Written by Breana Macpherson-Rice and Elizabeth Morley, originally published on Medium, March 8 2018.
Another year, another International Women’s Day.
But this past year has not been insignificant for women politically; huge women’s marches have echoed our anger as revelation after revelation related to sexual violence has propelled the #metoo movement, throwing into the spotlight issues that have always been known deeply by women, but have never been deemed sufficiently serious enough for social reckoning.
As two young women who spend a lot of our time organising for climate justice, we want to use this international women’s day to drive home that it is beyond time that environment and progressive groups started taking the issue of sexual violence seriously.
We can see this problem at all levels. From incidents at global climate negotiations, to recent revelations of serious abuses of power at Oxfam, to the victim blaming attitude recently displayed by Bob Brown, it is clear that ‘progressive’ institutions and spaces are no more insulated from sexual violence than the rest of the world.
As young activists, we thought the smaller, more grassroots groups we were a part of would be different. We saw a lot of rhetoric around this issue — safe spaces, inclusivity — and assumed that these groups were always trying their best to implement community accountability and survivor-centric approaches to sexual violence in our communities.
But over the years we have seen how depressingly far from the truth this is.
Some of the women we most admire and respect for their passion and skill in organising are also the ones who we no longer see involved in these groups — and one of the predominant reasons for this is that issues of sexual violence have not been taken seriously.
We talk about being survivor-centric, but when shit hits the fan, we still always see groups moving to defend their mate who they couldn’t possibly imagine being abusive.
The perpetrators are cushioned, insulated — their work, their reputation, are always put first at the expense of the survivor who is subject to questioning and disbelief.
And as sexual violence is fundamentally about power, it follows that women who stand at the intersections of discriminations and systemic oppressions like Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women, women of colour (WoC), women with disabilities and trans women in our movements may face even greater threats of sexual violence — which also goes part of the way to explaining our movements’ lack of diversity.
We feel stupid even writing this because it has been said before so many times, by so many women before us, but it still happens all the time. And not only is it deeply, deeply wrong that we continue to operate this way, but it is also a huge disadvantage.
Not only do we need women in leadership positions in these spaces for the sake of “diversity”, but also because they provide essential leadership.
Anyone who is not totally oblivious to the world around them will know that women so often are the driving cogs of our movements, putting in the hard work of building essential relationships and dealing with grievances that arise.
Women, and women of colour particularly, have life experiences that often give them an astute understanding of how this oppressive world works — and that knowledge is incredibly important to inform the work that we do.
When we make space for perpetrators at the expense of survivors, we are shutting out some of the most valuable leadership in our movements.And this is a vicious cycle that we need to break if we are serious about the causes we dedicate our organising time to.
This International Women’s Day, let’s call #TimesUp on sexual violence in our movements. Take some time in a group you are a part of to educate yourselves on survivor-centric approaches to sexual violence — that is to say, when instances of sexual violence arrive, how to proceed in ways that believe the survivor and act on their needs and requests. Discuss what you can do to implement community accountability practices in your group, and how you can make your best efforts to make sure all women will be supported in the work we do together. It’s not fun work, but the longer we refuse to take this issue seriously, the more our movements will continue to suffer.