Bursting Our Bubble

Emma Maiden writes about what it will take to continue the push for equality for women

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A few weeks ago I went to an organising meeting for the International Women’s Day March (it’s 10am on 11 March BTW – save the date). But there was a problem. We needed extra chairs.

What a great problem to have. This was a consequence no doubt of the success of the Women’s March on Sydney in January as well as a reflection of the current political climate. As one attendee put it “there is a real appetite for marches right now”. This is great. But we must also be realistic that marching simply is not enough to counter the rise of right-wing ideology and populism.

Don’t get me wrong, I love a good march. I was there at the Women’s March on Sydney and I will be there on International Women’s Day, and May Day and many more this year.

Marching (like picketing) is a physical representation of our solidarity. People joining together to express their common beliefs and demonstrate their power through numbers and disruption. A mass of people causing those who were going about their business to reflect on the issue and hopefully add their support. 

I saw this first hand at the Women’s March on Sydney. Of the 10,000 attendees, many were attending their first rally. As we marched up Pitt Street Mall women who were applauding with their shopping on the sidelines, triumphantly entered the throng and marched with us to Martin Place. 

The organisers of the Women’s March on Sydney succeeded in getting outside the bubble of the usual crowd for these type of events. A huge achievement. But if we are to get widespread support so progressive policies can triumph we must keep getting outside our bubble. We must reach the people who might vote conservatively but are persuadable to not just vote for progressive causes but become advocates for those causes.

The best way to do that is through conversations that are rooted in our shared values. It’s easy to say but surprisingly hard to do. That’s because we know we have right on our side. We know all the facts. Domestic violence is killing one woman every week. The Government has cut funding from women’s refugees and community legal centres. Access to abortion services is poor and under attack on the global stage. The universality of Medicare is being dismantled. Tafe, so often the pathway to a quality job, has been decimated. Of the 321 companies that turnover $200 million a year, 98 pay no tax. With the exception of 1998, the 10 warmest years on record have all occurred since 2000 and this is only set to worsen unless action is taken. Conflicts around the globe are displacing millions who struggle to secure their rights as refugees that were supposedly settled in 1951.

We get it. But unfortunately the facts are not as persuasive as we might think. It is values that shift people. Values like wealth or location should not play a role in accessing quality education and health care. Everyone should live free from violence. Full time work should pay enough to live and include conditions that support safety, dignity and a balance between work, rest and play. Individuals and companies should pay a fair share of tax according to their means. The social safety net should allow those who are not working to live with dignity.

And we need to talk about values a lot. At our workplaces. In the schoolyard. At the shops. On the street. In our neighbourhood. With family and friends. Every conversation counts. Ask questions. Point out shared values. Contrast those values with the right-wing agenda. The more your practice the better you will get. Go on. Get started. There is no time to waste.

Emma Maiden is the Deputy Secretary of UnionsNSW


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