Unless all of us are free, none of us are free

By Khadija Glba

As women all over Australia took to the streets to march for justice and an end to discrimination and sexual harassment, the asks of ‘all’ women were confidently plastered all over the news. The national event sparked outrage from the public and had the Prime Minister shuffling his cabinet more than LMFAO.

But as I listen to the issues being discussed, I am quickly reminded that feminism often looks a certain way in Australia – white, cisgender, hetero, able-bodied and middle class. 

Although I agree that the allegations of sexual assault and harassment in parliament are unacceptable and the need for a more comprehensive sex and consent education in schools is 100 per cent necessary, it is sad that there are so many women’s voices who never get a look-in.

Photo credit: Bluch Creative Australia

What that says to women whose concerns fall outside of the lines of the white, cisgender, hetero, able-bodied and middle-class feminist movement, is that they don’t matter.

They’re being told that women who are poor, homeless, from refugee and migrant backgrounds, women of colour, women with disability, trans women and First Nations women – that their concerns don’t matter, their rights don’t matter, and their lives don’t matter!  

It isn’t simply good enough for women’s organisations and movements to say that they are working to amplify the voices of ‘all’ women – when their actions centre the rights and concerns of privileged white women who went to elite private schools or who work in the highest office in the land.  

In order to address the multiple intersecting issues, you must be able to name them. The fact that black people in America were up in arms about the term ‘all lives matter’ was because it erases the issue of race. Of course, ‘all lives matter’, but when we are trying to raise awareness of the mistreatment of African-Americans and stop police racially profiling black people, locking them up in alarmingly high numbers, using unnecessary violence to detain them and even ignoring their cries for help when they’re dying, I would have thought pretty confidently that you can’t disregard the reason they’re being mistreated. African Americans share a proud and confronting history which is punctuated by racism, slavery and triumph over some of the worst human rights abuse the world has ever known.  

Unfortunately, that unjust treatment didn’t end with the abolition of slavery in America and it is still ever-present in their criminal justice system, employment, health care, political and corporate presence, and education.

That systemic racism also lingers in Australia, where hospitalisation rates for First Nations women due to family violence-related assaults are 32 times the rate for non-Indigenous women and three times the rate for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men. 

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women are also nearly 11 times more likely to die from assault than non-Indigenous women and one in three First Nations women and girls will be raped in their lifetime. In addition, just this month, Australia has seen five more Indigenous deaths in custody in the past four weeks.

The intersecting discrimination that First Nations women face is a national emergency. It’s costing lives and yet it certainly isn’t getting the attention it deserves.  

Although just as shocking, when Indigenous women are murdered by their partners, like domestic violence advocate, R Rubuntja, there is very little outrage from the media. 

Similarly, Asian women like Qi Yu, women of colour like Natalina Angok and trans woman like Mhelody Polan Bruno, all received a ‘contained’ public response at most.

While the lack of public outrage and grief for non-white women can almost be expected, I think the most disappointing thing for me to grasp is that the white feminists, the ones who you thought were on your side, invite you to the photo opportunity but not the decision-making table.

It is sad when you realise that the metaphorical glass ceiling that you thought the white feminist movement was breaking for ‘the rest of us women’, instead sends sharp shards of glass back down, and with them, creating new wounds to overcome.

That betrayal is the hardest to get over. White women want us to stand in solidarity with them, but we can’t do that without fighting all the other inequalities that hold us back including the ones perpetrated by white women themselves.

Non-white, transgender and disabled women need to also feel safe, valued and equal – and not just with men but with white, cisgender, able-bodied, middle-class women too. 

So, while it is important to be ensuring women are able to sit alongside men in positions of power in this country, if we do not address the intersecting factors that also oppress poor women, Indigenous women, women from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, women with disabilities, women who identify as LGBTQQIAAP+ and people who identify outside of the gender binary – then we aren’t practicing intersectional feminism.  

‘All women’ is a broad category – there are varied political views, opinions, rights, concerns and diversity among us – we are human after all.  

What I know for sure is that I am not interested in working with any organisation or business that isn’t practicing intersectional feminism by truly creating space for the rights and concerns of all women in the national conversation. 

While ain’t nobody got time for the Karens or Beckys of this world, jokes aside the truth is we need ‘all’ women working together if we are ever going to achieve equality.  

So, next time we march for justice we need to make sure that every woman is given a hand up, because otherwise we’ll just turn non-white cis women away from the feminist movement completely, or worse, put them further behind if we don’t. 

Unless all of us are free, none of us are free. 

Khadija Gbla is a high-profile, passionate and inspiring African Australian woman. She is now renowned as a human rights activist and she has extensive involvement with diverse areas of the community.  

As an entrepreneur, inspirational speaker, facilitator, philanthropist and mentor, Khadija aspires to give a voice to women, youth and minority groups at a local, state and international level. Khadija utilises her inspired and powerful voice to advocate for equality, diversity and inclusion. 

Khadija is a skilled advocate, leader, trainer, speaker and commentator on subjects including domestic and family violence, mental health, cultural safety, gender diversity, sexual health, racism, human rights, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers and cultural diversity.

Khadija’s achievements, community work, human rights advocacy and practical skills have been publicly recognised and honoured through numerous human rights awards. She has appeared in Australian and international media, including SBS, the ABC, the Project, Marie Claire, The Guardian and the Sydney Morning Herald.

YWCA Australia wishes to acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands on which we work, live and play and pay our respects to Elders past and present. We recognise First Nations people as the custodians of the lands, seas and skies, with more than 60,000 years of wisdom, connection and relationship in caring for Country.

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