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  • Writer's picturesamantha battams

march 4 justice

Updated: Mar 28, 2021

This month instead of just writing about history, I was involved in creating it!

The past six weeks have been extremely disturbing in Australia, with sordid stories in the media about Australian parliament and alleged sexual assaults covered up and in one case the alleged victim further victimised, along with their partner, an alleged historical rape by the chief lawmaker in the land without appropriate accountability processes, an MP stalking and trolling women and wankers wanking on female MPs desks in parliament, or as Laura Tingle so eloquently put it, performing ‘a masturbatory offence against a piece of furniture.’ I was reminded lately of the Australian slang phrasebook I once had that was purchased in France, which included an old Australian phrase for doing 'number two' - ‘giving birth to a politician!’

When I saw Janine Hendry’s tweet on the 28th February about women joining hands around parliament house in protest of the treatment of women and lack of accountability, I joined the FB site created to develop this, the #March4Justice. I was especially angry to discover that there had been a series of previous incidents with the same alleged perpetrator as in #BrittanyHiggins case, which did not appear to have been properly handled, and if they were, may have prevented later incidents occurring. Knowing through my public health research on #mentalhealth and #suicide the lifelong impacts of domestic violence, sexual abuse and assault, this is what really upset me – knowing that an incident may have been prevented, if previous incidents had been properly handled, and were not by our leaders. I was also upset hearing of the alleged historical rape by the Attorney General, and the lack of independent investigation of this.

Soon after joining the March4Justice FB group I received a call from my sister about an Adelaide #March4Justice and together with my niece and my sister’s ex work colleague, and another young woman from Port Lincoln, the #March4Justice Adelaide was created in less than two weeks, with the support of many volunteers, mainly through the #ChooksSA network. Thank you to all of the volunteers involved in this event!

Photo: Emma Braiser, Sunday Mail, 14 March 2021 (Co-organisers of March4Justice Dr Samantha Battams, Raelene Linden, Tanysha Bolger, Kelly Fern (state coordinator), Jessica Carr (state coordinator), and Jessica's daughter Abigail).

It was pleasing to see the 8,000 (according to SAPOL) to 10,000 (according to Channel 9) strong crowd come out in support of this March4Justice Adelaide event, on a Monday at Tarntanyangga, Victoria Square. I believe this was the largest event per capita, outside Canberra.

Photos: Jenny Scott & Samantha Battams

Countless women aged in their 40s-60s came up to my sister at the information desk to talk about their experiences of sexual abuse, sexual harassment and sexual assault, angry that this was still occurring in 2021. The women protestors came from a range of cultural backgrounds and there were a number of women with disabilities along with men (about 1/20) who participated.

I was motivated to march because I want to see change – our grandmothers and mothers deserved better, as did and do we. I want to see a better world now and in the future, the ones my little great nieces and other children will inherit. What angered many were not seeing changes – in fact, feeling that things had taken a step backwards.

One of the most touching things I saw at the #March4Justice Adelaide was a young woman observing the march, crying from the sidelines as she watched us, whilst one of the protestors went over to give her a hug. What was that young woman’s current 'lived experience'?

Also very touching was the mother and daughter supporting each other, with their signs 'I'm marching for my mum, and 'I'm marching for my daughter.' And another moving one declaring ‘Marching for Kate because she can't.’

Photos: Jenny Scott & Samantha Battams

Our speakers included proud Kaurna woman Rosemary Wanganeen who also did the Welcome to Country, Claire O'Connor SC & Human Rights Barrister, Dr Afsaneh Moradi, GP, Iranian Women's Association, Abbey Kendall, Director of the Working Women's Centre, Janette Milera, Founder of the SA Aboriginal Action Group. We were also fortunate to have an impromptu performance of What's Up (4 Non-Blondes) by Victoria Falconer-Pritchard (our MC), Alex de Porteous and Miss Cairo. After the march and return to Tarntanyangga, the Adelaide Sound Connection choir sang 'I Am Woman' and we had a vigil for all women who have died from domestic and family violence.

Photos: Jenny Scott

The #March4Justice nationally developed a series of demands which our local march supported, including independent investigations of gendered violence, best practice on gendered violence prevention strategies, implementation of the recommendations of the Respect@Work report as well as a Gender Equality Act. Australia has been slipping down the World Economic Forum's gender equality gap rankings, going from 15th place in 2006, to 44th place in 2019. New Zealand was in 6th place.

For the Adelaide march, we also developed our own ‘demands,' which included a review of the reporting, investigation and prosecution of sexual assault crimes. It also included implementation of the 16 recommendations of the SA Equal Opportunity Commission’s Report into Harassment in the South Australian Parliament, which includes a code of conduct for SA parliament. We also made a statement in support of implementations of key recommendations of the Wiyi Yani U Thangani ‘Women’s Voices’ report by the #AustralianHumanRightsCommission. Here is a report on the #March4Justice #Adelaide by InDaily.

This was the first time I had organised a protest, although I have attended a ‘Reclaim the Night’ march when I was at university, when I also attended one or two ‘Women on Campus’ meetings, but I did not continue as I didn’t feel comfortable or didn’t feel I ‘fit in’.

At University of Tasmania, in my early 20s I critiqued feminist perspectives of community care and also using other perspectives in my Honours thesis in Sociology. I had just come from Flinders University, where the culture and gender mix amongst staff was very different, and I believe this made a big difference to how young women felt. I distinctly remember the head of the Department at UTAS at the time (1994) being misogynistic. The Professor was known for being intimidating and ‘making women cry’ - there were only three of us young women doing Honours in the academic stream in that year (and 3 female university lecturers in the Department, 2 more than the previous year!!!). I was determined that he would not ‘make me cry’ – as he had indeed the two other young women who had seen him just before me. The seminar room that we met in for his class had all of the ‘fathers of sociology’ around the walls – not one single woman was pictured, despite feminist sociologists being an important part of the discipline (we studied 'classics' of sociology, but I can't remember any feminist theory really discussed). I did or do not consider myself a ‘radical feminist’ (or radical left wing as recently described on Twitter) – but I purposely chose radical feminist Andrea Dworkin’s ‘Pornography’ as one of ten books to review at one of my 1:1 meetings with him (which he skipped) – these 1:1 meetings now seem bizarre, in retrospect. I remember at the last meeting when discussing the book reviews, him ‘telling me’ what grade he thought I would get for the entire Honors year (setting up low expectations for me) – even though his class was worth just 1/6th of the overall grade. I remember I just missed out on a First Class Honors due to the lower mark in his his class. I chose not to continue on to do a PhD at that time (11 years later I would get an NHMRC scholarship to start one). Prior to choosing my female PhD superviser, I approached a male sociologist who asked me to consider my 'family responsibilities' when deciding whether to commence a PhD! I bet that a prospective male student would not have been similarly advised. I was a first generation university student (my parents either dropped out of or finished year 9, and my mum and step-Dad did not want me to go to university as I had a 'good job' in administration in my gap year) and later became an Associate Professor and have headed an academic discipline at a university. I had to challenge expectations early on!

At both universities where I did my Degree and Honors year in my youth (starting university at 17, I could have been 16), I remember male lecturers or tutors having affairs with students – and some women dropping out of university because of this - along with some male tutors encroaching on the boundaries of female students by putting their hands on their shoulders, or touching their hair whilst they were seated at their computers. Along with on or around campus experiences of sexual assault, these were not the sort of hassles that young men would have had to worry about in a challenging period of their life, often living away from home as a teenager, and (if like me) having to juggle work and study responsibilities to put themselves through university.

I have always considered myself a feminist. To me, among other things, it means women having the same opportunities as men, equal pay for equal work, being treated with respect, having a voice in the public arena if one wishes, seeing things through a gender lens. It means women realising human rights, not being assaulted, and being free from domestic and family violence. Like women and men alike, I am sick of reading, seeing, and hearing about one woman dying of domestic and family violence every 9 days in Australia. I am sick of gendered violence (although men are of course subject to domestic and family violence too, but women and girls are overwhelmingly the victims) – which the WHO has declared a public health problem of epidemic proportions (I wrote about this and prevention strategies with colleagues here). I am sick of hearing about child sexual abuse in the media, which affects all genders but girls (and Indigenous Australians) at a higher rate. Those that experience child abuse and neglect have a much, much higher morbidity and mortality from many things, in particular mental health and alcohol and other drugs. #EnoughIsEnough I am sick of hearing about the harassment of women, including those who are public figures, as well as the 'boys club' (an example the BigSwingingDicks club) and illusion of merit based processes. (Interesting to hear they are currently contemplating quotas in the LNP, so many years after this was deemed necessary by feminists and other parties). I am also sick of hearing about bullying and harassment in the workplace, by both men and women - a negative culture that has negative health effects, including depression.

Beyond the March for Justice Adelaide, some of the co-organisers and speakers who developed the demands of the Adelaide #March4Justice have recently formed #Justice4WomenSA a platform to continue the fight on the demands of March4Justice Adelaide. This has arisen from a desire to see the momentum for change and community expectations that this should continue. Please join us at our Facebook Group, our Facebook Page, or our Twitter if you would like to be a part of this. We welcome women and men who support and end to gendered violence and equity for women.

Short Stories

This month I have written a short story about my grandpop (my step-Dad’s father) and the Loveday internment camp, by request of Professor Peter Monteith who along with other Flinders University academics received money from the Japan Foundation to set up a website on LoveDay, which was the largest internment camp in Australian during World War 11. This year marks the 80th year since the establishment of Loveday. You can read the short version of this story at the Loveday Lives website. You can read the longer version of this on my website here.

Soma Supplies

I was travelling back from seeing #PortAdelaideFootbalClub play Essendon in the AFL at the Adelaide Oval last night when I was halted by traffic on Port Road, due to the cars lining up to get into Dan Murphys – perhaps buying booze for celebration as it was a massivePort Adelaide win! This made me think to an incident last year.

When Professor Peter Doherty accidentally tweeted ‘Dan Murphy Opening Hours’ in the middle of the day instead of googling the phrase, I thought it was hilarious. Also funny were the responses; people on Twitter vying to do the booze delivery for the good Professor themselves. The Dan Murphy opening hours error became a common reference. Later an ABC news presenter accidentally said that they were crossing live to ‘Dan Murphy’ instead of Victorian Premier Dan Andrews!

Prior to lockdowns, people were scrambling to get their booze supply, and during lockdown zoom sessions with alcohol in hand seemed a common and accepted social activity. Having done work in the alcohol and other drugs space at one of Australia's national research institutes in this field, I can’t help but think about the ‘other epidemic’ that Covid-19 has contributed to.

All of the joking and memes about alcohol on social media reminded me of the role of Soma in the novel Brave New World, the drug used to keep citizens peaceful. (Although alcohol has been deemed a contributing factor to recent problems in parliament (rather than male behaviour) and we know that alcohol is linked to gendered violence).

Huxley wrote Brave New World at the time of the Great Depression, and some of the aspects of ‘Brave New World’ frighteningly reflect our own time.

One of Huxley’s anxieties at the time (the 1920s and 1930s) was the inward, narcissistic nature of many Americans. I recalled some evidence about how generations are becoming more narcissistic. This made me think of the recent former President of the US being referred to as ‘the Chief Narcissist.’ We have similar narcissistic tendencies in our current leaders – winning at all costs, inability to be empathic (requiring ‘empathy trainers’), blaming others and not accepting accountability. I think the marches for justice across Australia hat least have shown that many Australians do have empathy and care about issues of gendered violence, and the culture within Australian parliament, and are not happy with narcissistic leadership.

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