By Emily Contador-Kelsall
Women, men and children striving for gender equality will walk from Town Hall on Saturday March 14 in suppor of International Womens Day (IWD).
Roxanne McMurray, spokeswoman for Save our Womens Services (SOS), said IWD is about shining a light on human rights for women and celebrating women’s achievements.
“All over Sydney, thousands of women and men are celebrating this year with the theme ‘Make it Happen’,” she said.
“Our main message should be: as women we are seeing what needs to be done in our community in our world, and we will stand up for what we believe in and we’ll make it happen.”
Two prominent issues for Sydney women identified by organisers of the march were the NSW government’s “Going Home, Staying Home” reforms, which resulted in the closure of women’s only refuges, and the attempted passing of Zoe’s Law in 2014.
Shannen Potter, former University of Sydney Union Women’s Events Coordinator, said she thought Zoe’s Law was the biggest challenge to women’s rights in NSW.
“It was defeated in the NSW Senate but the NSW Lower House did pass the law and basically that law gave personhood to foetuses,” she said.
“That was a really slippery slope in which we could see significant restrictions being placed on abortion in the future.”
Ms McMurray also raised domestic violence as a pressing concern. She said domestic violence is on the national agenda like “never before” and is being described as an “epidemic”.
“The debate around domestic violence is growing by the day,” she said.
“It’s really being taken seriously probably for the first time ever and government policy needs to reflect that.”
Last week, the NSW Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Women Pru Goward announced reforms to combat domestic violence, including a Domestic Violence Disclosure Scheme and a Minister for the Prevention of Domestic Violence.
Domestic violence is the single greatest preventable cause of death, ill health and disability for women under the age of 45 in Australia.
Ms McMurray said men who are violent often have a track record and allowing women this information could save lives.
While SOS women’s services “strongly welcome the government’s announcement for a Minister for Domestic Violence,” Ms McMurray said the state government’s “Going Home Staying Home” reforms have decimated women’s services.
“Before they were introduced, there were more than 100 women’s services run by women’s organisations, now there are less than 20,” she said.
“Community services obviously need to be financially responsible but they shouldn’t be treated merely as business…”
NSW Labor also announced plans last week to combat domestic violence and sexual assault.
Included in these plans was the announcement that they would provide a $10 million boost to support women’s refuges.
Shadow Minister for the Status of Women Sophie Cotsis said tackling domestic violence must be a key focus of government.
Despite both sides of politics committing to fight domestic violence and sexual assault, neither Ms McMurray nor Ms Potter thought the state government was adequately addressing women’s issues.
“The NSW Government is really out of step… women need more access to services, not less,” said Ms McMurray.
Ms Potter said she thinks it is important for politicians to understand that women are a varied group of people with differing needs.
“I find it somewhat insulting when politicians say, ‘we’ve introduced x amount of dollars for childcare funding and that will help all women around Australia’. No one would say this helps all men because men aren’t a monolithic group,” she said.