It started last year when millions of women across all continents rallied to coincide with the Trump Inauguration. It wasn’t just about the largest superpower suddenly in the hands of a misogynist pussy-grabbing President, it was about so much more.
For decades, feminists including myself, have worked for policy and law reform to gradually dismantle the patriarchy embedded in every institution, policy and practice. There was a collective realisation that the system has failed us. Decades of activism has resulted in many of the world’s women – although not all – achieving gender equality on paper, but this has not been reflected in practice.
We now know, for example, that it will be another 217 years before women achieve equal pay with men. While most countries have laws against violence against women, prevalence rates remain high and don’t appear to be abating. Only a handful of countries have gender parity in their parliaments, and countries such as Vanuatu still remain without any women represented. And all of the big global issues – poverty, climate change and inequality, see women fair worse off than men.
Globally we have come to the realisation that power will not be ceded, it has to be taken.
From Sydney to San José, Costa Rica, the Global Women’s March this Sunday is about this recognition and collectively uniting to take a stand for women’s rights. ActionAid is proud to be part of the collective behind the Sydney March, where we will symbolically link hands as a physical show of our unbreakable will to expose and challenge the culture of misogyny, harassment and inequality that pervades our society.
Sunday’s march takes place against a back drop of the global momentum created by the #MeToo and #TimesUp movement, which has taught us some very powerful lessons about feminist social change.
One of the comments that has stayed with me from the #MeToo mobilisation came from US actress, Eliza Dushku (pictured above), who some of us will remember as Faith in the long running series Buffy the Vampire Slayer. On 13th January this year, Eliza publicly shared her experience of being sexually molested at age 12 by a stunt coordinator during the filming of True Lies back in 1994 – and the subsequent retaliation she faced after disclosing to a friend. Eliza is now 37 years old, so justice has been a long time coming. She says that “sharing these words, finally calling my abuser out publicly by name, brings the start of a new calm.” One powerful take away from the #MeToo movement is that this is about women taking justice into their own hands.
For decades we’ve invested in law reform to provide legal protection against sexual harassment, violence and abuse. But this is from a justice system that has few, if any, convictions and requires proof of crimes that deliberately occur in the private confines of homes, hotel rooms and closed-door offices. It is a patriarchal system of (in)justice that was never intended to deliver justice for the world’s women.
That’s why women like Eliza Dushku are finding justice in their own ways. They are claiming their right to public space to bring their perpetrators to account, which is bringing personal healing, but also uncovering systematic patterns of abuse that have been hidden in the margins. Two more women have come forward since Eliza spoke up with allegations against the same perpetrator, which has been sufficient evidence for him to be dumped by Worldwide Production Agency. And it’s the same pattern we’ve seen with Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey, Don Burke, Craig McLachlan and the countless others who have been met with a new form of feminist retributive justice over recent months.
So if #MeToo has taught us anything, it is that we cannot rely on the institutions of patriarchy to deliver gender justice.
This is as much true in Australia, as it is in the USA and conflict-affected countries like the Democratic Republic of Congo. ActionAid’s recent research with the University of Sydney into access to justice for survivors of gender-based violence in Africa’s Great Lakes region found that for many women, justice was not about a narrow Western and male-defined brand of legal justice that exposed them to increased threats of violence and public humiliation. Justice was much more about healing from the pain and stigma, being able to rebuild their lives and livelihoods, and addressing long term health implications. This is justice through women’s eyes.
#MeToo has also taught us the power of women’s collective voice. Social change can never be achieved by any one person acting alone. Together we must unite, and enlist the support of allies towards a larger movement for change. Journalists, celebrities and philanthropists have all contributed to advancing this agenda – amplifying women’s collective voice and resourcing the change process, alongside diverse feminist organisations that have gender equality at the heart of their mission.
As we march on Sunday and move forward into our next year of the revolution, we can heed these lessons. However, we must continue to evolve as a truly global and inclusive movement that puts the voices of those most affected in the driving seat of change. The power of the feminist revolution will be its most powerful when we stand together with all women around the world and the movement extends to every corner of the globe – supporting our sisters facing some of the greatest global injustices that meet at the intersection of patriarchy, poverty, racism and homophobia.
So as we march this Sunday let’s enlarge our vision for social change.
Let’s amplify the voices of our sisters seeking justice – indigenous women fighting for their land rights; refugee women being denied a voice in resettlement and repatriation processes; women from the LGBTQIA+ community in countries where they are persecuted; women living in poverty who are struggling in the face of climate change and increasing disasters; and survivors of sexual violence, harassment and abuse who continue to be denied justice.
Together we can send a powerful message to the custodians of the patriarchy that enough is enough! We will not be broken. The revolution is on her way.