Photo credit: Di Cousens
I would like to acknowledge that we are gathering tonight on the stolen unceded land of the Wurundjeri people of the Kulin nation. I pay my respects to their Elders past, present and future and all Indigenous people gathered here tonight. This land was taken by force, in a violent war. Every inch of Australia is unceded Aboriginal land.
These are not the sort of times I thought I would be living through in my 40s, with democracy on the decline around the world, with the United States of America, who have always presented themselves as the world’s paragon of democracy and freedom dropping downwards in almost every metric or democratic freedom. The election of a reality TV star as President of the United States over 4 years ago was a symptom of a deeper malaise, not the cause of the problems.
People are scared and scared people vote for strong-man leaders, it might be that democracy is not the default state of the world but, rather, something we need to work to maintain.
Women’s rights seem to be going backwards, the religious right, so called men’s rights activists and men who identify as “Incels” (involuntary celibates), men who can’t get sex and blame women for their situation, are fighting to remove the equal rights we have fought for. Many far-right men in what some people call the “manosphere” believe that women’s rights have gone too far, that women should not be able to choose our sexual partners, have careers, remain unmarried or childless, they don’t believe we should be allowed to vote. These men want women’s rights reversed, want the patriarchy to regain power.
They have ignored what Margaret Attwood said, “The Handmaid’s Tale is not an instruction manual”.
Worse even that that, many of these men believe that there is no patriarchy, that women are really in control despite all the overwhelming evidence.
I didn’t want to talk about rape but frankly in these times it seems appropriate and necessary.
In Australia we have a party in power who seem keen to cover up alleged rape by staffers and ministers, who have shown nothing but contempt and hate for victims of rape. Our prime minister had to be told by his wife, Jen, to “think of their daughters” when considering rape victims. Firstly, he should not have needed to have been reminded of his daughters, secondly a man should not need daughters to know that rape is bad; you already know that – I guess our prime minister doesn’t.
Rape has always been a weapon of war, a tool of settler colonialism, in the early days of colonisation there is always a lack of women, the men seek indigenous women for sex, making mixed race children. We have to assume that men who don’t see the local women as human would not always ask for consent. This has not changed, women are seen as second-class citizens, the majority of rapes don’t get reported, even when rapes are reported the majority of rapists get away with the crime.
Imagine how bad it was during colonisation, if men get away with rape now how can we even imagine how many men would have gotten away with rape in the black war times. I think it’s safe to assume that most of the mixed-race children were the after effect of rape. I am not however, as far as I know every generation back to the dawn of colonisation in my family were in consensual relationships.
Then we get to greater complexities, what really is consent when the power imbalance is so extreme?
Aboriginal women who married white men had protection, sometimes the women married to white men were the only Aboriginal women who did not die in the blak war, they survived the apocalyptic spasm of colonisation. Being married to white men was protective but it’s impossible to determine whether or not they married white men for that reason. It’s possible that an Aboriginal girl offered protection would do anything to keep that protection, even marry a man she has no feelings for but fear of him; and perhaps her fear of the other white men being far greater. It’s hard to imagine this being actually a choice, it was the colonial apocalypse, a long ongoing war.
This could be my family, some of the earliest recorded marriages in the south coast of Western Australia were the women in my family, whose husbands kept them safe.
They were aware of rape, in the 1880s a girl of my Country was raped by a whitefella, her family killed that whitefella and nearly all our family were killed in reprisals.
Australia is not the country it thinks it is, not the country you might think it is.
Australia is not a happy-go-lucky, lucky country, equal and friendly and gregarious. Australia is racist and sexist and homophobic; the way the country gets away with this is by hiding what it is in plain sight. The world, and most of Australia, believes the country’s propaganda, believes the story not the truth; some of us can see it but those of us are abused for speaking the truth.
Australia falls short of jailing people for being critical of the government but it is my belief we are not far from there. There are people in government who seem hell-bent on totalitarianism, on fascism or a theocracy.
I have to admit Australia has some things right, it’s not a particularly homophobic nation, this is perhaps one of the nations where lesbian, gay, bi and trans rights have progressed the furthest.
Except that the “gay panic defence”, converting murder to manslaughter if a straight man is hit on by a man, was only abolished in South Australia in November 2020.
Until then a straight man who thought a gay man was attracted to him could say that made him scared and, if he killed the gay man, it was a reaction to fear, a manslaughter, not cold-blooded murder. As has been often pointed out women who fear they are in danger from men are unlikely to respond with violence and if we did we would not be able to use “I thought he was attracted to me” as a defence.
In fact, women have little right to safety from sexual assault, for we don’t have rights if those rights are only theoretical. It’s estimated that as many as one in 6 women are victims of sexual assault. Most rapes go unreported, most reported rapes do not result in prosecution of the rapist. Women will be safe from rape once a report of rape to the police can be made with a reasonable expectation of prosecution, when reporting a rape has no consequences for the victims of rape.
Things are even worse for trans women and women of colour. If Aboriginal women come to the attention of police even as victims of crime we tend to be punished for it. Current statistics suggest that rather than the one in six cis women who are sexually assaulted, with trans women it’s more like one in two.
As things stand right now women are constantly accused of making false accusations of rape when, frankly, in rape reports, the loss of reputation and damage to status is worst for the accuser than it is for the accused. Few women who are raped report it because of the consequences, such as slut shaming, and yet the myth that women lie about rape persists.
This is part of the silencing of women, particularly rape victims. It has always been the aim of settler colonialism, hegemonic systems and patriarchy, which are frankly the same thing. That too they want to silence, the knowledge that the patriarchy and settler colonialism are hand in hand. This is why we need to keep intersectionality in mind, the oppressive systems walk with their fingers entwined, when someone experiences more than one vector of oppression they tend to compound. It’s hard to choose which oppression to fight.
Intersectionality matters because erasure of voices is hierarchical, white, cis, straight male abled voices are the loudest, then white cis straight abled women, the entitled voice called out as “Karens”, then down the ladder, white cis gay men, white cis gay women, etc. then black, straight men, etc etc.
At the bottom of this theoretical ladder are Indigenous, trans, gay or queer disabled women. From that far down the ladder it’s pretty much impossible to even see the top. Affirmative action, what prejudiced people call “positive discrimination’ is needed to give intersectionally disadvantaged people a chance in this society. When affirmative action is attempted we are accused of “reverse racism” or some such thing, but reverse racism is itself a racist term and everybody using it is racist.
If you think about it anything that can be reversed has a correct direction, therefore the term “reverse racism” implies that racism has a correct direction. That direction is, of course, from white people towards people of colour. Racism, to someone invoking the concept of reverse racism, is something that should be correctly applied by them to others.
Now, in the last few days we have been faced with the disclosure of the racism of some members of the British Royal family to Meghan Markel. If you missed it somehow an unidentified royal when told by prince Harry that Meghan was pregnant apparently mused aloud wondering how dark the child will be.
Should we have been shocked that the royal family of an empire that brought us racist colonialism are racists? Of course not. It’s not well known, these days, that the entire concept of “race” as we know it was invented to more easily distinguish the slave classes from the slave owners. Racism did not always exist, it is nothing more or less than a tool of settler colonialism
It’s time to bring an end to racism, to bring an end to sexism, to what some people call misogynoir, the unique hate society holds for blak and Indigenous women; that potently energetic hate that has earned its own portmaneau. Intersectionally disadvantaged women can’t do it alone but we don’t want everybody else fighting for us, Blak women want you to stand with us shoulder to shoulder. It’s time for everybody to understand that the minorities in power need us divided, they are out-numbered.
Worldwide PEN International Annual Women Writers Committee Meeting
“Empowering women’s voices: Praise, solidarity and longing”,
which will be held by Zoom on March 20 and 21, 2021.
All PIWWC people are invited to take part. We hope that a virtual conference will permit more attendance than ever as we had a last year. There are many events scheduled over the two days of the conference and we will be able to see one another, and everyone will have a chance to speak as well.
General information about the meeting:
WWC Annual Meeting Online
Empowering women’s voices: Praise, solidarity and longing
20 and 21 March 2021
PEN International Women Writers Committee is organising an online meeting on women writers’ response to the anxiety that crept into our lives during and after the pandemic. We would like to put praise and solidarity, universal love, and peace into the spotlight of our meeting. Seeing democracies crumbling and human rights stripped away from us, we can show that PEN is mightier than a sword.
In two sessions, we will focus on exchange of views and ideas on the way forward, with a focus on collaborative approaches.
Saturday, March 20, 2021
13:30 GMT (London time) – Opening the meeting (practice room and free chat)
14:00 – Empty Chair #1 Regina Martínez Pérez (Mexico)
14:05 – Opening keynote speech by Ma Thida (PEN Myanmar)
14:25 – WWC Chair report + Q&A
14:40 – PEN VIDA count: presentation of the project
15:00 – Center updates (3 mins per Center) with comfort break
17:00 – Closing the meeting
Sunday, March 21, 2021
13:30 – Opening the meeting (practice room and free chat)
14:00 – Empty Chair #2 Myint Myint Zin (Myanmar)
14:05 – WWC in Centenary Archive:
“The WWC Committee’s secret pages in the PEN Digital Exhibition” by Ginevra Avalle
WWC memories by Lucina Kathmann
14:30 – PUBLIC EVENT
WOMEN WRITERS IN EXILE
Women writers in exile live a double life. One part of their mind is in their homeland, another in the land where they are building a new existence. How is it to live a double life? How can writers in exile help to advocate for the rights in their homelands? Can literature overcome the distance? We will hear about their experience of life in exile from three amazing writers.
Panellists: Maria Saba (PEN Canada-Humber College Writers-in-Exile), Choman Hardi (Kurdish PEN), and Stella Nyanzi (PEN Uganda)
Moderated by Tanja Tuma (PEN Slovene)
Live on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peninternational
15:25 – Empty Chair #3. Volha Kalackaja (Belarus)
15:30 – PUBLIC EVENT:
SILENCING WOMEN’S VOICES IN AUTOCRATIC REGIMES
The pandemic has shaken the roots of our democracies and annihilated societies that were built over decades. Freedom of speech and human rights are threatened more than ever all over the world. As a rule, writers particularly women are the first targets of the autocratic regimes. What are the methods of the autocrats trying to silence women’s literary voices? Moreover, what are women writers’ ways to persevere and fight back?
Panellists: Nadezhda Azhgikhina (PEN Moscow) and Dr Ma Thida (Myanmar PEN)
Moderated by Zoe Rodriguez (PEN Sidney)
Live on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/peninternational
16:30 – POETRY SESSION Free the Word: Empowering Women’s Voices. Poems of Celebration, Solidarity & Longing
Empty Chair #4. Gulmira Imin (Uyghur)
Every Silence Broken Buys Another Their Voice!
OPEN Link: https://us02web.zoom.us/j/89636911672
Live on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/judyth.hill
The sessions will be held online as a closed, invitation-only meeting. Further details and technical information will be communicated to confirmed participants closer to the meeting.
The sessions will be recorded by the Secretariat for reporting purposes only and will not be broadcast or published later. The public portion (public events and literary reading) will be streamed on YouTube and Facebook and recordings can be used for promotional purposes.
The consultation is organised under the Chatham House Rule, and participants are not allowed to record.
The sessions will be held in English only. Unfortunately, no interpretation can be provided.
We apologise for this inconvenience.
Link for the meeting
Don’t worry, we will resend you the invitation link 24 hours before the event.
Registration is closed.
2021 International Women’s Day Event, with Claire G Coleman
PEN Melbourne, IWD Judith Rodriguez Presentation.