Error message

Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/

Social Reproduction Theory and fighting oppression

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 08/09/2021 - 2:20pm in


Oppression, sexism

Judy McVey looks at the rise of a new attempt to understand oppression and asks if it can help us fight back today

Marxist ideas about oppression have made a comeback in academia’s social sciences, led by socialist academics in North America and based on Karl Marx’s general theories of capitalism.

In particular, Social Reproduction Theory (SRT) offers an explanation for the way the oppression of women is caused by capitalism, as are other forms of oppression based on “race”, sexuality, ability, age and many others.

The clearly diverse working class is defined broadly by SRT as all those people and their families who must sell their labour power to survive.

Marxist feminist theorists have called for activists to support a fight for socialism that is anti-capitalist and anti-oppression.

New discussions go beyond academic theories which developed from the 1980s, when criticisms emerged, particularly from Black feminists in the US and Australia, that the women’s movement represented the interests of only white middle class women.

This “identity politics” argued that only those who experience a particular oppression can really understand or challenge it. While these ideas could underpin the anti-racist sense of pride in “Black is beautiful” sentiments, they did not allow for working class action to fight oppression collectively. Similarly, privilege theory focused on different inherited personal characteristics as reasons for oppression, thus undermining the potential for solidarity between Black and white, male and female, or gay and straight workers.

Black feminists in the US developed intersectionality theories and argued that workers suffer many inextricably connected oppressions, including class-ism, racism, sexism and homophobia, providing a useful description of how oppressions can combine to shape each person’s actual experience.

While SRT has built on insights from Intersectionality, it argues that class is not merely another form of oppression, rather it is based on exploitation, which in turn shapes and reinforces oppression.

To fight oppression, we must understand the causes of oppression.


This article discusses SRT’s analysis of oppression based on the work of SRT Marxist feminists (who I call “SRTMFs” for this article), particularly the three authors of Feminism for the 99%: A Manifesto, Cinzia Arruzza, Tithi Bhattacharya and Nancy Fraser, but also Susan Ferguson and Aaron Jaffe.[1]

Written in 2018, the Manifesto sought to mobilise feminists to link up with working class campaigns and strikes; they identified a crisis of social reproduction (the social relations and processes involved as working people build their lives and their families) in the context of the austerity driven by neoliberal governments, and new militant struggles in response to the global recession of 2008-09, and the 2016 Chicago (“illegal”) teachers’ strikes.

SRT theorises the way that workers create their lives, families and communities, showing that capitalism distorts and retards their efforts through many forms of oppression in order to reproduce them as compliant wage workers.

The exploitative system requires constant availability of labour; being separated from any means of production and reliant on a wage, workers suffer alienation and oppression.

The pandemic exposed a contradiction—that capitalism relies on labour power to make profits and yet is reluctant to provide the resources necessary for labour to be reproduced. SRTMFs argue this can lead to anti-capitalist resistance.

This article first presents SRT’s analysis of social reproduction and how the theory, based on Marx’s Capital, understands the relationship between exploitation of labour to produce surplus value and the oppression of women within the working class family, which allows for the system to cheaply reproduce labour power. SRTMFs argue Marx and Engels did not provide an analysis of why the working class family persisted and how labour power is created.

Second, I argue that SRT’s explanation for women’s oppression is not convincing because it does not include an historical analysis of the development of the family and the role of the state. In analysing racism, SRT also underplays the role of the capitalist state and ideology in creating racism through the rise of the Atlantic slave trade and using racism to divide the working class. Yet any struggle to remove oppression will need to challenge the state.

SRT and social reproduction

As noted above, for SRTMFs, “social reproduction” refers to those social relations and processes involved as working people build their lives and their families. For capitalism, this situation creates labour power and the capacity to work, while family households have proven to be the most cost-efficient and stable sites for reproducing the regular supply of labour suitably socialised for workplaces.

The nuclear family is where (mostly) women have major responsibility for generational reproduction, giving birth and raising children, which cannot easily be outsourced and automated, but also for care of unemployed, sick and disabled or aged family members. In preparing to go to work the next day, workers replenish themselves within the home, also unpaid.

Workers’ wages to buy essential goods and services, including shelter, food, water and energy, do not cover the household labour to care, cook and clean; this labour is done for love or necessity, not money.

Many aspects of social reproduction are commodified or state-funded, employing mostly casualised workers in childcare, healthcare, aged care, disability support, hospitality (cooks, chefs, waiters), transport and deliveries, warehousing, retail, and food production workers in picking, packing and processing. There are other better paid workers like nurses, teachers and lower-level public servants in the welfare sector.

SRT describes how the system relies on “life-making” to reproduce labour power to make profits, yet it is reluctant to support social reproduction; and suggests this contradiction can lead to a much-needed anti-systemic fightback among SR workers.

Essential workers have taken industrial action and communities built social movement struggles, like that over pollution of the water supply in Flint, Michigan.

SRT argues that oppression is central to these struggles, as well as exploitation. Workers are oppressed as workers, but it’s no coincidence that many also face daily sexism and racism.

So what is women’s oppression, what is racism?

Oppression and SRT

SRTMFs build on an analysis that women’s oppression is caused by capitalism, being based in the processes of reproduction of labour power in the nuclear family, a “unitary theory” which was developed during the Women’s Liberation Movement (WLM) of the 1960s and ’70s by Lise Vogel and other Marxists. In doing so they rejected “dual systems” theories, often called patriarchy theory, which argued that socialists must fight two systems—patriarchal oppression and capitalist exploitation. Unitary theories argued that capitalism was to blame for women’s oppression.

As a theoretical starting point, most SRTMFs rely on Lise Vogel’s work (Vogel, L. (2013 [1983]), Marxism and the Oppression of Women: Towards a Unitary Theory, Chicago: Haymarket Books). SRTMFs have drawn directly from Marx’s writings, particularly in Capital.[2]

While for SRT, social reproduction refers only to reproducing labour power for the capitalist system, Marx developed the analysis of social reproduction of the capitalist system as a whole to refer to the need to continually reproduce capital and labour, and to continue to produce goods and services, value and profits.

However, Marx omitted to analyse how labour power is created and reproduced, a gap in analysis which Vogel aimed to fill. Bhattacharya argues that to create profits, capitalism requires compliant workers paid as little as possible; oppression is rooted in the processes of poorly resourced social reproduction of that labour power.

If oppression involves not just ideas but also systems to control our bodies and families, and reproduction to keep the system running and profitable, how did it come about?

In focusing on how labour power is created, SRT assumes the role of the family but does not explain the role of the capitalist class and the state in its creation.

Marx, Engels and oppression

Sheila McGregor argues: “Any analysis of social reproduction needs to be embedded in an analysis of capital accumulation and the nature of the capitalist state. It needs to include the way in which the state intervenes in the process of the reproduction of the working class, through legislation surrounding the family, such as laws about marriage, sexual mores and the like and through provision of aspects of social reproduction. These latter are subject to the impact of capitalist crisis and the pressure of class struggle and social movements.”

Engels provided an understanding of the rise of women’s oppression with class society (around 5000 years ago), requiring a state to control the exploited working classes and subordinating women in patriarchal family structures. The family enabled wealthy men to control their wealth and its transmission to the next generation.

Writing in the International Socialism journal, McGregor and Chris Harman base their Marxist analysis on Engels, arguing that the nature of women’s oppression changed with developments under class societies and, in particular, the rise of capitalism.

The violent development of capitalist production in the 19th century separated home from work, but also seemed to shatter the propertyless working class family as women and children were also drawn into waged work. As unsafe industrial situations produced rampant health problems for women and escalating infant mortality, the state reconstructed a working class family.

This was a conscious creation of nuclear family structures, based on privatising the unpaid labour of women, as mothers, to perform social reproduction tasks, imposing new laws, including outlawing abortion, backed by “pro-family” ideology and gender roles on all workers.

Australia was ahead of Britain. MLA Henry Parkes argued in the NSW Legislative Assembly on 14 August 1866: “Our business being to colonise the country, there was only one way to do it—by spreading over it all the associations and connections of family life.”

Significantly, SRTMFs mostly reject Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State, following Vogel. However, Jaffe disagrees with Vogel and argues that her analysis tended to wrongly identify women’s ability to give birth as the cause of their oppression. She argued that during childbirth women are forced to rely on their (usually) male partner.

It is not women’s biology that causes oppression: dependence on a partner is a symptom of oppression but not a cause. The capitalist rulers rely on women’s natural abilities to reproduce, consciously promoting the family as the site of privatised childbirth and raising young children, for love.

SRT correctly recognises capitalism is not necessarily reliant on families; there are examples of reproduction undertaken in migrant dormitories and slave camps.

However, there are major advantages in maintaining the nuclear family, which remains low-cost for capitalism and tends to generate more social stability with a more conservative ideology of “family values”; although there are many kinds of families today—not only heterosexual couples but homosexual, single parent, married and unmarried.

Thus, women’s oppression continues, justified for all women ideologically with gender stereotypes, to buttress especially the generational reproduction of labour power cheaply for capital. The burden is heaviest on working class women. The ruling class will fight hard to maintain this system, as they fought to introduce the working class family.

Just as Engels’ work provided a theoretical understanding of how the family came to be a site of oppression, it also points to the potential to transform the processes for the reproduction of labour power, by transforming family structures.

In a socialist society, responsibility for social reproduction can be provided by social and community structures supporting whatever living arrangements members of the new society prefer. Only then can women participate as equals. The Russian revolution of 1917 took some steps to achieve this, after destroying the old state—they set up communal facilities, like state-sponsored laundries, kitchens and childcare, to relieve many women of household tasks.

Such a transformation requires a struggle for socialism which some SRTMFs recognise can be built out of the mass movements developing today. Women workers are part of that struggle.

All workers are affected by women’s oppression; the promotion of heterosexual and binary gendered norms underpins LGBTIQ+ oppression (homosexuality was outlawed initially in many capitalist societies), but other forms of oppression have different causes and different roots in capitalism.

Racism and SRT

SRTMFs argue that SRT can be extended to analyse the experience of oppression of all SR workers. I’ll just look at racism.

Bhattacharya shows that Black people are disadvantaged by the experience of their social reproduction; it is very clear looking at any statistic that people of colour are disadvantaged in allocation of housing, community facilities and healthcare, etc, as well as over-represented in prison populations. She also shows that competition in the labour market contributes to racial disadvantage among the most vulnerable.

However, she does not explain the ruling class power and the role of the state establishing capitalist structures, like immigration regulations and laws that penalise Indigenous peoples and refugees, reinforced by racist ideologies.

Jaffe shows how SRT has broadened Marx’s analysis to drill down into specific ways oppression can shape the way exploitation occurs.

His detailed analysis of intersectionality suggests it is necessary to include the way capital prioritises value and profit, and how social relations emerge historically, to understand why oppression is shaped by and strongly persists within capitalism.

However, his arguments would have been stronger by including Marx and Engels’s discussions about the racism against the Irish workers and the impact of colonialism in binding workers to the ruling class, the importance of slave revolts and the Civil War in the United States. Marx wrote: “Labour cannot emancipate itself in the white skin where in the black it is branded.”

Racism was constructed in the early days of capitalism to justify the super-exploitation in slavery of Black Africans. The nature of racism has changed but it remains a ruling class tool to divide the working class.

SRT does not include an analysis of the historical role of the capitalist state in imposing racism as well as shaping SR structures including the family.

In the current context the BLM protests exposed the role of the state in dominating Black lives and pointed to the demands for defunding the police, which had immediate practical benefit for the movement and pointed to the future of removing the oppressive state.

A Marxist analysis argues that the capitalist state must be destroyed and replaced by democratic social structures like workers councils. Oppression is not innate to human society and liberation is possible in the process of defeating class society structures.

Oppression and struggle

SR workers share a common experience, as shown in the COVID-19 crisis, of capitalism’s dependence on labour power and this has fed radical actions.

The pandemic has exposed the profit-orientation of capital. On the dangerous COVID frontlines, “essential” workers provide the main survival needs of communities. Yet, we have seen an increase in authoritarian measures to discipline workers, instead of bosses and governments providing proper safety measures, from PPE, to on-site testing and better paid leave.

Dominated by growing inequalities and decline in many families’ income, nuclear families remain contradictory structures, a “haven in a heartless world” to paraphrase Marx, but they can be sites of domestic violence. Unfortunately, carceral strategies are preferred by some feminists and others rather than improved welfare and community services.

This year paramedics, nurses and teachers used strikes and stoppages to force the NSW Liberal government to back down on their proposed public sector pay freeze, some defying Industrial Relations Commission orders to stage industrial action. Nurses took part in rolling walkouts across the state.

SRTMFs argue that capitalist dependence on their labour gives strategic importance to their struggles. They propose that social movement struggles based on social reproduction issues, which are often campaigns against oppression outside the workplace, can unite workers in struggles that are as powerful as those at the point of production. However, it is important to avoid blurring the difference between strikes which can stop profits and other mass actions.

Women at home cannot directly stop profits but have often played militant roles strengthening the action of those on strike. The women’s auxiliaries who built struggles and supported miners’ strikes have a proud history. Community and industrial struggles can unite women based at home and waged workers, a potential shown in the Women’s Strikes, which spread around the globe to fight against capitalist misogyny and anti-woman violence.

Resistance to oppression clearly sharpens the struggle against exploitation and can overcome divisions as workers recognise common interests against capital. Marxists support all these and attempt to build solidarity.


SRT has put a spotlight on the need for a working class-led fight against oppression.

The effects of oppression on working class consciousness are not automatically unifying nor radical, but there can be very radical mass struggles, as we have seen against sexism and racism recently, with BLM struggles clearly winning support among non-Black groups of workers and women’s strikes being supported by men.

Recent struggles have put new forms of solidarity on the agenda with workers often at the centre.

The Marxist strategy to abolish the capitalist state and reshape the family are critical to women’s liberation and socialism, as well as ending racism; it should also inform our strategy today.

The challenge is to connect the struggles that are building against the growing ecological, economic, COVID-19 and social crises, which are all affecting the life chances of the working class, to build a united movement of the 99 per cent, focused on transforming the capitalist system and abolishing exploitation and oppression.

Many thanks to Sheila McGregor and Tom Fiebig for their helpful comments on drafts.

[1] Bhattacharya edited and provides key ideas in Social Reproduction Theory: Remapping Class, Recentering Oppression, in 2017. Susan Ferguson’s 2020 work, Women and Work: Feminism, Labour, and Social Reproduction, provides a history of the development of SR theories. Aaron Jaffe published Social Reproduction Theory and the Socialist Horizon: Work, Power and Political Strategy, in 2020, which extends Marx’s concepts of labour power and oppression, updating and discussing other SRTMFs’ analyses. He argues that SRT is a framework that can enable us to better understand the world “with particular attention paid to the way our embodied labour powers are made and sustained”.

[2] However, SRT tends to reject or ignore the rich tradition of Marxist analysis of women’s oppression and radical practice begun by both Marx and Engels and continued from the late 1800s by revolutionary socialists Eleanor Marx, Clara Zetkin, Alexandra Kollontai and Nadezhda Krupskaya.

The post Social Reproduction Theory and fighting oppression appeared first on Solidarity Online.

South African Women Are Reclaiming Their Voices in the Media

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 20/08/2021 - 6:00pm in

Two years on, Kathy Magrobi still vividly recalls grimacing at the media coverage leading up to the 2019 South African national and provincial elections. 

“Every time I turned on the radio, every time I opened the newspaper, it was just… the same names,” she remembers. “It had the same key messages and they were quoted, time after time. I just kept hearing these (men’s) voices.” Even on issues that exclusively concerned women and other marginalized groups, men were presented as the experts. 

Over half of South Africa’s population is women, and despite making up 55 percent of registered voters, four out of five people mentioned in election articles by three of the country’s biggest news websites were men, a Media Hack 2019 report found. 

The problem, according to Magrobi, is simple: “When it’s missed in the news, it’s missed in policy.” The fewer women’s voices are heard, the fewer inclusive policies are implemented. 

kathyKathy Magrobi

Deadline pressures and journalists’ lack of contact with marginalized groups help explain why this happens, says Zandile Bangani, a journalist with South African media outfit New Frame

“What then happens,” says Bangani, “[is] we end up circulating a voice, and that’s dangerous because it limits our understanding of an issue to a particular narrative or voice.” 

Four decades ago, American sociologist Gaye Tuchman documented what she dubbed women’s “symbolic annihilation” from the media. She noted that women, when not portrayed in traditional roles as homemakers or mothers, are shown in clerical and other “pink-collar” jobs. 

In 2021, this practice of “erasure” hasn’t changed, says Luthando Ngema, a lecturer at the University of Kwazulu-Natal’s Media and Cultural Studies. Women who were once political activists and played pivotal roles during South Africa’s battle against apartheid “have been put in the shadow of their husbands — or the media portrays them that way,” she says. 

Even when they are contacted by journalists, some women decline to act as sources, held back by “impostor syndrome,” an issue that research shows particularly affects women of color. This idea that women should not present themselves as authorities is deeply rooted in South African families and culture, says Cheryl Hlabane, an activist and change agent. “[In South Africa] we are not meant to be in certain spaces… That has been engraved in our minds.”

Building out

Inspired by Women Also Know Stuff, a U.K. organization that curates a database of women experts in political science, Kathy Magrobi created Quote This Woman+,  abbreviated as QW+. The plus sign represents any expert ignored or misconstrued by mainstream news narratives, whether because of disability, sexual or gender orientation, or something else. 

QW+ makes it easy for journalists and news producers to find a vetted expert to speak with. Users can filter their queries through the database or contact the platform handlers directly. 

“We kind of plug that gap when we say we’re going to put in all of the time, we’re going to look for people, we’re going to approach them, we’re going to make sure that they are in fact experts,” says Jordan Magrobi, Kathy’s daughter and QW+’s database manager. 

Crushed by negative news?

Sign up for the Reasons to be Cheerful newsletter.

QW+ was built on sacrifice, family and selflessness. Kathy Magrobi’s husband, Bruce Gordon, works as the organization’s accountant, and Erin, her other daughter, designed QW+’s graphics. Magrobi launched the endeavor with mentorship provided by an intensive media accelerator at the University of the Witwatersrand in Johannesburg. For this, she travelled 480 kilometers each way every two weeks to the university from her base in the tiny midlands village of Hilton in KwaZulu-Natal. 

“At 50, I wasn’t looking to start a nonprofit organization,” she says. “Starting a nonprofit is like any startup. It’s a huge tussle. It takes a lot of energy.” 

As a middle-aged white woman in South Africa, Magrobi thought twice about launching a feminist startup. “I felt it was wrong for a privileged, white woman to be starting this organization. I knew that I had to do my best to confront my own unconscious biases.” (Perhaps ironically for a person spearheading an effort to amplify women’s voices, Magrobi has trigeminal neuralgia, a condition that makes speaking painful.) 

In the runup to the 2019 elections, Magrobi built a board of directors who could give QW+ access to other “important people, both at expert level and at community level. And then I used them to help me find my first experts.” 

The database was built out like a pyramid scheme. Newly added experts were asked to refer at least five other experts in fields important to the election, such as education, corruption, crime, housing and health. “It was amazing,” marvels Magrobi. “Interest was instantaneous.” The platform launched in time for the election with 40 experts in 25 categories. 

Interestingly, initial queries came from foreign journalists. The New York Times, Al Jazeera and the BBC all quoted QW+ experts. Only after that did South African publications like the Mail and Guardian begin to utilize the database. Once they did, it made things easier, says Simon Allison, the Mail and Guardian’s Africa editor. “They’re really responsive and have helped us find brilliant interviewees on the most obscure topics. It means we have no excuse not to quote women in every story.”

After the elections, a South Africa Media Innovation Program (SAMIP) grant enabled QW+ to expand with new volunteers. And as the coronavirus pandemic ravaged the country, a Covid-specific database launched with eight women experts. (Now it has over 100.) 

In total, QW+ now has 513 experts across 49 categories. About a thousand journalists receive its biweekly newsletter. Allison, who is also the founder of The Continent, a pan-African publication, says reporters across both publications where he works use the QW+ database frequently. 

“It’s inspiring to us. [The Continent] is currently in the process of formalizing our pitching guidelines, and we will be insisting that at least one woman is quoted in every story,” he says. “It’s extraordinarily important to have a balanced newsroom. Every journalist has blind spots, and without a genuinely diverse newsroom, those blind spots are all too apparent in a publication, which then fails in its most basic task of explaining the world around us.”

Getting the details right

In January, the South African government sought to amend the country’s identity laws to include a third legal gender, offering individuals an option outside of the gender binary. 

As fierce public debate over the proposal spilled into media coverage, QW+ experts from the LGBTQ community were tapped by journalists and news producers.

Kellyn Botha, a trans woman and QW+ expert, granted a number of media requests.

Kellyn Botha

“The media as a whole does not always do a great job in speaking about trans issues,” she says, “and I felt [joining QW+] was at least one way of offering myself as a resource to contribute to better trans-related content in the media.”

The name of the platform has at times alienated potential participants, especially cisgender men from other marginalized groups. Magrobi remembers a rejection from a Black man who lives with a disability because the platform’s name implies it is for women exclusively. Situations such as these have given rise to thoughts of a name change, but Magrobi resists the idea because she says that QW+ is a feminist organization first. Also, there are experts from marginalized communities whose area of focus differs from the reason for their marginalization.

Training and survival

Maintaining the database and making experts available is half of what QW+ does. “What we do is also a lot of media training,” says Jordan. “So, instead of just having somebody go onto the database, if they don’t feel very comfortable, we can say, ‘We are going to take you through another short media training thing and just uplift you and empower you, so you can be confident with speaking to the media.”

In April, QW+ launched Quote Me On That (QMOT), a paid service that trains women in media engagement, overcoming imposter syndrome and, through a partnership with the Mail and Guardian, op-ed writing. This month, activist Hlabane and media veteran Paula Fray spoke on impostor syndrome at a QMOT webinar. During the previous municipal election in 2016, only 17.5 percent of people quoted in news reports were women, per a Media Monitoring Africa report. The 2021 municipal elections will be held on October 27. In South Africa, municipalities are the grassroots of government, where local ward councillors exert control over water, electricity and land use. Whose voice is heard during such elections is critical. 

Funding remains QW+’s biggest hurdle. Aside from the SAMIP grant, revenue is generated through donations, crowdfunding, media/gender training for organizations and consultancies, and more recently, QMOT. 

With three more volunteers joining the team, the SAMIP grant runs out in four months. Prospective investors are still recovering from Covid-19 setbacks, hence Magrobi and her team are on the lookout. 

“We’ve got four months to pull a rabbit out of a hat. That’s the bottom line,” she says. She’s holding out hope that QW+ will land a corporate sponsor or donor to support their work at diversifying the narrative in the upcoming elections — and beyond. 

The post South African Women Are Reclaiming Their Voices in the Media appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

High school students march against sexism in Adelaide

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 18/07/2021 - 2:30pm in


sexism, sexism

The Youth March Against Sexual Violence on Kaurna land (Adelaide) on 24 June saw a spirited crowd of up to 1000 take to city streets. Young women and non-binary school students took the lead, joined by numerous boys, along with a sprinkling of older supporters.

As organiser Martha lamented in her speech: “Violence and misogyny are rife within our schools… Young women aged 15 to 19 are reported to have the highest rate of sexual assault crimes committed against them per year… When we report it, to those who are meant to protect us, we are told that we are irrational, too emotional, over exaggerating or that we are blatantly telling lies…

“I do not want to live my life in a society where my existence is rooted in objectification and the male gaze.”

The march followed a walkout against sexism a few weeks earlier at Adelaide High School. Students in the Call4Action activist group organised an online petition with a list of demands for action by the school, which has now attracted over 7500 signatures.

The Adelaide Advertiser quoted former Labor MP Kate Ellis’s apt description of the students as, “warriors who are not prepared to sit quietly and let this continue”, “at the new forefront of the battle for change”.

The students are building on the wave of revulsion against sexist abuse that manifested in the national March4Justice movement, and multiple youth marches around the country.

Sexism has deep roots in our society, with sexual objectification in the media and entertainment and bosses benefiting from pay inequality and women’s unpaid labour.

The Adelaide rally was dominated by chants for “Consent education—now!”, backed by speakers such as educator Karen Keavy. There is no doubt we need frank education in schools that equips students to recognise and call out abuse, and helps boys resist the conditioning that encourages abusive behaviour.

But the Advertiser earlier quoted Adelaide High student Rira pointing to a wider agenda, adding demands for “legal and economic support for survivors of sex-related crime and abuse, better funding for women’s services and sexist politicians out of parliament”’. If students are prepared to argue for targeting sexism’s base in the system, the anger and energy on display at the local march bode well for the struggles to come.

By Robert Stainsby

The post High school students march against sexism in Adelaide appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Will communicative consent laws keep women safe?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 10:11pm in


sexism, Rape, sexism

The NSW government has announced plans to reform sexual consent laws that it says will deliver better justice to survivors of sexual assault.

The “affirmative” or “communicative consent” model, which will likely be voted on in September, means that a person does not consent to sexual activity unless they say or do something to communicate consent, and an accused person’s belief in consent won’t be considered reasonable unless they have taken steps to ascertain it.

The changes come out of a NSW Law Reform Commission review whose recommendations were handed down earlier this year.

The review was sparked by the high profile case of Saxon Mullins, who says she was raped at the age of 18 outside a Sydney nightclub by Luke Lazarus, the son of the club’s owner. The case went on for five years, after which the alleged rapist was let off after a judge found that, because Mullins froze during the attack, Lazarus had a “reasonable belief” that she had consented.

The changes are intended to stop this defence from being used, and to shift the onus of proof onto the accused.

The new model has been widely celebrated as a step towards providing greater justice for survivors of sexual assault and there are hopes that it will increase convictions.

A shift away from the victim-blaming that is currently enshrined in NSW law is welcome. No victim of assault should be blamed in court for not responding to or fighting off their assault in the “correct” way.

But the model is unlikely to deliver more justice for survivors of sexual assault.

Tasmania and Victoria

Similar laws around sexual consent were introduced in Victoria and Tasmania, in 2001 and 2004 respectively. Although rates of reporting of sexual assault increased overall, conviction rates have not.

In Tasmania, whose definition of consent was considered the “gold standard”, according to Monica Otlowski from the University of Tasmania’s Faculty of Law, the introduction of a law intended to establish “whether the victim showed ‘positive’ signs of consent… has not profoundly altered the course of rape trials, nor increased the conviction rates for sexual offences generally”.

In Victoria, defendants have still successfully argued that they believed the victim had consented, even in cases where this belief was not found to be “reasonable”. In one example, a man who raped a woman while she was asleep was let off after claiming that he genuinely believed that she was consenting.

In both jurisdictions, the rapist’s belief that the victim had consented has continued to take precedence over whether consent was actually “given”.

Otlowski argues that this is the result of prevailing sexist ideas, affecting juries and judges, that victims are at fault if they were intoxicated, flirting or froze before or during the assault, for example.

Even the Chairman of the Victorian Law Reform Commission, Tony North, has said that, “the problem with consent is probably not the law.” He argues that the sexism of older judges and barristers in particular, who routinely, “confuse… humiliate… denigrate” victims in court, means that even where consent law appears strong, it rarely results in successful prosecution.

The Victorian and Tasmanian models stipulate that defendants must take steps to ascertain consent. The impact of the proposal in NSW to require positive communication of consent will only be clear once it is tested in court.

In Australia, it is estimated that only around one in ten assaults are reported to police. Of those that go to court, only around one in ten result in prosecution. Many victims do not go to the police out of the well-founded fear that they will not be believed.

Around one in five women in Australia has experienced sexual assault. But while the reporting rate of sexual offences has increased over time, this has not been matched by an increase in the rate of conviction, which has decreased. This trend is reflected in other countries with similar laws, like England and Wales.

Changes in laws around sexual assault can have important symbolic implications. But we cannot rely on a sexist legal system—one overseen by the likes of Christian Porter for years—to deliver justice.

Even where convictions are obtained, perpetrators are sent into jails that do nothing to change their sexist ideas, and survivors rarely have access to adequate support services, whose funding has been cut down to the bone in recent decades.

We need to build a mass movement against sexism that delivers real material changes in women’s lives, demanding proper funding for women’s and domestic and sexual violence services, as well as affordable housing, decent jobs, better wages and free childcare.

Ultimately we will have to get rid of the system that breeds the sexism and sexual violence in the first place.

By Caitlin Doyle

The post Will communicative consent laws keep women safe? appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Get There Fast or Safe? A Crowdsourced Map Gives You the Option

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 29/06/2021 - 6:00pm in

In 2015, when writer Geetanjali Krishna’s then teenaged son started traveling for soccer practice to different venues around New Delhi, she installed a safety app called My Safetipin on his phone and on hers.

Sometimes she let him cycle, or even walk on his own if the app assigned the neighborhood he was visiting or moving through a high “safety score.” If not, he would carpool with friends.

Then, a few years ago when she moved to a new neighborhood, she noticed that a portion of it was poorly lit and avoided by women walking in the evening. Krishna didn’t feel safe walking in the dark there either. She took the matter up with her locality’s Residents’ Welfare Association, and soon several streetlights were installed. Lighting, she realized, was central to her sense of safety.

“Ever since I used the My Safetipin app, I have become very conscious of lighting in public spaces,” she says.

Krishna is one of thousands of users literally putting safety on the map in countries from India to Indonesia to the United States.

My Safetipin — named after the simple everyday item often carried by women in India for self protection — collects and analyzes crowdsourced data to assign “safety scores” to streets and neighborhoods around the world. My Safetipin users download the app and rate areas they live in or visit based on several factors, ranging from how well the streets are lit to whether it’s a crowded neighborhood. Based on all the users’ data, the area receives a safety score on a scale of one to ten.

From there, My Safetipin acts like an alternative to Google Maps with users entering a destination to receive a recommended route. In this case, however — unlike Google Maps, which recommends the shortest and the fastest route — the app will recommend the safest route.

Anyone who downloads the My Safetipin app can rate a street or neighborhood. Upon logging in with a private username and selecting a location, a question appears on the screen: “How safe do you feel here?” 


View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Safetipin (@mysafetipin)

Then users can do a “safety audit” based on nine parameters. The “people” parameter, for instance, allows users to choose from “deserted,” “few people,” “some crowd,” or “crowded”; the “gender usage” parameter (presence of women and children) offers a range from “not diverse” to “diverse.” An option to upload pictures and specify an incident that occurred in a particular street or neighborhood allows users to further specify why they don’t feel safe.

Once, Krishna hadn’t checked the safety score of a neighborhood in Delhi’s Hauz Khas Village where she was meeting friends. When they came out to the parking lot around midnight, they noticed a group of men drinking around their car. “When I went on the app, I saw that the neighborhood had a poor safety score. I, too, gave it a bad rating,” she says.

Social entrepreneur Kalpana Viswanath co-founded the Gurgaon-based company that owns the My Safetipin app, which is backed by several organizations including The Asia Foundation, on the heels of the historic 2012 Nirbhaya rape case in New Delhi.

Viswanath wanted to put “data in the hands of women so that they are empowered to make decisions,” but emphasizes that this alone is not enough. “Technology is only an enabler to bring about change. Technology is not the solution,” she says, noting that the change needed to eradicate violence against women must happen at the policy, law, behavioral and educational levels.

Crushed by negative news?

Sign up for the Reasons to be Cheerful newsletter.

In some cases, Safetipin is prompting that change. The Delhi government, for instance, fixed streetlights in more than 5,000 dark spots identified in Safetipin data, according to a study by Safetipin, and reformulated the patrol routes of the Delhi Police. In Bogota, Colombia, the city government upgraded lighting and surveillance to improve the safety of women travelling on a 230-kilometer bike path.

Still, a lot of the work keeping users safe rests on the shoulders of those working behind the scenes. According to Safetipin associate Shreya V. Basu, a back-end team of analysts goes through every picture and data point from the crowd-sourced inputs to assign safety scores. Volunteers and partner NGOs also contribute safety assessments, and Safetipin filters in data from other apps they own, like Safetipin Nite, which captures images from the dashboards of users’ vehicles.

They also have to protect against tampering. If several nefarious users deliberately mark an unsafe neighborhood as safe, for example, analysts will immediately discern the discrepancies and send teams to assess and monitor the flagged street or neighborhood. So far, according to Basu, no such tampering has been detected. 

The demands of these processes point to the potential difficulty of scaling up the system. Raj Bhagat, a geoanalytics expert with the World Resources Institute in India, says that while he believes Safetipin has done a commendable job, he is skeptical of its benefits to individual users.

“Safetipin will need to have billions of users” to function with the accuracy of programs like Google Maps, he says. This number is a distant future for the app that, while currently operational in 71 cities across 16 countries, has just over 100,000 users, 58 percent of which are based in India, followed by the United States, the United Kingdom and South Africa, according to Basu.

Bhagat adds that “the app could be catering mostly to upper-middle and upper-class women who have access to smartphones and availability of time to report incidents, leaving a whole section of economically weak women out of its user base.” Basu says that while this digital divide is always a challenge with app-based solutions, the company works directly with low-income neighborhoods and communities to collect data through qualitative methods and bridge this gap. 

Still, people like Krishna remain loyal. Her daughter graduated from high school just before the Covid-19 pandemic. She is in college now, but hasn’t had a chance to go out since March last year. 

“I have asked my daughter and all of her friends to download the My Safetipin app once things open up,” she says.

The post Get There Fast or Safe? A Crowdsourced Map Gives You the Option appeared first on Reasons to be Cheerful.

Uh, Can You Just Bring My Car Around, Please - Jibby Manchurch

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 18/06/2021 - 11:31pm in


Romance, sexism


Carceral feminism—will new laws and longer sentences protect women?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 17/06/2021 - 5:57pm in


sexism, sexism

New laws around coercive control have been proposed as a way to tackle violence against women. But the police can never be relied on to protect women, argues Thandi Bethune

The recent outpouring of rage against sexism and sexual assault has produced renewed pressure for action. With the repeated sexual assault scandals within the Liberal Party and the mass demonstrations calling for an end to sexism and sexual violence against women, people are desperate for solutions.

One proposal is for harsher sentences for violence against women, or new criminal offences like coercive control, advocated by journalist and author Jess Hill in her book and TV series See what you made me do. But this means putting more powers in the hands of police, who have an appalling record on taking violence against women seriously.

It is also likely to result in more imprisonment among marginalised communities including Aboriginal people.

This approach of relying on increased policing, prosecution, and imprisonment as the primary solution to violence against women has been termed carceral feminism.

Carceral feminism ignores the ways in which race, class, gender identity, and immigration status leave certain women more vulnerable to violence and that greater criminalization often places these same women at risk of state violence.

Casting policing and prisons as the solution to domestic violence both justifies increases to police and prison budgets and diverts attention from the underfunding of programs that enable survivors to escape, such as shelters, public housing, and welfare.

It is undeniable that domestic violence is out of control.

In Australia around eight women a day are hospitalised and on average one woman is killed by their partner every week.

People are desperate for solutions and as the police and government fail to take it seriously many are concluding that new laws and harsher policing will make a difference.

But relying on the police can never be the solution to violence against women.

Since the 1970s a push from feminist groups for harsher sentencing and responses towards domestic violence has led to mandatory arrest laws in over half of US states.

This means that when an instance of domestic violence is reported, police have to arrest someone. In many cases this leads to police arresting the victim of abuse, or a dual arrest where both parties are arrested.

What began as a measure to ensure domestic violence is taken more seriously is leading to victims of abuse, usually women, being further traumatised and dragged through the legal system.

This is because sexism is deeply entrenched within the police force. The police making decisions on who is responsible are likely to have a skewed perspective, considering studies have shown at least 40 per cent of US police officers are domestic violence perpetrators themselves—three or four times the rate in the wider population.

Research by Australia’s National Research Organisation for Women’s Safety last year found that almost half of the Indigenous women murdered by an intimate partner in Queensland had previously been labelled by police as the perpetrator of domestic violence. It found that, “racism, poor relationships with local communities, misogyny, and the patriarchal culture of the police service” were an ongoing problem in tackling domestic violence.

This highlights the problem with giving police further powers.

Coercive control laws

The horrific murders by their partners of two Queensland women, Doreen Langham in February and Hannah Clark last year, despite having sought help from the police for domestic violence on multiple occasions, have caused particular shock.

In response Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has announced the creation of a taskforce to consult on introducing coercive control legislation.

Coercive control describes a form of emotional abuse that can involve threats, intimidation and humiliation in order to exercise control of a partner. In many cases it is also a precursor to physical violence and murder.

While coercive control is undoubtedly a form of abuse, criminalising it creates the potential for many more problems.

Significantly, it too relies on police judging whether behaviour is a pattern of coercion and choosing whose side of the story to believe.

These laws will lead to further incarceration of marginalised communities and vulnerable people.

The case of Yamatji woman, Ms Dhu, is a prime example of this. In August 2014 police were called to her home responding to the breach of an apprehended violence order.

However, upon arrival, rather that help Ms Dhu the police arrested her for outstanding fines. Over two days in custody she reported severe pain and eventually loss of sensation in her legs.

Both the police and hospital staff repeatedly dismissed her symptoms with one officer claiming, “She is a junkie coming off drugs. She is faking now that she can’t get up.”

An hour later Ms Dhu died from an infection caused by a broken rib inflicted by her partner.

The racism and negligence Ms Dhu experienced speaks volumes as to why women, and Indigenous women in particular, often don’t trust police and are reluctant to seek help for domestic violence.

As Indigenous journalist and researcher Amy McGuire has written, “For many Aboriginal women, the justice system is structurally violent, and the police are aggravators rather than protectors.”

Indigenous women can even be reluctant to report domestic violence because of the extreme consequences for Indigenous men charged under a racist criminal justice system—including the prospect of death in custody.

According to Professor Kerry Carrington, of the Queensland University of Technology’s Centre for Justice, the answer lies in all female police stations, and she is pushing for Queensland police to try this.

Carrington claims that, “because most police officers are male, and most victims of gender violence are female, you have this structural problem in that the vast majority of women do not feel comfortable and do not want to report to or do not want to risk having to disclose to men.”

However, the problem is not that police officers are men, it is the institution of the police force itself.

There has already been a huge increase in female officers over the last 30 years, from just 3 per cent of the Queensland police in 1983 to 29 per cent last year.

This has done nothing to improve police handling of violence against women. Just as female bosses are not the answer to women’s liberation, neither are female police.

Nor does simply imprisoning men who abuse women solve the problem. In fact because prisons are hotbeds of sexism and abuse themselves, the likelihood of people reoffending when they leave is very high.

A 2019 Australian Institute of Criminology study showed that the rates for domestic violence offenders reoffending within their lifetime was as high as 80 per cent, with 23 per cent reoffending within the first six months.

Another reason new offences or tougher laws will not work is that the threat of prison or criminal sanctions usually have little effect on abuser’s behaviour.

Queensland’s crime statistics show that the state’s domestic violence breaches have doubled in the past six years resulting in thousands of women being contacted by their abusers and in some cases, as with Doreen Langham, killed by men the police said they would be safe from.

In response former Queensland Law Society President Bill Potts said, “It’s extremely disturbing because it shows both a pattern of lawlessness and an increasing disregard for, and contempt of, the court.”

And he is right, fear of the law has little impact on the actions of an abusive partner.


If tougher laws and more police aren’t the answer what is?

The answer that is proposed by most domestic violence services, the media, and many victims of assault are education campaigns that encourage respect and equality for women.

While there is nothing wrong with this, it fails to address the systemic causes of sexism and violence. It is not that abusers are naive as to their actions, that they cannot understand that acts of violence are bad.

Sexist violent behaviour is born out of the sexist and violent system we live in that perpetuates oppressive ideas about women’s role in society.

Integral to this is the nuclear family, where women traditionally raise the next generation of workers, while men go to work as the family breadwinner.

The family is the source of the sexist ideology that says women are innately more caring, and encourages sinister ideas that women are weak or inferior to men, and should be obedient and tolerant.

Capitalism relies on the family and the subordination of women because the ruling class is unwilling to pay for the socialisation of domestic tasks like childcare, caring for elderly relatives, cooking and cleaning.

Instead the family and mostly women step in to provide this at as little cost to the system as possible. It is estimated that the unpaid labour associated with childrearing saves the Australian state $345 billion every year.

In addition, work and especially poverty are a source of immense alienation, stress and humiliation—for women as well as men.

These stresses are brought home to the family with the expectation that it will provide the love and support to alleviate them.

When this fails, it can manifest in men’s outbursts of violence and desperate attempts to gain control. Thus, to tackle domestic violence we must also alleviate the external pressures that capitalism places on people which trigger it.

In the short term, increased efforts to reduce the obstacles of leaving an abusive relationship, through adequate funding for domestic violence services, counselling and shelters, free childcare as well as gender equality within our workplaces can make a real difference.

But while we live under a system that oppresses and humiliates people, and relies on pitting working people against each other, we will continue to see sexism and violence towards women.

That means we need to connect the fight for proper services and spending to a fight against the whole capitalist system.

The post Carceral feminism—will new laws and longer sentences protect women? appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Youth survivors on the march against Morrison’s ongoing failure on sexism

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 09/05/2021 - 3:30pm in


sexism, sexism

A crowd of 200 people, most of them high school students and young women, gathered at Sydney Town Hall yesterday to protest Scott Morrison’s ongoing failure to act on sexism. The rally was called by Youth Survivors 4 Justice, a group of mainly high school women and survivors formed to confront the sexism that faces us in our schools, workplaces, and daily lives.

Shanaya Donovan, a 17-year-old Darug, Dhungutti and Gumbaynggirr woman and one of the rally organisers, laid the blame for sexism squarely at the feet of the Liberal government, telling the crowd: “It starts in government and it trickles down to the rest of society like a giant domino that we can’t stop unless we band together.”

In the wake of the rape crisis in parliament, the Coalition government has put more Liberal women in cabinet positions but has failed to promise any meaningful change through the funding needed for essential services that support the most vulnerable women in Australia.

As Feiyi Zhang, a community sector worker and member of the Australian Services Union, put it: “Services are drastically underfunded and overwhelmed by the people they need to support. They don’t have the staff and resources to assist. DV West alone had to turn away 1280 women and children last year, half of the number who sought their help.

“The government has now cut JobSeeker despite poverty being a key determinant in whether women leave violent relationships. Many women will stay with abusive partners because there are no other options for them to financially survive.”

The rally demanded an increase in the JobSeeker rate to $80 a day, adequate funding for domestic violence and women’s health services, and legislating enthusiastic consent and expanding education around sex, consent and sexism in schools.

Speeches from survivors drew emotion and anger from the crowd, revealing the depth of pain at the heart of the issue. Survivor and activist Amanda Matthews spoke of her own childhood trauma, emphasising how sexual violence often takes place in the domestic sphere. She called on everyone to “teach young people, teach children that it’s ok to speak up” about sexual abuse.

Saxon Mullins, director of the Rape & Sexual Assault Research & Advocacy Initiative, spoke of the need for survivors’ voices to be heard. Mullins also connected the issue to Aboriginal deaths in custody, referring to Scott Morrison’s contempt for those facing violence at the hands of the police and prison system.

Community sector worker and Goreng Goreng Kabi Kabi Munanjali woman Yatungka Gordon spoke of her work with First Nations women, describing the importance of genuinely impactful education programs.

Other speeches drew links between government cutbacks and neo-liberalism and sexism. University worker Ruby Wawn spoke about casualisation as yet another factor in women’s economic precarity. Jenny Leong, NSW Greens MP for Newtown, called on governments to “not pretend that any of the traumas that people here have gone through are things that we cannot solve.

“We can solve all of these things. There are people in charge who have an interest in keeping that trauma happening.” Wider issues like homelessness, police violence and privatisation all exacerbated sexism, she argued.

As the march began, the chant “1, 2, 3, 4, sexist Liberals out the door, 5,6, 7, 8, stop the violence, stop the rape” drew widespread support from passers-by.

On the same day in Brisbane, 150 protesters rallied near Liberal MP Andrew Laming’s office, calling on him to resign over his repeated harassment of women—and on Scott Morrison to kick him out of the Liberal Party now, not at the next election.

It is going to take more protests and grassroots action to push back sexism and tear up the system that promotes it.

By Matilda Fay

The post Youth survivors on the march against Morrison’s ongoing failure on sexism appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Organising at work key to stopping wave of harassment against women

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/04/2021 - 11:13am in



Nearly a year after its release, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has finally responded to the Respect@Work report. His “Roadmap for Respect” agrees with or notes the 55 recommendations of the report but does not commit to fully implement them.

Workplace sexual harassment is appallingly widespread. Fully 39 per cent of women have experienced workplace sexual harassment in the past five years and more than 85 per cent of women over the age of 15 in their lifetime. Yet less than one in five people who experience harassment makes a formal complaint.

The disgust at the Coalition’s failure over sexual assault in parliament, and the nationwide March 4 Justice protests, have forced Morrison to act.

The report recommended a series of legal changes including the extension of liability to people who aid or permit sexual harassment at work, longer time frames to lodge a legal complaint, and the possibility of dismissal for workplace sexual harassment. But the government has rejected its advice to place obligations on employers to prevent harassment, claiming these already exist in workplace health and safety laws.

The report also criticised inadequate funding for services, including the 1800RESPECT domestic violence hotline, where the Coalition has cut costs. It also called for funding for Working Women’s Centres and Community Legal Centres, whose funding was initially cut by the Liberals and then restored after an outcry over the effects on Indigenous people and survivors of domestic violence.

But they remain chronically underfunded with specialist women’s legal services needing an extra $25 million a year to support women experiencing domestic violence. Morrison has failed to guarantee any extra money.

Retail sector

Sexual harassment is a product of the sexism that exists across society, but is more likely where women have less power at work.

The experience of women in the retail sector is one example. Workers here are often young and insecurely employed. So the risk of sexual harassment is even higher. Around half of women experienced sexual harassment seven times in a year, an Australian Human Rights Commission report found in 2019.

A 2020 survey by the Retail and Fast Food Workers Union (RAFFWU) found sexual harassment was rampant at JB Hi-Fi. Almost half of surveyed members had experienced discussion about hiring women on the basis of their appearance, comments about women’s bodies, or the use of gendered language such as “bitchy” or “bossy” to refer to women staff. More than half had also experienced unwelcome touching or sexual advances at work.

Sexual harassment is mostly committed by co-workers and supervisors, with customers also responsible in one-third of cases.

But fewer than 3 per cent of bosses are reported for sexual harassment. Even former NSW Liberal MP Pru Goward concedes that this reflects the power of bosses to fire anyone who speaks out.

Alongside the rise of casualisation and insecure work, a 2018 survey by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that workplace sexual harassment has actually increased in the past 15 years.

Insecurely employed

Women make up 47.2 per cent of all Australian employees. But they are also more likely to be insecurely employed, making up 67.2 per cent of part-time employees and on average earn 13.4 per cent less than men.

Casualisation leaves women without the confidence of a secure job to speak up about abuse and harassment. And the Coalition’s efforts to encourage more workplace “flexibility” will only make this worse.

For migrant women, precarious employment linked to their visa status makes it even harder, with one union member stating, “I’m worried that if I lose this job I won’t be able to find another permanent job in Australia. That makes it hard to say anything.”

Education campaigns and legal changes will do little to help. The reason so few women report their experiences is that few have any confidence in what will happen.

Union workplace organising is the key to building the power at work to address the issue, along with fighting the conditions that leave women vulnerable to abuse in the first place.

There are many examples of this. In 2018, workers walked out of McDonald’s franchises across the US after management refused to take harassment complaints seriously, as part of the Fight for $15 an hour wage campaign.

And in 2019, a strike of 800 workers at Chemist Warehouse distribution centres in Melbourne and Brisbane united men and women workers behind a campaign against sexual harassment and bullying after workers reported that managers had offered shifts in exchange for sex. The industrial action forced one manager involved to resign and also won pay rises and permanent jobs for many workers.

To fight sexual harassment at work, we need to fight for secure and well paid jobs that give women the confidence to stand up to abuse.

By Ruby Wawn

The post Organising at work key to stopping wave of harassment against women appeared first on Solidarity Online.

Vida Goldstein: pioneer in the fight against sexism and poverty

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 15/04/2021 - 4:27pm in

Vida Goldstein was a leading Australian suffragette and campaigner for women’s rights in the late 19th and early 20th century who courageously challenged the prevailing sexism in society.

Jacqueline Kent’s new biography illuminates Goldstein’s extraordinary life in the context of the social movements and political debates of the period. It highlights her steadfast ideals and ability to organise movements which boldly intervened in society to effect change.

As women again rise to challenge inequality and oppression, this biography provides an inspiring example about both previous struggles and future possibilities.

Vida Goldstein was born in 1869 in Portland, Victoria, into a middle-class family. She grew up in Melbourne, which was a wealthy city but also one in which large numbers of working people lived in squalid, overcrowded conditions.

Vida’s mother, Isabelle, was influenced by moderate Christian socialism and worked to gain aid for the unemployed, better conditions for female prisoners and to organise Australia’s first creche in Collingwood to provide childcare for working women.

In her youth Vida joined these campaigns and also a committee led by the first female medical doctors to initiate and raise funds for a women’s health clinic and later to establish the Queen Victoria Women’s Hospital.

Right to vote

The unequal status of women and their exclusion from political life was being challenged by a new generation of women. In 1891 Goldstein joined the campaign for women’s suffrage, collecting signatures for a petition to the Victorian Parliament. Some 30,000 signatures were collected on what became known as the “monster petition” for women’s right to vote.

Following this, legislation granting the vote to women passed the Victorian Legislative Assembly 17 times, only to be blocked by the conservative Legislative Council (Victoria’s upper house), even though women’s suffrage (including for Indigenous women) was granted in South Australia in 1894.

This upper house was dominated by wealthy businessmen and pastoralists. While reformist liberals and early Labor representatives backed women’s suffrage, the privileged representatives repeatedly blocked the vote for women. It was this that helped cement Goldstein’s view that it was not men but the “propertied classes” that were the obstacle to women’s suffrage.

Jaqueline Kent describes the patronising attitudes and harassment faced by women campaigners when they met with the male politicians of the Legislative Council. It is a scene which unfortunately resembles the current experiences of female politicians and staffers in Federal Parliament.

Goldstein became recognised as a persuasive speaker, organiser and leader in the movement. In 1899 she was elected secretary of the United Council for Women’s Suffrage (UCWS).

While the movement was mainly led by middle class women, Goldstein worked closely with trade unionists and developed an analysis about the barriers presented by the “propertied classes” and the key role of working people in the struggle for equality. Affiliates to the UCWS included Trades Hall Council and the new Victorian Lady Teachers Association.

Goldstein herself was a strong advocate of equal pay for equal work, including in her own field of teaching. She viewed gaining political rights as a means to achieve much wider social reform and equality for women.

In 1902 the Australian Commonwealth granted the vote to most men and women aged over 21. Unfortunately, racist amendments excluded Indigenous people. This historic achievement for white women reflected the determined campaign for women’s suffrage and the labour movement’s rising support for this demand.

The Australian suffragettes had close connections with the international movement. Goldstein travelled to the USA to attend the first conference of the International Woman Suffrage Alliance and spent months on a speaking tour. She later published an Open Letter to the Women of America, which contained this advice:

“You want, and must have, the support of the rank and file of the working people. And just here is your weakness, you haven’t got it … every social reform worth having has been won only through getting the support of the workers. It is they who feel the need for reform most, because it is they who suffer most in our present social condition.”

New political rights

The 1903 federal election was the first opportunity for women to exercise their new political rights and Goldstein seized the moment, standing as an independent Victorian senate candidate. This was unprecedented and attracted great publicity.

She toured the state, speaking at large public meetings in Melbourne and country towns. While the press coverage tended to be patronising, Kent captures the extent to which Goldstein’s campaign personified a new spirit of female assertiveness which couldn’t be ignored.

Goldstein used the Senate campaign to build the confidence of other women to act and as a platform to amplify the call for women’s equality. The key elements of her program in this and future elections included equal pay, equal divorce laws and parental rights, the right of women to occupy all government and social positions such as jurors, legal and financial protection of children to age 21, and welfare support for single mothers and their families.

She asserted the need for women’s views to be heard when decisions impacting them were being made. While not elected, Goldstein won an impressive 51,497 votes for this platform of women’s equality and civil rights. Despite this, the process of achieving change proved frustrating. Victoria did not grant women the vote until 1908.

Goldstein campaigned as a candidate in four other federal elections (1910 and 1917 for the Senate and 1913 and 1914 for the House of Representatives). However, she declined suggestions to stand as a Labor Party candidate and lacked a viable electoral pathway to parliament. This independence was often criticised by key allies in the movements as being divisive, but Goldstein was suspicious of the role of “party machines” and critical of the Labor Party’s support for national military development.

Goldstein innovated and developed her political ideas and strategies. She researched, wrote and edited a newspaper Woman Voter. Goldstein engaged in sustained social activism for equal pay, a living wage for workers, to raise the age of consent and for legal reform of children’s courts.

Through this work the connections between women’s oppression and social class inequalities were evident. Goldstein became more critical of the capitalist system itself and from 1906 she wrote articles and spoke at a series of public meetings to advocate socialism, achieved through reform, as the best means to overcome inequality. This form of moderate socialism based on trade unionism, the formation of workers’ co-operatives and public ownership of utilities and industry aligned with ideas common on the left and influential in the development of the early Labor Party.

Vida Goldstein was further radicalised by the experience of the British suffragette movement, which faced harsh repression from the British state and ruling class, who refused to grant reforms. A fascinating part of this biography describes her 1911 visit to Britain as a leading participant in the mass movement for women’s suffrage.

Goldstein publicly backed the militant protest tactics used by the British suffragettes as a legitimate response to the failure of “patient work by constitutional means” and “from a knowledge, bitterly enforced upon you, that the more pacific methods employed … were bound to continue wholly ineffectual”.

On her return, she declared: “We of the Women’s Political Association are working for the same ends as the suffragettes, for the freedom of women and children and men from legal and industrial slavery, for an exalted manhood, womanhood, childhood, for higher political ideals and practices.”

Opposing war

Goldstein’s shift to the left was also occurring in a context where the women’s movement itself was becoming more fractured along class and political lines. In 1904 the conservative Australian Women’s National League (AWNL) was founded to “counteract socialistic tendencies, to educate the women of Victoria to realise their political responsibilities, to safeguard the interests of the home, women and children”.

The AWNL was sponsored by the Victorian Employers Federation and built a mass membership. By 1914 it claimed 52,000 members compared with about 1000 members of the Women’s Political Association (WPA) led by Goldstein. The AWNL would go on to become a key founding member of the Australian Liberal Party in 1944.

With the onset of the First World War, these debates and struggles became much sharper. Goldstein had previously opposed the policy of compulsory military training introduced by the Fisher Labor Government in 1911. When war was declared in 1914, the Fisher Government declared its full support for the Empire and war effort.

Amid the patriotic fervour, Goldstein was among a small minority who opposed the war from the outset. The WPA paper Woman Voter editorialised against the war and faced censorship under the War Precautions Act. In December 1914 the WPA held an outdoor meeting to protest the sharp rise in food prices caused by the war and to advocate for peace.

In 1915 Goldstein formed the Women’s Peace Army to campaign against the war. Working people and the labour movement began to shift against the war as the cost of living rose along with the death toll. The decision by Labor Prime Minister Billy Hughes to advocate conscription for overseas service created huge controversy. Trade unions and most of the Labor Party itself mobilised against conscription and formed a fighting alliance with socialists and pacifists.

Kent’s biography contains compelling accounts of this period of heroic struggle. Goldstein and other leaders such as Adela Pankhurst and Cecilia John were centrally involved in the mass agitation and struggle to defeat conscription. They braved abuse from patriotic returned soldiers to speak at public meetings and distribute anti-conscription materials on the streets.

The Women’s Peace Army mass-produced the persuasive “Blood Vote” poster which showed a woman considering the real meaning of a “Yes” vote. Goldstein’s campaign both used and subverted traditional female roles such as motherhood to challenge the barbarity of war.

Their anthem, sung at meetings, was “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to be a Soldier” which asks “Who dares to put a musket on his shoulder, to shoot some other mother’s darling boy”. Their campaign stripped away the patriotic gloss of war to define soldiering as state-sanctioned killing, in the interests of ruling elites alone.

The combined movement would prevail against the leading institutions of society to defeat conscription, winning a majority of “No” votes in the plebiscites of 1916 and 1917.

General strike

In August 1917 the social strain caused by war led to a mass general strike among workers in NSW and Victoria. Kent describes how the WPA’s headquarters in Melbourne became the “Guild Hall Commune”; a strike organising and relief centre, providing meals and essential supplies and services for literally thousands of striking waterside workers and their families.

In the same year, Goldstein stood for the Senate on an explicitly anti-war platform. She spoke at a mass meeting of 1500 people in Bendigo and denounced the British Empire as a “warmongering institution”. Her opponents labelled her anti-marriage, pro-German and an advocate of free love.

Standing as a radical independent, her vote fell. Regardless, Goldstein had played a crucial role in defeating conscription and building a mass movement against the scourge of war and inequality.

Following the war, Goldstein returned to Britain and attended the 1919 Zurich International Congress of Women. She was dismayed by the scale of human suffering across Europe caused by the war and the arrogance of the victors. Goldstein condemned the unjust terms of the Treaty of Versailles and warned of the likelihood of future wars.

In her writings she expressed a growing sense of pessimism and frustration about the prospects for transformative social and political change. Unfortunately, Goldstein moved away from active political involvement and her lifelong Christian faith would become the main focus of her later years.

Goldstein occupied a position as an independent and radical progressive, which became harder to maintain amid the polarisation of the period. Among her great strengths was steadfast idealism combined with independence and audacity in thought and action.

Jacqueline Kent has written an insightful and compelling biography of Vida Goldstein, a person who should be recognised as among the great figures of both the women’s movement and the left. She issued a clear call for the social and political empowerment of women, alongside a commitment to organise and fight for justice for women, working people and those in society who lack power. It is a call which carries over the decades – to reach all those organising and fighting for justice today.

By Hamish McPherson

Jacqueline Kent, Vida: A Woman for Our Time, Penguin (2020), $34.99.

The post Vida Goldstein: pioneer in the fight against sexism and poverty appeared first on Solidarity Online.