• Evening Standard article: "8 brands that support International Women's Day", 8 March 2018 (Twitter)
OPINION: White women do not own feminism, and neither should corporations, writes Celeste Liddle.
By
Celeste Liddle

8 Mar 2018 - 10:04 AM  UPDATED 8 Mar 2018 - 10:19 AM

#PressForProgress. From the moment I heard that this was apparently the theme for this year’s International Women’s Day, I cringed.

Not least because what was supposed to be a global movement for women’s rights had apparently been diluted into a hash tag with almost no meaning at all. It was not until I started digging and I found the source of the hashtag that it became apparent what had happened.

Google “International Women’s Dayand the first result that comes up is a very professional-looking, corporate-sponsored page, full of logos, drop down menus and purple colour themes. 

Yet International Women’s Day itself has nothing to do with corporations and pithy hashtags. Born from the working women’s movement then installed by socialists, IWD is a call to action. It’s a recognition of the disparities and injustices which still impact the lives of women across the globe and the reminder that we will not stop marching until real equality has been achieved.

IWD is a call to action. It’s a recognition of the disparities and injustices which still impact the lives of women across the globe.

I have been told so many times over the years that “feminism is for white women” that I have lost count. Partly when I think of the clashes mainstream feminists have had with Aboriginal women due to racism over the years, it’s not hard to see why some Aboriginal people believe pushing for gender equality runs counter to our Indigenous social justice movements. White women have, after all, profiteered off the stolen lands and the free labour of Aboriginal people just like their brethren.

Yet as I have stated so often in response to this, I don’t believe white women own feminism. The concept of equal rights for women exists across many cultures and continents and in the face of ongoing colonisation, Aboriginal women have unique perspectives to add to these discussions. For who better understands the concept of sovereignty; whether it applies to land or person; than an Aboriginal woman?

I don’t believe white women own feminism. The concept of equal rights for women exists across many cultures and continents and in the face of ongoing colonisation.

And certainly, I have noticed a shift. While our aunties and grandmothers and so forth might not have identified as feminists, I have seen many younger Aboriginal women taking up this mantle. Perhaps it’s because they are already engaged in activism and therefore see the parallels between the various social justice movements. Perhaps it’s simply because they, like me, cannot see the point of a decolonised space which does not also include equal rights for men and women. But if this is the case, what are our goals?

Well, they’re probably not to #PressForProgress, whatever that means. Nor are they to allow the corporate world to misappropriate our social justice movements for the sake of branding themselves as progressive and therefore increasing their profit margins. And certainly, this co-opting of women’s rights as a marketing strategy while women across the world go hungry, or die from domestic and family violence, or are being trafficked is something more progressive women are speaking out against this year.

See, even the UN Australia page was not free from corporate endorsement this year. The fact that Esprit was listed as a sponsor and are selling a special IWD scarf to “raise funds” for disaster area women when they are known for exploiting the labour of women in Bangadeshi sweatshops attracted the ire of the Women’s Department of Victorian Trades Hall Council last week.

This is often the problem with such corporations: their politics are performative while their practices are exploitative.

This is often the problem with such corporations: their politics are performative while their practices are exploitative. As a result, the very real struggles of some of the most disadvantaged get white-washed via ribbons and cupcakes. We therefore need to #TakeBackIWD to ensure that the very real struggles of women are being actively challenged.

And here lies the relevance for Aboriginal women when it comes to International Women’s Day. As workers, Aboriginal women have been exploited more than most in this country. Not only does the gender pay gap get even bigger when race is factored in, but in some circumstances we haven’t even been paid at all. Take, for example, the thousands of Aboriginal girls who were taken from their parents during the Stolen Generations then sent to white families to act as unpaid domestic servants. Take the Stolen Wages of yesteryear, held in mysterious governmental trusts to never be seen again.

Take the current existence of the highly racist and exploitative Community Development Programme where welfare recipients are expected to undertake the equivalent of a part time job year round just to receive their pension which, in a lot of instances, will be partially quarantined anyway. Most of this work relates to services other people in this country get to take for granted and which attracts real wages and conditions for the people who perform them. Our fight for rights as Aboriginal women is a long way from over. 

In 2018, the UN’s global theme for International Women’s Day is “Time is Now: Rural and urban activists transforming women’s lives”. This fits in so incredibly well with this year’s NAIDOC theme “because of her, we can”. International Women’s Day offers an opportunity to highlight some of the women who have fought for our rights in the face of such adversity. From the Black Panther Women, to those who marched in the first Day of Mourning, to the women now leading massive protests in the cities. It’s a time to continue the fight against the white paternalistic governmental policies which seek to diminish our power and pride as Aboriginal women. And it’s a time to remember all the staunch Aboriginal women we’ve lost through violence, through the life expectancy gap and through colonisation.

Our time is NOW. 

 

Celeste Liddle is an Arrernte woman living in Melbourne. She is a union organiser, a social commentator and freelance writer and a noted activist. Celeste blogs personally at Rantings of an Aboriginal Feminist. Follow Celeste @Utopiana