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Well Done Nowra - Herstory in the Making

March 18, 2021

On Monday hundreds gathered in Nowra for March 4 Justice – a movement that evolved just weeks ago following a Tweet by Janine Hendry that amassed 100,000 across the country at over 40 actions.

Although those who could travel to Parliament House in Canberra were encouraged to do so, local events are equally important so regional voices can be heard and empowered.

Pulling off events such as these takes a team of dedicated people, and a community fired up for change. Luckily we have both in the Shoalhaven and beyond. Local artist and nuclear campaigner Kerry Laws was keen for a local event but wasn’t sure if a week was enough time. The New Bush Telegraph team got activated and together we made it happen. Kerry’s partner Akira Kamada created many of the wonderful signs, the community got busy sharing posts, emailing and telling friends and family, and as the day confirmed hundreds attended.

Women who had never attended a protest before in their lives, drove to Canberra in groups and on their own. And locally we heard similar stories, stories of women who just had to come – there was no other choice. Nervous as they were.

Women gathered - young and old, and men too, offering support and solidarity - gaining strength in the connection and power in the sharing of ‘like’ experiences.

As one local man attending put it,

“As a father of four daughters and three granddaughters it was an honour to stand with so many like-minded people of our area to allow our long-lasting concerns for women's safety and respect to be aired along with the many, many others across Australia and hopefully the world in the future. It is a disgrace that this has been swept under the carpet for so long but hopefully, it is never going back. Enough is enough.”

The atmosphere at Jellybean Park was electric and as ini and Deb – Lotus Harmonies – sang their powerful songs, as brave women shared raw and painful stories, as the collective called #EnoughIsEnough we all knew that this is the beginning of something big. Change is coming – and it felt good. Heartening.

A big hug of thanks and gratitude to all of the brave women speakers – to Bonnie Cassen, who facilitated, Mayor Amanda Findley, Takesa Frank, Kim Stephenson, Megan Smillee, Nina Digiglio and Julie Stephen.

The South Coast is a vast area; likewise, is the Far South Coast where Bega held its own impressive event. However sisters are everywhere and no one is ever alone. In the days and weeks following Mondays actions, further mobilisation, further direction is already being planned. To keep in touch and up to date locally join the South Coast Facebook group.

To the women and men that came, and to those who couldn’t this reflection and pictorial is for you.

Bonnie Cassen, Ingrid Leusch and The Bush Tele team

March4Justice event in Nowra 15 March, SCC Mayor Amanda Findley opens the event with a heartfelt acknowledgment to country and speaks up for all women
March4Justice Nowra 15th of March at Jellybean Park, organiser Bonnie Cassen, clr Nina Digiglio and Bonnie's friend speaking out for all women

March for Justice 15th March 2021 - the Ides of March; the turning point of Roman History

The Ides of March - the day Julius Caesar was assassinated - the day women of this nation revolt. Encircling Parliament House, congregating in every major city and small town in Australia; screaming from the rafters. ENOUGH.

Will it be enough? Will it ever make a difference to the patriarchal control over this dying planet? How did we get to this point? By sheer brute force and fear and denial. Turning the other cheek, turning a deaf ear, tut-tutting and patronising pats on the back of the hand, condolences and thoughts and prayers. Enough… enough… enough.

Women are raped and murdered in the street, in a park at night. Walking home after a night out with friends, drunk on the alcohol that is the mandatory rite of passage in a patriarchal society; being raped at your place of work by a colleague. Shackled by impractical clothes and shoes designed to make women feel attractive and valued. And mandatory in some workplaces; rendered targets and powerless victims.

Shackled also by the insults and prejudices against woman’s higher-pitched voices and sensitive, emotional dispositions, and berated because of their gender.

I rallied: I lowered the pitch of my voice, I trained myself to articulate clearly, to adjust my persona to one of a strong, powerful woman. I survived.  Yet now, over forty years later, as the women of our nation stand up to be heard, the old wounds resurface. The injustices sting like the slaps across my face, metered out to me as a child by my father.

March4Justice Nowra 15th of March women demanding respect & equality. Action is required now.

I learned very young that there was no protection, no redress, and no recourse from the police. I subsequently battled on alone and homeless, putting myself in dangerous situations, being drugged and raped over the course of the next few years, never once considering reporting the perpetrators.

I married a strong man to defend me and protect me, raised three strong independent daughters. They were not subject to the sort of abuse I endured. Still, none the less, they were launched into a misogynistic world where no doubt, they subjected themselves to difficult situations in the name of living a full and independent life.    

I don’t talk to my daughters about my upbringing or the subsequent sexual assaults. I know snippets of some of the sexist experiences they endured. I am grateful they have chosen strong, supporting partners and have strong supportive networks.

I stand now, as a grandmother to say ENOUGH… and I am eternally grateful to the women who have once again taken the lead. I believe that it will be only by calling out every misdemeanour, emboldening those women who are in power and in the public eye to stand up and cry… What would Jacinda do?

Laura Sansonetti, Sanctuary Point. 

Women had enough of violence, abuse, victim blaming, not feeling safe, justice for women now. Enough Is Enough

Takesa Frank speaking up for justice for all women at March4Justice event in Nowra, 15th of March at Jellybean Park. About 200-300 people turned out for the event to support women's rights

Strength in Numbers; Hope in the Fight for Equality

Nowra’s Action for Justice was small compared to those held in the major cities, but it was massive and overwhelming compared to what we had originally imagined it would be, when first conceived just one week earlier.

After the first few small groups trickled in, people began turning up in waves, most wearing black, many with hand-made signs, some arriving solo but mostly in twos or threes. Final estimates were that 200 to 300 people attended in total.

People arriving at March4Justice in Nowra on 15th of March to share their stories, to commence healing, to shout out Enough is Enough

As we waited for proceedings to commence, I spoke to several different women standing on their own and we very soon found ourselves sharing our ‘stories’ as intimately as if we had known each other for years. It didn’t seem strange because that’s what many of us had been doing in the week’s lead-up: sharing our individual stories of betrayal, assault, harassment and shame; stories that turned out to have many similarities with each other.

In the case of one woman, the sign she carried identified her perpetrator, a close relative, and this was the first time she had made the disclosure outside of her immediate family. She intended to post the sign on her own social media later that day, thereby disclosing it to her extended family and friends. It moved me greatly, only partly because her story was so close to my own.

Why this sudden urge to share stories that had stayed hidden for many decades? Because it was somehow easier now, thanks largely to the surge of disclosures and allegations over the past month. And it brought relief, especially when we feel we are being listened to, and believed, and supported by each other. Although it may not bring restitution, we can see that it may help others dealing with similar situations. Most importantly, it reveals the extent of the problem. One in three? You must be joking!

Women march for justice, over 100,000  marched at about 40 events all over Australia, demanding justice and equality now. Enough now

The event was opened with a moving and sobering Acknowledgement of Country by our mayor Amanda Findlay, reminding us that this Australian nation was founded on rape and assault, weapons that have been used by the patriarchy forever, but always with a greater cost to the marginalised groups amongst us. 

Local musician Ineke Veerkamp had written two beautifully powerful songs especially for the day, and they were perfect for bringing us together and giving us the energy to raise our voices and spirits. More harrowing stories were disclosed by many more courageous women. Whether at work, at home, or at social events the common thread of all these assaults is clear to see – the sense of entitlement held by the perpetrator.

This deeply entrenched culture cannot be changed overnight but must be challenged at every instance, in every context, in our child-raising practices, our schools, work, sport and friends’ networks, and most importantly at every level of government, along with policing and with the courts.

While I have been on this mission for over 40 years, and I had thought we would be ‘there’ by now – I can’t lose hope. Momentum is building, even in the more conservative sectors. We must capture the energy sparked by Monday’s rallies and continue the fight for justice and full equality for all. Only then will we rest.

A reflection by Kerry Laws

 

Yep. I was protesting for me, too

I’m one of the ‘privileged, white, educated Australian women’ (as the crowd was generally, and rightly, described by one of the speakers). My passion is the environment and animal rights, but I thought it important to attend and stand with my ‘sista’s’.

I thought, I’ll go for the lady who works at my local supermarket who tells me she gets expletives yelled at her by her male supervisor when she innocently asks why her hours are cut back. I’ll go for the new female employee in the traditionally male industry who is written off as useless before she even starts. I’ll go for my dear friend who lost her virginity on an overseas holiday at 18 years of age after being gang-raped. I’ll go for Brittany. I’ll go for Kate.

Fortunately, I’m self-employed and have a wonderful colleague who could cover my workload. So off to Nowra I went. (I went for her too.)

Women demanding justice now at March4Justice event in Nowra 15th of March

I listened to the brave women who spoke of entrenched cultural biases, of near misses, of excuses for poor male behaviour, of threats, fears, horrid memories, lifelong scars, and how this continual battle for gender equality has persisted through the ages.

Hearing others recount their experiences found me relating. Yes, I’ve crossed the street to avoid walking past a man. I’ve clung onto my car keys in my pocket, quickened my pace, thought “I shouldn’t wear this, it’s too provocative”, etc. etc.

In primary school, a man burst into my toilet cubicle. I froze. A classmate screamed and saved me from God-knows-what. In my teens my best friend rescued me one afternoon as we walked home from school. A man jumped off a fence and tried to grab me. She thumped him with her school case and he fled. A few years later she saved me again one new year’s eve as I was wrenched into a shop enclave.

But no one was there to save me the time I was date raped. Eventually I got self-defence lessons.

Hell yeah. I want to be free to go where I want, do what I want, wear what I want and be all I can be. Every woman deserves this, as does every man. It shouldn’t matter your age, sex, religion or race.

Remaining silent while someone else is treated poorly or helping cover up another’s indiscretion? One simply must find the courage to call it out. It’s good men who can make the biggest difference here. The next time your mate is wearing that t-shirt depicting a woman on her knees, open-mouthed wearing a dog collar – suggest some may find it offensive. And maybe it’s time for those porn star silhouette ute stickers to go too? The change starts with questioning what we find amusing, our language and our own indoctrinated beliefs.

“Put your hand up if you or someone you know has been sexually abused by a man”. Every single hand reached for the sky.

Yep. I was protesting for me, too.

Yours in solidarity,

Jorj Lowrey

Women don't want to be silent any longer, women protesting at March4Justice in Nowra on 15th of March for women's right and justice
Women demanding justice for survivors of violence and rape and abuse

Time again – Herstory

I still have goosebumps. My arms are tired from holding my protest sign up high. But my heart feels warmed. The march at Parliament House was like no other. History - ‘herstory’- feels giant-sized. Palpable and as real as a living presence... 

women's march for justice at Parliament House demanding justice now. Enough is Enough

A tear runs down inside my heart. Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng’s speech is profound, filled with strength, insight and power; rich with deep time. We are invited to close our eyes while a sacred ancestral song is sung on Country. This strength and generosity - a reflection on our First Nations’ Peoples’ long waiting - and a Welcome to Country by Aunty Violet Sheridan centre the day. 

First Nations Women continue to bear the brunt of structural violence and power’s inequalities, yet here is a call to work in linked sistership. 

It’s a point not lost as the histories of a nation, and of suffrage - and of Old Parliament House (open for 33 years before First Nations people had the vote) - are brought to life by speakers. 

Dr Goreng Goreng speaking up for indigenous women at March4Justice at Parliament House Canberra, indigenous women are especially disadvantaged

The presence of women’s champion, Liz Reid, the world’s very first women’s adviser, appointed by the Whitlam government and subjected to the then governor-general’s clumsy advances, also feels like time travel. I try standing on tiptoes but there are too many women in front to see her.

Parked outside old Parly House before the march, my car radio tuned; I listen as women parliamentarians from both sides of the house acknowledge historical female figures and the import of today’s march just beyond the new parliament’s house walls. I switch to commercial radio. It’s lit! 

A spine-tingling sense of living in a very significant moment in Big History has me finish my sign, dash to find the ‘ladies’ in the old house and bust some even faster moves to head up the hill to the sounds of Helen Ready.

As I photograph people with their homemade signs, I meet women and men in their seventies and eighties. Déjà vu! Friend Marilyn Beech, a speaker in Albany, later said to me laughing, “yeah, we knew ALL the words of I am Woman, Hear me Roar.” 

women demanding justice and an end to violence

Amongst such an instructive back catalogue of wins and action, there’s a tension in these elastic threads of time too. There’s pain of past traumas; silenced and re-lived. Hurt, anger, resolute determination; present and held by every one of the many thousands of women and non-binary people marching and given voice in the calls to hotlines and messaging on social media.  

Brittany Higgins’ address is electric. Pioneering. Demanding lasting legal, cultural and workplace change. Here she is, personally confronting past and present, returning to the front of the parliamentary workplace in which she has lived the darkest of moments. What she has so broken is the toxic spell of silence that has prevailed over the so-called ‘Canberra Bubble’ for nearly a century. It feels time-shaking. 

Brittany Higgins speaking up for justice and equality for all women at Parliament House in Canberra at March4Justice

And so too, Maddie Chia, an eloquent and courageous twenty-year-old law student who speaks frankly of being raped during O-Week. Working to right and form the future, she never wants her youngest sister or others to go through what she has suffered.

Morrison on the radio bookends my drive home. We are to be grateful we’re not shot. Someone has no decency or sense of these times. A new song page of ‘herstory’ is writ large, flipping history.

Magella Blinksell

Prime Minister Scott Morrison is criticised for not taking action on stopping violence against women in the workplace including the women working at Parliament House

Equity Compelled me to Canberra for my First-Ever Protest; and I am Truly Glad I Went

As a first-time protestor travelling to Canberra, I stood in solidarity alongside thousands of women across our land. Mounting evidence about gender violence, had reached tipping point and was felt viscerally. The march represented a tidal wave of action that had swept over Australia as mass rallies were conducted in over 40 locations including every capital city in the country.

What started with a tweet from Melbourne academic Dr Janine Hendry mobilised 100,000 women across the nation and gained the attention of millions more, veteran feminist Biff Ward described it as “the great uprising”.

The outpouring sent a clear message, we have simply had enough. For me personally, #March4Justice represented a collective outpouring of fury to several (mis)handled allegations of sexual misconduct. From the ABC Four Corners’ November episode with Rachelle Miller, to Brittany Higgins, and more recently, the historic rape allegations. Additionally, it arises amidst multiple claims of a toxic work culture at Parliament House.

The irrepressible MC Julia Zemiro kicked off the event at the front of Parliament House by remarking “here we are, women showing up (again) to do the work”. The sound of thousands of women (and men) erupted as everyone raised their fists and chanted #EnoughisEnough letting both sides of government receive the clear message.

Opening of March4Justice event at Parliament House in Canberra by Julia Zemiro asking our government to step up for justice for all women

The Welcome to Country was given by Aunty Violet Sheridan and we heard articulate speeches from Dr Tjanara Goreng Goreng, Saxon Mullins, Madhumitha Janagaraja, Sally McManus, Michele O’Neil, Animata Conteh-Biger, Biff Ward, Virginia Hausegger, Avan Daruwalla, and Maddie Chia. The unexpected delight was seeing Brittany Higgins and Lisa Wilkinson deliver their riveting speeches at the event!

Some comments remain firmly etched in my memory for instance one by Virginia Hausegger:

“This Government cannot claim surprise or ignorance. They have sat now for more than one year on the 55 recommendations in the sex discrimination commissioners report into sexual harassment at work. No action… The thing they don’t fundamentally understand is this is every woman’s story. This is my story; this is your story”.

Saxon Mullins’ speech called for increased action against sexual violence as the government's response to recent revelations about the treatment of women in politics reflected its priorities. She remarked:

Building on the momentum that has been coming the last few years, we have reached a point of total exasperation. "We are tired of being disregarded and put to the side because there's something more important to do. This is important … and we won't stop until the government actually cares and actually does something about this."

My government does not protect me, will not protect me

To all the brave women (and men) standing up on Monday across Australia, thank you!  Your united voices were heard, acknowledged and believed. As a nation, we’ve got this in our pursuit of justice.

The words of Janine Hendry float peacefully on the horizons of our protest efforts, building and magnifying, a reminder that equality benefits us all, and threatens no one.

“My equity doesn’t not diminish your equity; it’s the gift that keeps on giving.”

This is just the beginning; change is in the air. And that gift is for us all.

Tonia Gray

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    One comment on “Well Done Nowra - Herstory in the Making”

    1. I am sorry I wasn't able to be at the March4Justice but I was in spirit. It must have been very moving, and it makes me angry..............
      To quote Virginia Hausegger, “This Government cannot claim surprise or ignorance. They have sat now for more than one year on the 55 recommendations in the sex discrimination commissioners report into sexual harassment at work. No action… the thing they don’t fundamentally understand is this is every woman’s story. This is my story; this is your story”.

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