highlighted that the provision of adjustable-height examination beds would also significantly improve access and quality of care for all patients including older Australians, pregnant women, people whose illness results in restricted movement or capacity and obese Australians, as well as people with disabilities. The RACGP 4th edition of the Standards for General Practices, was launched on 8th October, and now includes a requirement for general practice surgeries to have height adjustable examination beds. Height adjustable examination beds will assist general practice teams to reduce the risk of injury to all patients. They will also limit the risk of misdiagnosis or non-detection of serious medical conditions, reduce the occupational health and safety issues for health practitioners and reduce the risks associated with legal responsibilities under discrimination law. Click here for more information on the campaign to improve access to height adjustable examination beds, including access to research on the consequences for people with a disability.

ACT Women’s Matters

Congratulations ACT Walk-in Centre!

ACT Health led a field of Australia’s best managed projects winning three awards at the Australian Institute of Project Management (AIPM) Project Management Achievement Awards, including the top honour of 2010 Project of the Year.

The Walk-in Centre at Canberra Hospital is the first public nurse-led centre of its kind in Australia. The Walk-in Centre is an initiative designed to take pressure off the health system by allowing nurses to treat walk-in patients for minor ailments and injuries, freeing doctors to treat more complicated medical conditions.

The project involved complex legislative and cultural change, as well as physical fitout and software requirements to cater for the change in treatment.

ACT Health project manager Susan Hayward received the organisation’s first accolade of the night when named Project Manager of the Year. ACT Health then won its category, Product Development, before topping the night as the 2010 Project of the Year.

Brenda Ainsworth, executive director at ACT Health, and Susan Hayward, project manager, accepted the award on behalf of ACT Health. Ainsworth thanked the team behind the Walk-in Centre and paid tribute to the AIPM for recognising the significant challenges faced and surmounted in delivering the project. View article in its original context here [external link]

New Public Diagnostic Breast Imaging Service

The Diagnostic Breast Imaging Service is a new breast service located at the Canberra Hospital that will provide x-ray assessment (mammography) and ultrasound assessment for patients with symptoms of breast cancer.

This is an exciting service that will provide women in the ACT and surrounding parts of NSW access to breast x-ray, ultrasound and MRI services, which were previously only provided privately, with the closest MRI provider being in Sydney.

Previously, the BreastScreen service was the only ACT Health service providing mammography, but this was a service for well women, without symptoms and does not have the capacity to provide mammography, ultrasound or MRI services for women with breast cancer symptoms, or women who require follow up imaging services following breast cancer services.

Access to this service will reduce the additional financial burden that many women have to face, as well as improving timeliness of diagnostic services.

Specialist Counselling Service for Hearing Impaired Clients

Dr Otilia Rodrigues Clinical Psychologist

Dr Rodrigues has worked with members of the Deaf community for over 20 years. She offers therapy in Auslan (no interpreter required).

Areas of specialty include: self esteem; anxiety; depression; stress management; grief and loss; Post Traumatic Stress Disorder; trauma; and sexual abuse.

WCHM Matters

Making Your 40s Fabulous

On Wednesday September 1, The Women’s Centre for Health Matters and Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT (SHFPACT) jointly hosted a Making Your 40s Fabulous event; an opportunity for women to gather information on issues affecting them in their 40s such as hormonal changes, physical changes, libido, sleep, emotional health and preventative health measures.

The event was launched by 666 ABC Canberra Drive presenter Louise Maher and was attended by over 70 women. The evening began with the screening of a webcast by the Jean Hailes Foundation for Women’s Health, which was followed by a question and answer session with three local health experts: Dr Linda Welberry (Senior Medical Officer, Menopause Centre Canberra – SHFPACT), Caroline Salisbury (ABC Radio Nutrition Presenter and Nutrition Consultant) and Leslie Betts (Physiotherapist, Southside Physiotherapy).

Louise reflected upon the negative ‘f’ words that are more commonly used for women in their 40s – either by themselves or others, and not going to be repeated here – and replaced them with positive, and far more accurate, words such as fabulous, fit, and fun. She also noted the view of some commentators that big pharmacueticals are seeking to medicalise, control, and profit from women’s libido. She encouraged women to be aware of these debates, seek out information from all sides and have discussions with peers in order to come to an informed position that is right for them as individuals. Very wise words.

The night was a great success. It was especially rewarding to be able to deliver health and wellbeing information to women in a format that from our research, we know they prefer: face-to-face, with the opportunity to ask health experts about individual issues and the opportunity for discussion with others.

The response from the attendees was overwhelmingly positive, with many suggesting that we hold the information session annually, and many others suggesting alternate forums such as ‘Making Your 50s Fantastic’, ‘Making Your 60s Sensational’ and even ‘Making Your 80s Enviable’! The webcast was held simultaneously across Australia, and the Jean Hailes Foundation advised that the ACT event was the largest of all of them with over 70 women attending.

WCHM AGM – Change to Membership Fees

Women’s Centre for Health Matters held its annual AGM on 16th September and members voted for some changes to the WCHM Constitution. One of the key changes is that membership fees will now be free for all categories of members.

WCHM Birthday Party

The WCHM 20th birthday celebration has been postponed until International Women’s Day March 2011. All of the details about this momentous event will be shared in our next quarterly e-bulletin!

WCHM Women at Work

Mental Health Carers

Kate Judd, Mental Health Project Worker

Women are the predominant care-givers in contemporary Australian society. They provide care to their children, their ageing parents, friends and extended family, and this can often negatively impact on their own health and wellbeing, family functioning, their education and employment opportunities and future financial security. For women caring for loved ones living with mental health issues, the challenges associated with balancing caring responsibilities and the rest of their lives are unique to those faced by other groups of carers. The nature of mental illness, for example, is known to be episodic with varying degrees of severity, and therefore the experiences of women providing care to individuals living with mental health issues is similarly variable. Moreover, the stigma associated with mental illness is often experienced by mental health carers as a result of their relationship to their loved one experiencing mental health issues.

It is for these reasons that the ACT Women and Mental Health Working Group has commissioned a report looking into the needs and experiences of women mental heath carers in the ACT – focusing specifically on their health and wellbeing, social and support networks, and participation in their local community and decision-making processes. The challenges associated with this kind of research are significant – early research findings indicate that women mental health carers are not adept at separating their own needs from that of their loved one. When asked to identify how women mental health carers could be better supported to maintain their own health and wellbeing one respondee said, “provide better support for the people we are caring for so that we don’t have to run ourselves into the ground to fill in where there are gaps in support” ­ – and she is right. Improving services to our loved ones experiencing mental health will significantly relieve the ‘caring’ burden on families and friends – but what I suppose I’m also interested in, as a researcher, is whether there is any other way that carers can be better supported. Do our medical professionals need training and education in how to support mental health carers to support and maintain not only their loved one’s mental health and wellbeing, but their own? Do employers and workplaces need further education on how best to support mental health carers in employment? And if women truly are shouldering most of the caring burden, do we need to encourage our husbands, fathers and sons to start sharing the load?

In order to ensure these questions (and more!) don’t remain unanswered, I’d like to extend an invitation to ACT women mental health carers to participate in a one-on-one interview with me. Your personal stories and your views are essential in gaining an understanding of what your experience, needs and preferences are. So if you think you might have a spare hour or so to chat over a cuppa, please give me a call on 02 6290 2166 or email at k.judd@wchm.org.au.

Women with Disabilities

Funding was secured by WCHM from Disability ACT and ACT Health for a Policy/Administration Officer position who will be working at WCHM under an auspicing arrangement for Women With Disabilities ACT (WWDACT). Nicole O’Callaghan started in the role at the Centre on Friday 15th October. Nicole is a young woman with a disability herself (Sensory Motor Neuropathy) and is a part-time research assistant in the office of Senator Sue Boyce (when Parliament sits), and a Board Member of People With Disabilities ACT and the ACT Council of Social Services. Having completed her Bachelor of Arts with a major in Political Science at the University of New England in 2008, Nicole looked for new challenges and transferred to Canberra during 2009. She has a wealth of experience in the community and government in both the policy and administration areas, and we look forward to working with Nicole and WWDACT to develop a stronger, more effective voice for women with disabilities in the ACT.

Sudanese and Mon Cultural Awareness Traning

The WCHM project to develop and deliver gender and culture-specific training modules to ACT services concluded in August with pilot sessions, and since then WCHM has been rolling out the modules. The WCHM Community Development Worker and the Mon and Sudanese presenters have co-facilitated four training sessions for service providers so far with a wide range of attendees from a range of service providers including Sexual Health and Family Planning ACT, Relationships Australia, the Domestic Violence Crisis Unit, and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. WCHM is now considering other options for presenting the information including a booklet with the women’s stories and solutions for services. The Final Report and Evaluation can be found on our website.

Worth Checking Out…

Finally the Australian Bureau of Statistics has an area of their website dedicated to gender statistics. Topics @ a Glance – Gender not only assists analyses on gender-related topics, but also enables researchers to identify differences in the circumstances of women and men – and not a moment too soon!

I Vote for Choice is a Victorian website designed to support MPs who support choice. Created by the Women’s Health Association of Victoria, this site was designed as a way for individuals to let their MPs know that they vote for choice. It is supported by a number of Victorian women’s organisations, including Women’s Health Victoria, and is well worth checking out.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has released two reports. Australia’s Health 2010 is the 12th biennial health report of the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and provides statistics and commentary on: determinants of health and keys to prevention; diseases and injury; how health varies across population groups; and health across the life stages.

The Health of Australia’s Prisoners 2009 is the culmination of several years development of national indicators in relation to prisoner health in Australia. This first national report shows that prisoners in Australia have poor health compared to the general community. A week-long snapshot of prison entrants in Australia during 2009 showed: 25% had a chronic condition (such as asthma, cardiovascular disease or diabetes); 81% were current smokers; 52% consumed alcohol at risky levels; 71% had used illicit drugs during the previous 12 months; and 37% of prison entrants reported having received a mental health diagnosis at some time. The report also contains data relating to women’s health and the use of health services.

ACT Residents: Living Longer But Less Healthily? According to a new report compiled by Chief Health Officer Charles Guest on the health and wellbeing of the ACT population between July 2006 and June 2008, ACT residents enjoy the longest life expectancy in Australia but most are overweight and only a minority eat enough fruit and vegetables. The report showed the life expectancy rate at birth in the ACT was 80.3 years for males and 84 for women. Life expectancy in Australia continues to trend upwards, and in the ACT rates of lung cancer and cervical cancer have declined.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) released the Measures of Australia’s Progress report on 15 September. This report provides information that describes how Australia is progressing across a range of social, economic and environmental measures. The ABS acknowledges that rates of progress will differ between various sub-groups of the population, including women and men. Specific breakdowns for women and men are provided for a number of key dimensions of progress including health, education and training. On the key dimension of work however, there is no specific gender breakdown.