Attacks on women come as no surprise
Words by Ana Obradovic and Leila Clendon
We are living in a time of crisis. Inequality, climate change, and imperialist tensions are destabilising populations and driving down living standards globally. This has enabled the growth of the far-right across the world, from Brazil’s Bolsonaro, to India’s Modi, to the US with Trump. Blaming minorities, whether they are women, immigrants, or Muslims, for the crises of capitalism , like sinking living standards, the spread of pandemics, and economic crises, has proven a potent distraction technique. It has shifted the blame for these crises from the businesses and politicians responsible for ruling in the interest of profit not human need, and targeted people’s discontent towards the vulnerable and oppressed. Women, as well as refugees, people of colour, various religious faiths, and LGBTI people, have been the targets of recent attacks by conservatives.
Australia is no exception to this trend. This year in Adelaide bigots have felt emboldened to protest in their thousands against decriminalising abortion. On the 8th of February, 3000 people marched against abortion rights in Adelaide. Federally, the Religious Discrimination Bill aims to legally enshrine the right to deny women access to birth control and abortion. Two days into the New Year, an Indigenous woman shamefully died in custody after being refused bail on a minor charge. Meanwhile, racist Western Australian cop who murdered Aboriginal woman Joyce Clark has been let out on bail despite being prosecuted on manslaughter charges. Finally, in Queensland police stated they would keep an “open mind” regarding the murder of the Baxter family, questioning whether this was a case of domestic violence or, “an instance of a husband being driven too far”.
It’s in this context that a conservative-run Union has affiliated a bigoted anti-abortion club, while blocking pro-choice and Women’s Collective clubs from being registered. These attacks on women should not be considered isolated instances of bigotry, but rather a symptom of a wider shift in society to the right. Against a backdrop of wider polarisation in society, we should expect sexism and bigotry on campus to increase unless faced with concrete push back and mobilisations by students.
On Thursday of O’Week, Socialist Alternative organised a protest against LifeChoice, who had a stall set up in the Hub Central. A Adelaide University Union employee approached activists saying they should express discontent through the “appropriate channels”, or else face disaffiliation from the union.
While the Union stated that this was not a political attack, the result was the bureaucratic repression of speech of anti-sexist activists. The pro-lifers continued to operate their stall, spreading misogynistic propaganda amongst new students on campus.
It later emerged that this wasn’t the only attack on free speech this week.
During O’Week, the Student Representative Council’s stall space was used by the Women’s Collective to promote their club, and also used by the SRC Environment Officer Ahmed Azhar to promote the Student Climate Strike on Friday, the 13th of March. SRC General Secretary Isaac Trumble, a Liberal, tried to pass a motion on the SRC Exec to shut down these stalls.
Campus should be a space of free speech and democracy. The union shouldn’t make politically motivated decisions when deciding on whether or not to affiliate a club.
In light of this, plus the Union’s repression of the protest against the pro-life club, and SRC General Secretary Isaac Trumble’s attempt to shut down activist stalls at the SRC table during O-Week it’s worth reasserting that the Union and other university institutions have no right to deciding how and where students discuss their views. Protecting the right to free speech is especially important in the context of attacks on students fighting against key issues like sexism, bigotry and the climate crisis.
Right-wingers like to talk about a ‘free speech crisis’ on the campus. The events of O’Week demonstrate that what they mean by ‘free speech’ is restricting people’s right to challenge their bigoted ideas. There is a free speech problem on campus, but the targets of this repression are activists and the left.
This trend of repression goes beyond campus politics. It mirrors a political climate in which the “religious freedom” to discriminate is being introduced to parliament by Liberals, and the Labor party is refusing to bind to a “yes” vote on decriminalising abortion. The rhetoric and actions of right wing politicians is emboldening sexists, racists, and bigots everywhere, including on campus.
We need to defend the freedom to organise and campaign on campus. Too often activists in social movements have ceded to, or enforced restrictions on free speech. This freedom is crucial if we are going to effectively challenge bigotry and the right. We think objectionable clubs and political views should be met with protest and challenges on the ground. This is the most democratic way for student politics to function as such actions can only be effective with a mass of students on board and actively involved. We oppose bureaucratic de-platforming as this increases the authoritarian power of the AUU and keeps students passive.
We have pushed back right-wingers on the Union board before. Last year students came together to protest attempts by the Young Liberals to pass a motion welcoming the racist Ramsay Centre to campus. Despite a right-wing majority, under pressure the motion failed.
We need a repeat of this kind of mobilisation to defend free speech and women’s rights on campus. This fight is kicking off at the first campaign meeting on Monday the 16th of March at 2PM, Walter Young Garden (Next to Lower Napier). If you want to be part of pushing back the sexist right on campus, come along.
You can find a link to the event here.