Canberra Rally v.2.0 25 June 2015
I acknowledge that we meet today on the land of the Ngunnawal people whose land was never ceded. I pay tribute to their elders, past and present, and elders from all over Australia who are present. And to the women who birthed on this country.
I have such rage. I have gut curdling, disgusted, appalled rage, Everywhere I look, women are ignored, brutalised, violated, raped and murdered. Our voices are silenced by those who assume power over us. Our lives are shrunk by the misogyny which is the life blood of the western world. We are denied innate rights men take for granted. We are encouraged to starve, pluck, wax and punish our bodies for the sin of being female. We are used by corporations to sell their products. We are used, by industries of all kinds, which seek to profit from selling us inadequacy and in some places, selling the products of our bodies.
In Australia, we are told we are free. We have the vote, we talk about equal pay, we once had a prime minister who happened to be a woman. And yet is it freedom when the very basic biological functions of our bodies are controlled by law? By custom? By a society which treats us as if our very presence is unwelcome and toxic?
Are we free when we find ourselves pregnant and yet cannot access services supporting termination? Are we free when abortion is still a crime in most Australian states? Are we free when protesters form a cordon around health services and a security guard is murdered for working in an abortion clinic?
Are we free when we are forced onto buses to travel thousands of kilometres to hospitals where our language and culture are obliterated? When birthing on the country of our grandmothers is denied us? When our children are removed in greater numbers than ever and greater even than during the time of the Stolen Generations? When our children die in watch houses and are imprisoned for pilfering lollies?
Are we free when we would choose abortion over birth because the living conditions in Australia’s offshore storage camps are so foul and dangerous we cannot imagine bringing new life into them? When rapists work on in the camps but babies are removed from their mothers and denied citizenship?
Are we free when having chosen to continue a pregnancy, our every move is dictated by poorly evidenced but profitable ritualised interventions? Are we free when presented with the dead baby card in order to coerce a farcical consent?
Are we free when our caesarean rate has continued to increase, even since 2009, and the only models of care in which normal birth occurs are curtailed and becoming impossible to access?
When women who still choose to birth at home are punished for stillbirth in a way which would never happen in hospitals?
Are we free when women’s deaths in maternity hospitals go unnoticed and unremarked in the media? When statistics are not kept, or kept poorly, when states and territories cannot agree a definition of maternal death, much less a transparent and fearless approach to lowering the rates of women’s deaths?
Are we free when suicide is one of the biggest causes of death for Australian mothers?
Are we free when the medical professions closes ranks around the Graeme Reeves in their midst rather than speak out about women being mutilated?
When women cannot take assault in hospitals to the law because we are culturally perceived as incubators and good mothers are in a state of perpetual consent and careproviders are allowed to touch our bodies regardless of our wishes?
Are we free when the few midwives who serve women, ahead of the state, are slowly picked off by unethical and immoral use of coronial processes?
Are we free when a hospital in Wagga can employ a dangerous drug for off label use, which results in the deaths and injuries of babies and women, and yet the media is silent and there is no inquest nor public notice of reparations?
Are we free when a woman can have antibacterial fluid injected into her spine and no public outcry ensues?
Are we free when a Melbourne hospital can end the lives of two babies and be given a free pass with no public accountability?
And yet, I am often called an angry woman, as if that were not a reasonable response to the wholesale violation of my sisters? What is aberrant is not my rage but that so few of us are enraged. We are so bent under the yoke of social disapproval, simply by virtue of failing to be men, that most of us fear to stand tall and to speak out because we fear the punishment which will ensue.
But here’s the thing: we are already being punished. There is no greater punishment than the removal of our legal and cultural personhood, so what do we have to lose? As human beings we have innate rights. We have the right to choose what we do with our bodies. At law, we are supported in this, regardless of pregnancy. At law, we remain people throughout our life cycles. What we struggle against, is the invisible culture in which we are stripped of these rights.
Why can we not demand criminal charges be laid against those who assault us when we birth? Once we could not lay charges against men if they raped us while a marriage contract was in place. And even though that is still difficult, it is largely recognised that a marriage contract does not place women in a state of perpetual consent.
In fact, all human beings exist in a state of perpetual non-consent unless otherwise indicated.
We do not have to say no, we have to be seen to say yes.
[If your home is burgled, the existence of a front door is not seen as consent. Your home is seen as existing in the normal legal state of assumed non-consent unless otherwise indicated. But even with the door thrown wide open, we assume no consent for passers by to make off with our household items. Women’s bodies however are not accorded the basic courtesy extended to our homes and men’s bodies.
There could not be, for instance, a clearer indication of legal and social recognition, that men exist in a state of non-consent, than the response to men sometimes punching one another in the face in public.
While no one could argue that punching someone in the face leading to serious injury or death is other than abhorrent, is this not already covered by existing laws?
Do we really need special laws which protect men from the habits of their fellows? Why can two women a week be murdered, largely by men, and minimal legislative and cultural change be sought? Because we are not full citizens. Because we are not fully human. Because we are not full citizens. Because we are not full people and men are important citizens who must be protected, even when it’s protection from each other.
It is well documented that men’s violence increases, and can begin, during pregnancy. Women are not uncommonly murdered by current, or previous partners, when pregnant or newly birthed. The dubious ‘privilege’ conferred by motherhood could not be more clearly demonstrated by that.]
But really, would there be a clearer statement of contempt towards us, than a man with a record of violent behaviour and proud misogynist beliefs, being named the minister in government to deal with us? Where is the Minister for Women today?
In the face of outright hatred towards us, how are we to respond? While the rage I feel is massive, my overwhelming response to this violence is to love each of us fiercely. To love ourselves in this patriarchy is to commit an unpardonable sin. To love our sisters in this patriarchy, is a monumental act of love and courage. The courage of women to put one foot in front of the other, day after day, never fails to take my breath away.
Our rights based feminist movement, to see women recognised as citizens with innate rights, must be fuelled by love and a dedication to movement before politics, the mass before the individual, love of self and love of sisterhood. We are a damaged community and we struggle to come together while many of us still fear to gather, to organise and to identify with women as a class. Those who would work with us must stop speaking the rhetoric of meaningless choice. They must move away from professional aggrandisement and towards supporting women’s autonomy because from that flows all else.
When women are recognised as the sole decision makers in our lives then our birthing will be supported in ways which nourish us. The false promise of paternalistic careproviders that they can rescue us from our biology must cease and we must refuse to have truck with toxic culture. We must withdraw our legitimising presence from institutions and individual careproviders which do not serve us but instead serve their need for power and control.
We must look to the law for that which serves us and recognises our humanity and we must demand the right to autonomy which is denied us.
[We must critique each new regulation of midwives to see if all women are served by it, regardless of the shiny wrapping and label, which accompany those actions.
We must cease to support those who throw all women under the bus by painting some of us as selfish and unnatural. While one woman is oppressed, so are we all.]
And we must always remember that women alone own birth, and only women should make the decisions in our lives to bear children or to not bear children but to always live in the full exercise of our power.