Women marched for justice because they deserved better

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Content warning: This article contains references to sexual violence.

‘It’s amazing to know that I’m not the only person who feels this angry,’ says Alice Williams, as she looks at the crowd around us in Treasury Gardens on Monday 15 March. She’s not.

Image: Protestors, Helen and Julie, with signs reading 'March4Justice, JusticeforKate, IBelieveHer, IBelieveBrittany, ScottyKnew' (Supplied)

There were more than 5,000 people at Treasury Gardens. Across Australia, there were 40 marches from Adelaide to Wagga Wagga. All in, 100,000 people were involved either in person or signing a petition demanding change and accountability.

It may be the biggest uprising of women that this country has seen, and it happened quickly. ‘Is it possible to form a ring of people around the perimeter of (Parliament House?)’ tweeted Janine Hendry, an academic, designer and feminist on 25 February.

Hendry wanted to mobilise the many ‘extremely disgruntled’ women in the wake of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s failure to call an enquiry over the rape allegations of Attorney-General Christian Porter, and the government’s collective failing over the rape reported by ex-Liberal staffer Brittany Higgins.

This is my first in-person demonstration in years. For me, the culmination of women’s names in the news: Brittany Higgins, Grace Tame, Katharine Thornton, was a powerful reminder of the constancy of sexual abuse.

Between us, Alice and I have packed off four kids, cleared up breakfast mayhems, and shoved lunches into our backpacks to be here. It feels less optional to be here now.

 

'Between us, Alice and I have packed off four kids, cleared up breakfast mayhems, and shoved lunches into our backpacks to be here. It feels less optional to be here now.'

 

At the top of the hill, sitting on a bench, are three friends holding signs that say: #IBelieveHer, #ScottyKnew, #JusticeForKate, #March4Justice. Helen Fox, 75, from Warrandyte, Julie Grint, 66 and in a witch’s hat, from Templestowe, and Kammy Cordner, 62 and just in from Mansfield, are veterans of protesting for women.

‘I’ve been protesting for human rights for decades, and women’s rights are human rights,’ says Helen, a domestic violence survivor. ‘I want justice for Kate, justice for Brittany. I know they’re not lying.’

Kate was the woman who the Attorney-General Christian Porter is alleged to have raped in 1988. Kate was 16, Porter was 17, and they were on the same debating team. It is a case that divides men's and women's experiences, because Porter remains Attorney-General, and Kate suicided last year.

‘This is about the injustice of the justice system,’ says Kammy. ‘The women and children who’ve had to witness terrible things and lost their innocence, and yet Christian Porter has just assumed righteousness. The patriarchy is doing everything they can to discredit the innocent.’

‘You cannot have [alleged] predators as policy makers,’ says Tanja Kovac, CEO of Gender Equity Victoria the next day. ‘This is about allowing violence.’

The Prime Minister’s underwhelming reaction to Hendry’s March 4 Justice, to Brittany Higgins, to accusations about Christian Porter, are a considered play by Morrison to maintain his electoral base, says Kovac.  

‘Morrison is playing Russian roulette,’ says Kovac. ‘He sees that there is a solid block of votes, men who are not happy about "uppity women", who are not happy about pushback on economic security, and who don’t think that safety for women is important. Voters who helped get him elected and who don’t think that feminism is much cop for this country.’

Kovac continues, ‘He’s misread how widespread what happened in Parliament is, and the symbolism in the day-to-day life of women who’ve just carried the burden of COVID-19 for this nation. We deserve way more than this. 

‘The existing systems do not serve women when they’re under physical attack and, running parallel, is a sense that our economic equality leaves something to be desired. That really hit home during COVID.' 

For the CEO of Gender Equity, #EnoughisEnough means: ‘Can we address the injustice of the justice system, which is supposed to be keeping us safe? Can we address the economic inequalities that still means women are missing out on prosperity?’  

Hendry’s March 4 Justice came out of digital activism because that is the only space where women can organise in safety, says Kovac.

Now we have a situation where many women are very angry, and Scott Morrison points out that we’re lucky not to be in Myanmar. What can we do?

‘Lawful protests between election cycles are so important because sometimes it’s the only way to get politicians to make a change,’ Kovac explains. ‘The political will is driven by electoral fear.’

What do Helen, Julie, and Kammy want? They want to see the allegations have consequences. ‘Women suffer from these acts, men don’t,’ says Kammy.

 ‘I want to see him sacked!’ says Julie, referring to the Attorney-General Christian Porter. 

‘He has to prove his innocence,’ Helen says. 

‘It’s always us. Don’t walk the streets at night. Don’t do this, or that. I’m sick of all the defensive crap,’ says Julie.

When I leave the rally, there is a bride and groom coming out of the Treasury for their wedding photos. ‘Don’t marry him! Today is not the day!’ cries out Monique, who came today with friends Jude and Jeanette. We all laugh, and I really hope to see them at another demonstration, soon.

Women marched across Australia in March 2021 because they deserved better. We deserve better from our nation’s leaders, and we’re willing to show up and prove it.

 

 

Fernanda Fain-BindaFernanda Fain-Binda is a freelance writer and mother of two based in Melbourne. She is donating part of her writers fee to Safe Steps, the family violence response centre. 

If you or someone you know is in crisis you can call Lifeline at 13 11 14 or 1800RESPECT at 1800 737 732.

Main image: Protestors, Helen and Julie, with signs reading 'March4Justice, JusticeforKate, IBelieveHer, IBelieveBrittany, ScottyKnew' (Supplied)

Topic tags: Fernanda Fain-Binda, March4Justice, Melbourne, Brittany Higgins, Enough is enough

 

 

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Existing comments

There is a woman's name missing from this list and it's Nicolle Flint. Nicolle Flint has been so badly harassed with vulgarity and insults, and it's ongoing, that she has decided not to stand for re-election. It's not only women, it can also be men. Tony Abbott and the residents of Warringah were subjected to the most appalling insults and harassment, all documented in the press at the time. If only we could all learn to be courteous, that is polite whether you like someone or not, and take it to the next level, kindness.
Jane | 18 March 2021


" ‘He has to prove his innocence,’ Helen says. " with courtesy I disagree. “Australia is a party to seven core international human rights treaties. The presumption of innocence is contained in article 14(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). The right to the presumption of innocence is one of the guarantees in relation to legal proceedings contained in article 14. The other guarantees are the right to a fair trial and fair hearing, and minimum guarantees in criminal proceedings, such as the right to counsel and not to be compelled to self-incriminate.” "Similar to that of Roman law, Islamic law also holds the principle that the onus of proof is on the accuser or claimant … “Suspicion” is also highly condemned…”
Jane | 18 March 2021


"The presumption of innocence" has been a useful tool of obfuscation in many public pronouncements recently. It is a (perhaps regrettable) shorthand way of describing the ground rules of a criminal court prosecution, namely that no burden of proof lies on the accused person. Unfortunately in many cases that involve interpersonal violence or abuse with only the (alleged) perpetrator and the (alleged) victim as witnesses to the facts, the presumption of innocence necessarily equates to a presumption that the complainant is lying. This structural imbalance may in part account for the vanishingly small percentage of convictions for crimes of this sort.
OldG | 19 March 2021


Last Monday, Christian Porter commenced defamation proceedings against the ABC and journalist Louise Milligan. His lawyer, Rebekah Giles, said Porter will be able “to give evidence denying these false allegations on oath” and that under the Defamation Act “it is open for the ABC and Ms Milligan to plead truth in their defence to this action and prove the allegation to the lower civil standard.” But due process by the courts doesn’t satisfy activists who seem to prefer trial by media, a tactic which worked well for the Democratic Party in the USA: A three-year inquiry into fake Russia/Trump collusion; the attempted destruction of Judge Brett Kavanaugh and his family; and two Impeachment trials may have been all based on falsehoods, but they resulted in years of political propaganda facilitated by a corrupt media. Organizer Janine Hendry purports to be non-political, but on January 21 she suggested a US-style Lincoln Project to organise against the Prime Minister; she later tweeted “It remains inconceivable that any woman who valued herself would even consider voting for the LNP”; and she rejected an offer to meet the PM. Women deserve better but won’t get it from the likes of Janine Hendry.
Ross Howard | 19 March 2021


Listen to the unemotional, balanced voice of reason coming from Jane's comments. They are in stark contrast to the ill-considered quotes from some protesters reported in this account. The presumption of innocence in the absence of witnesses to the contrary may on occasions absolve the guilty. But perhaps the presumption of guilt can equally convict the innocent. Perhaps the law is the ass after all!
john frawley | 19 March 2021


Hello Fernanda: Thank you for a beautiful article on the manifestation at Treasury Gardens. I was there standing at the back. Actually, I was ordered to be there by a friend, a radical 70’s women’s liberationist. She was involved, with other women (we were all young back then), in starting refuges for women, and their children, escaping domestic violence. The good citizens of society attacked them for destroying “family values”. Amazing! Women and children being terrorized by out-of-control toxic masculinity was at the time not considered an attack on the family? Toxic masculinity: we tragic males having waited ten thousand years to be freed from that one. Changes brought about by the women’s movement over the last five decades are profound. Not so much to the big structures of society but who we are and how we relate to each other. They have re-cast the ancient question: “am I my sister and my brother’s keeper?”
Fosco | 20 March 2021


Ross Howard: ‘she rejected an offer to meet the PM’ ‘Someone’ ‘somewhere’ just has to be choreographing this, happening as it does to be the High Season of the Church. The chief priestess, declaring the assembly will be defiled if they enter the praetorium, summons the procurator to them. Declining to accommodate, the procurator (somewhat superfluously, unless, out of a sense of mischief, seeking to provoke a rise) parries with the non sequitur that in nearby jurisdictions, unlike his, procurators are known to mingle the blood of petitioners with the paraphernalia of their cause.
roy chen yee | 20 March 2021


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