What Women Want


On Sunday, the world celebrated another International Women’s Day. But how far we come in addressing gender equality globally? I speak with WOW (Women of the World) Australia 2020 Executive Producer Cathy Hunt, whose conference will explode onto the stages of the Brisbane Powerhouse from April 2 to 5, with more than 100 speakers including former Governor General Quentin Bryce and Australia’s first female Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

We’ve just celebrated International Women’s Day. Where do women currently sit?
I know that we are slipping and we’ve been slipping on many different charts. Even though we see some fantastic work, it is a hard one to push past a particular threshold. You’ve got to keep the conversation going and push these boundaries. This is not a zero-sum game. There are not “x” number of jobs and women are going to steal your jobs. If we had true gender equality it would mean more jobs for everyone.
What are the big issues women still face?
Some of the big cultural issues, and these are cultural issues, are the issues of domestic and family violence. We are still counting dead women. What is that truly about? When you pare that whole thing down it is that lack of equality from the start, which is why we do a festival.

What about men? Should there be a similar festival for men?
There is with WOW in London. They do a festival all about men. In Brisbane we include some of these elements. We are trying to open WOW up now. The odd man has come to a conversation and they walk out and the first thing they say is “it was brilliant, I wish more men could hear that.” We are encouraging everyone to bring a bloke to WOW.
Are there any male speakers?
Yes. On Wednesday, April 1, director Tom Donahue will talk about his film This Changes Everything. On Thursday, April 2, Social Commentator Jane Caro will interview Journalist David Leser about his #metoo movement book men, women & the whole damn thing. On Friday, April 3, David Leser, specialist in gendered violence Professor Patrick O’Leary, former cricketer/now educator Michael Jeh, and Group Executive Aurizon Ed McKeiver, will discuss the issue of domestic violence, and how it is not a “women’s problem” in a session called Owning It.

You also have an Under 10s Feminist Corner. What do children this age understand about feminism and what do you wish to teach them?
There’s one for boys and one for girls and they are specific workshops which teach children about issues in the playground and at home. At WOW London one year, one of the Under 10s created a petition about the issue of boys’ toys and girls’ toys and they got thousands of signatures. It was presented to a particular toy shop in London. They may not understand the term feminism, but they understand about inequality more than we realise because they begin to see the way genders are treated differently. It all starts too early, blue for a boy and pink for a girl.
You describe the main event as “three days of fun, laughter, inspiration and reflection”. What is the MAIN message you wish attendees to take home?
We want to inspire women and girls to make changes in their lives for the better and we want to give them the confidence to do that. We want to provide them with skills they may need along the way and introduce them to new networks and people on that journey. We want to bring men along on the journey with us. If you look at the UN Sustainability goals for 2030, gender equality is one of those goals. I am a true believer we won’t meet any of these goals until we have gender equality. How can we solve the climate crisis and poverty unless we think about women and children? We want people to go away inspired that they can change a situation.

Tickets to WOW are on sale now through wowaustralia.com.au, Brisbanepowerhouse.org and premier.ticketek.com.au. This colourful program includes a cabaret extravaganza Glittery Clittery, songstress Christine Anu in concert, and Spinifex Gum – a choir of young Indigenous women. Other highlights include workshops, short talks, readings and soapbox moments, and a healing space.

Australia, we’ve got one almighty election

SEVERAL commentators have likened the recently-announced Australian federal election campaign to a seven-month pregnancy and I have to admit that was one of my first reactions as well. Actually, my first reaction was one of excitement, as I actually misheard the Prime Minister and thought she said Australia would be having a long erection. Could you imagine it? Your local member (pardon the pun) standing on the street corner, and instead of handing out how-to-vote cards, giving out free Viagra.
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Alas, she did say election and it really is like the obstetrician has just told us we are having twins – a boy and a girl. For the sake of this story, let’s call them Julia and Tony. Now, apart from thinking I could make a handsome profit if I whipped up to China and got 22 million “Is there a 3rd option?” t-shirts made, I think I have solved the problem for the Australian electorate. My advice: vote exactly how you did in the last election, and keep a hung Parliament. Why? As the past few years have proven, the country actually trundles along quite nicely, some say the envy of the western superpower economies such as the US and Europe, while our two twins, Julia and Tony, bicker.
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It’s a bit like being in the toy aisle at K-Mart and Julia and Tony have spotted a boat on the toy shelves horizon. Tony immediately grabs a toy gun and starts shooting at the boat, demanding that K-Mart send the boat back to where it was made. In this instance, Indonesia. Julia, seeing Tony’s reaction, runs into the doll aisle and grabs Burqa Barbie, plonks her on the boat, and a struggle ensues. What’s interesting about this scenario is not Julia and Tony’s reaction but that of you, the parent. You’ve already moved on to the outdoor camping section of K-Mart, because all you really want is a holiday and a happy life.
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But bear with me. My hung Parliament theory has legs – unlike Burqa Barbie which Tony has ripped off in to the argument with Julia. But before I give you the third option to lead Australia, I’d like to canvas some other candidates. We could look at some of our Aussie exports who’ve clearly done well overseas. What about Kylie Minogue? Her campaign slogan: “I should be so lucky” would clearly be a catchy hit, and she’s a certainty with the pink vote. Olivia Newton John would be rather convincing with romantic Australian voters if her slogan was: “Hopelessly Devoted to You.” Hugh Jackman? All-round nice guy who everyone loves. Just as I’ve never met anyone who actually liked or voted for John Howard, I don’t know anyone who hates Hugh Jackman. And just imagine when the latest round of refugees arrived on our shore, Hugh would be standing there and clutching that same line he used on Nicole Kidman in the movie Australia he’d swagger: “Welcome to Australia.”
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But my secret plan for the person to be next Prime Minister of Australia is Barack Obama. I’ve worked it out. He’s only got four more years left before he must stand down as President of the United States. Our election is almost another year away. Which means we’ve really only got to sit out another hung Parliament for three years before we elect Obama. I presume the Australian Prime Minister must have Aussie citizenship and I’ve sorted all that out too. I am prepared to marry Obama so that he can become Australian and save us from ourselves. Say what you will about me, but never let it be said I’m not prepared to take one for the country.
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Hippy New Year!

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“An awkward morning is better than a lonely night,” Graffiti on the toilet wall at The Woodford Folk Festival.

I’M in Bill’s Bar when the delightful Doreen takes my order. “He must be hot, young and smart,” I tell her. Doreen isn’t just any old waitress, she works at the Meet Market where dating dreams come true. “What else do I want?” I ask Doreen. “Someone who treats you like the Goddess that you are,” she replies. “How do you know I’m a Goddess?” I ask her in amazement. “Darl, when you’ve been in this game long enough, you just know.” And with that, she hands me a carbon copy of my order straight from her notebook.

Unfortunately, later that day, Doreen also accosts one of my gorgeous gay male friends and tells him she can find plenty of women for him. Gay-dars, it appears, don’t work quite so well out in the Australian bush.

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I’m at the annual Woodford Folk Festival, about an hour and a half north-west of Brisbane, re-setting my soul for the year ahead. The previous evening in The Joy Luck Club tent I’ve already attended Jon Bennett’s show “Pretending Things are a Cock”, which is pretty much as the title suggests. Jon’s brother Tim used to be obsessed with his own penis, to the point he would put it in Jon’s ear. A childhood prank has since spawned a career for Jon, who now travels the globe, taking photos of all things phallic. You’ve never thought of the Statue of Liberty as a penis? Think again.

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But if you think this is a sex fest, you’d be mistaken. Nor is it only for happy hippies. For one week between Christmas and New Year, Woodford is the place where ordinary people can simply suspend reality. Listen to some great music, participate in enlightening talks, meet random people, eat, dance, laugh and camp. A place for acrobrats and artists. And most of all, where you can open your mind. Shake off the cobwebs of the year just gone.

So successful is this festival, which has battled every challenge from stinking hot summers where crowd numbers wilted, to flooding rains which devastated the site, that former and current Prime Ministers make it their business to be there. Clad in t.shirt and jeans, Prime Minister Julia Gillard tells the packed Concert tent the story of a friend’s children, a little girl and a little boy. The little boy tells the little girl he wants to be Prime Minister when he grows up, to which the little girl responds: “You can’t. Only women in Australia can be Prime Minister.”

 The crowd laughs, but nor is this a love fest. The dirty, smouldering issues like coal seam gas, fracking, climate change and whaling in the Southern Ocean simmer all week long in the Greenhouse tent where experts such as Professor Ian Lowe talks about the rise of the Eco Warrior.

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In the middle of a sassy summer storm after a sultry day, a panel in The Blue Lotus tent is talking about bullying and examining how it may be linked to creating a creative class. Those kids that are picked on and socially isolated learn some pretty crafty tricks such as conjuring up imaginary friends with whom to play. Daydreaming of nicer, colourful worlds where everyone is kind. They become the masters of perceptiveness, awareness, intuition.

Under the canvas at The Grande, Spain meets surf music in the form of long-haired Latinos Los Coronas, a band which sounds like matadors have arrived in Maui. Acclaimed Aboriginal singer Archie Roach packs The Amphi & Hilltop stage as does the John Butler Trio. Kate Miller-Heidke kills it at The Concert and Women in Docs is in luck at The Duck.

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Back in The Blue Lotus, Sunshine Coast Astrologer Lyvea Rose doles out the skinny on the year ahead. “Between 2013 and 2015, the corrupt kings will fall. The hippy movement which started in the 60s will be realised. Don’t attach to old structures like banks and bosses. It’s a revolution of the heart. Make love, not war. Become the king or queen of your own life. Simplify your life. It’s an excellent year for healers and artists.”

And best of all? Venus is apparently more laid-back this year. Women will be pursued by men. It is, according to Lyvea, a “sexy and stylish” year.

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Happy 2013. May your most delicious dreams and wildest desires come true. I know what mine are. I’d love to hear some of yours…

To find out more about the Woodford Folk Festival go to www.woodfordfolkfestival.com

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That nasty “F” word

MY 12-year-old niece broke it off with her “boyfriend” this week, telling me yesterday: “He acts one way around me, and another around his friends.” “Ah, mixed messages,” I told Miss Twelve, who didn’t quite understand the concept, despite deeply feeling the hurt. “He was shocked,” she added. And who said feminism was dead?

If we needed any convincing that feminism wasn’t dead it was this week’s outstanding performance by Prime Minister Julia Gillard who stood up for herself, and the women of Australia, to Opposition Leader Tony Abbott. In her 15-minute speech in Federal Parliament during which Gillard never once stumbled, she did what was a long-time coming. She told the man who has taunted her with cruel jibes among which have included standing in front of a banner which labelled her a “witch” and a “bitch”, that she would “not be lectured about sexisim by this man”. Regardless of your politics, I implore anyone who hasn’t seen it to go to YouTube and see exactly the kind of mettle of which a woman scorned is made.

The best Abbott could do this week was trot out his wife and three daughters as a poor example of how this somehow made him a feminist. The mere fact he did this was a sexist act in itself. It’s a bit like telling someone “my neighbour is gay/indigenous/disabled”. Worst of all for Abbott, even if this did score him a couple of cheap political points, with possibly another year to run before the Federal Election, he’s potentially pulled out his trump card a little prematurely. So now he has to rely on his character. 

Let me be very clear. This is not a political post. I, like many other Australians, have been deeply disappointed by the argy bargy and broken promises of both sides of the Parliament in recent times. Yet, sometime in the next 12 months, I will have the opportunity (a result of feminism) to choose one side. This is a blog about feminism. It’s a blog about basic human rights.

We live in interesting times. Despite the fact 60% of university undergraduates are women, in 2012, Australian women earn approximately 17.5% less than men. We’ve all been privy to the recent abhorrent behaviour of a certain football club’s end-of-year antics and their lewd comments towards a female television reporter who was simply doing her job. And then there’s a certain male radio announcer who decried Australian women as “destroying the joint.”

Globally, things are far worse. This week in Indonesia, a 14-year-old school girl victim of child trafficking was expelled from her school because she had “tarnished the school’s reputation.” In Pakistan, a 14-year-old girl is fighting for her life after being shot in the head by the Taliban. Her crime? She believed women should be allowed an education.

I’ve always been proud to call myself a feminist and for anyone who wonders what this means to me, it means I think women should be receive the same pay as men for the same work; that they should be able to walk down the street in whatever they choose without fear or favour; and they should be afforded the same opportunities as men. Women should be treated with the same respect as men.

And yet, in recent times, even I’ve been led to believe there is something wrong with me. This week, when a male friend sent me a private email making a lewd comment about my breasts, I was deeply offended. I told him so, and he apologised, yet it didn’t stop me choosing the baggiest blouses to wear all week and slouching my shoulders, something I haven’t done since I was a teenager. Through his comments, I felt that I should somehow be ashamed and embarrassed of my womanhood.

This weekend I’ve found myself waiting for a phone call from a man I’ve never met, who enticed me with the promise of a coffee date. That phone call never came. In the scheme of world events, and how women are treated, it’s nothing. It’s a very First-World problem and possibly even a luxury to have such a light-weight worry. But it still hurts, as did my mate’s comments. As these blokes would never denigrate their male friends like that. And doesn’t it simply come down to that? It’s not whether you are male or female. It’s how you would treat another human being.

This week, through Prime Minister Gillard, and people like my 12-year-old niece who wouldn’t have a clue what a feminist was, we saw a glimmer of hope. A spark.

Maybe feminism isn’t dead after all. Like myself, after 40 odd years fighting the good fight, perhaps she’s just been having a long-deserved beauty sleep. And there is nothing wrong with that.