ERIN GILLEN. Women’s March on Washington (and Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra)

On Saturday 21st January, the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration, hundreds of thousands of people are expected to descend on Washington DC to march to highlight the simple message that women’s rights are human rights. The march is expected to be one of America’s biggest protests.  

Sister marches are being held in 370 locations, including Sydney, Melbourne and Canberra.

The Women’s March have published their Guiding Vision and Definition of Principles which highlights issues such as ending violence, reproductive rights, women’s rights, LGBTQIA rights, civil rights, disability rights, rights for immigrants and environmental justice. The document is the perfect example of what a truly intersectional call for social justice looks like.

The march is a reaction to the rhetoric of the 2016 US election, and a show of the strength of numbers of human rights defenders. The Women’s March website states:

In the spirit of democracy and honouring the champions of human rights, dignity, and justice who have come before us, we join in diversity to show our presence in numbers too great to ignore. The Women’s March in Washington will send a bold message to our new government on their first day in office, and to the world that women’s rights are human rights.

Such a call for action and show of solidarity is as necessary in Australia, where many of the principles set out in the Women’s March Guiding Vision are under threat, as in a Trump America.

The Centrelink data-matching program aimed at identifying welfare compliance issues has caused a great deal of distress and criticism at the turn of the new year, however the Minister for Human Services continues to assert that the system is working as it was designed to work. Meanwhile, the prospect of Newstart and other allowances being raised seems extremely unlikely.

In 2017, the Parliament will continue to debate measures to cut Australia’s paid parental leave scheme, and legislation which will tie subsidies for early childhood education and care to the ‘activities’ undertaken by parents.

Community legal services and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services face a drastic reduction in funds at the end of the financial year, which will affect frontline services across the country and leave vulnerable people without any support at times of crisis.

A Department of Education and Training consultation process on the future of higher education reform, including deregulation of university courses, is likely to bring the equity of access to universities back to the centre of public debate. Changes to VET FEE-HELP will mean that students studying 478 VET courses are no longer eligible for student loans. Many of these courses are dominated by female students. These changes, aimed at bringing the scheme under control after widespread misuse by Registered Training Organisations, will lock many people out of tertiary education.

Parliamentary committees will consider whether sections 18C and 18D of the Racial Discrimination Act imposes unreasonable restrictions upon freedom of speech and whether current migration processes adequately assess a prospective migrant’s settlement prospects. Meanwhile, our elected officials spout racist comments which undermine social cohesion.

It is my hope that the Women’s Marches will provide strength and solidarity to those who are feeling dejected by the current state of affairs for women’s rights, and act as a catalyst for further action in the year ahead.

Erin Gillen has experience working on a range of policy issues including social and migration policy. She has a particular interest in policy and practice affecting women. Erin is a member of the Equality Rights Alliance’s Young Women’s Advisory Group. You can follow Erin on twitter: @erincgillen

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