The day of celebration included a forum on experiences
of International Women's Year
The highlight of IWY in New Zealand was the United Women's Convention held in Wellington in June 1975. All the participants in the 1975 United Women's Convention were invited to participate in the Janus Women's Convention held in June this year, on the 30 th anniversary. Here Dame Miriam Dell, Co-ordinator of the IWY Program and a NZ delegate to the first three UN Conferences on Women, recalls the 1975 Convention. Margaret Shields was later a NZ Cabinet Minister (and convenor of the 2005 Convention) and Cath Tizard a Governor General.
It is the 12th of June 1975, and I am waiting nervously at Wellington airport to meet our famous guest speaker, Margaret Mead. She stumps off the plane with her impressive wooden staff, and we immediately feel a rapport. I sigh with relief – the Convention is going to be fine. Then I am at the Wine and Cheese function in the evening. Committee and politicians are there among many others. A crescendo of chat and a feeling of excitement prevails. Then Margaret Shields and I find ourselves in a desperate bid to come between an angry, aggressive feminist, and a conservative politician, as she prepares to shower him with wine. We cop the wine and hastily shepherd him away.
Now we look down from the platform in the cavernous Winter Show Buildings at the sea of eager faces crammed into the building – all 2200 of them, all ages, all backgrounds. Cath Tizard is chairing the meeting; Margaret Mead is spell-binding. And then the next test comes. Will everyone find their way to the workshops of their choice? How good are workshops going to be? There is a wide mixture in the 40 workshops offered. Will there be any real outcomes from the presentations and participation?
I work my way through a number of workshops, staying long enough in each to savour the eagerness of the discussion and the earnestness of the presentation. Nothing, not even the deafening racket of the heavy rain on the roof, can stop the flow of words. The flip charts and blackboards are covered with ideas.
Now it is Sunday morning, and a wonderfully uplifting ecumenical service starts the day. While the next round of workshops gets under way, the rain continues to pelt down. The storm has disrupted all travel.
And now it is the plenary reporting back session, and we hear the huge range of ideas for ongoing action and the wide range of issues that have emerged. It is just great!
The sad farewells begin amid determination, hope and inspiration.
I have never lost the inspiration of magic that the 1975 Convention generated. Over the 30 years since I have met simply hundreds of women throughout New Zealand who have said "The Convention changed my life" and have gone on to tell me what they have done in their lives since.
In October 1974 we held the first ever conference for women in the Northern Territory . The Birds Eye View of the Northern Territory raised a huge range of issues for women in isolation, racial, political, economic, social, and educational, as well as geographic. We were delighted that Sara Dowse came to Darwin as our guest speaker. Other speakers included Australia 's first woman mayor, Darwin's Dr Ella Stack. And from then we were busy planning International Women's Year events for the next year.
But after Cyclone Tracy wrecked our city that Christmas, it seemed our plans were destroyed too. My children and I were among those evacuees with little hope of returning to Darwin . But some of my former NT Women's Electoral Lobby colleagues and other friends managed to find emergency housing and became part of the long process of rebuilding lives and homes. Their conditions were awful; it could take all day just to get the most basic household things done. We evacuees on the other hand, were learning to overcome a sort of isolation we had never expected, though better placed than most refugees then or now.
So when I received an invitation, and an airfare, to attend an International Women's Year dinner in Darwin in August 1975, I thought it must be a joke, the thing seemed impossible. But no – it was the event of the year, held aboard the Patris, one of the passenger ships serving as floating hostel accommodation, with Margaret Whitlam in attendance. It was a great reunion and a tremendous occasion.
Celebrating thirty years later is a public recognition of all those whose work for women has improved the world. For me it is also a personal way to honour those amazing women in Darwin in 1975.
The Status of Women Committee of the Victorian Division of the United Nations Association of Australia was set up at the instigation of Mrs Ivy Brookes, daughter of Alfred Deakin, and an outstanding leader of the National Council of Women of Victoria. This was shortly after the formation of the Commission for the Status of Women by the United Nations in 1946.
The primary function of the Status of Women is to study the work of the UN Commission and to endeavour to apply its standards and recommendations. It had, consequently, been following the stages in the UN procedure which had led to the proclamation of IWY. The UN set the goals Equality, Development and Peace for IWY.
Ada Norris was President of NCWV at this time, and also Chair of the Victorian Status of Women Committee. She had been Australia's representative on the UN Commission on the Status of Women in 1963, and therefore had a good understanding of its work. Julie Dahlitz, a Victorian lawyer, was Executive Director of the UNAA (Victorian Division). They worked together in 1974 to set up a national committee to be focus for IWY. The Australian Government was asked for a substantial grant to facilitate this work, which was duly given.
The UN Commission on the Status of Women had not prepared a plan for work for IWY and Julie devised one which was forwarded to the Commission and accepted by it. Mrs Norris was elected chair of the Australian IWY Committee. Thelma Jarrett of Soroptimist international was the Secretary. The Committee comprised delegates from across Australia from the eighteen women's NGOs which had consultative status with the UN Economic and Social Council, through their international bodies. There were four liaison members from relevant government departments and a few other representatives from involved NGOS. The Committee was so successful that it was agreed to continue it for the Decade. Diane Alley, then President of NCWV took over the chair in 1980.
In 1981, 82, 83 the UNAA Status of Women Committee ran three very successful national conferences with highly qualified speakers: Women and Taxation ; Women and Technological Change and Women and the Year 2000. These were attended by women from around Australia.
The year 1975 was a highly memorable one for me. The new Family Law Act and its no-fault divorce, based on having to prove no more than separation, gave me the courage to end a long dysfunctional marriage. I took control of my own life for the first time and became a sole mother of my three children. I also commenced my first full time job, as a high school teacher in a non-government school. I had done the BA DipEd that led to this job as a part-time student over about seven years – unusual stuff in those days – and my studies were made socially acceptable because I smiled and said nothing at dinner parties when it was suggested that I was a dilettante student! Without articulating it clearly, even to myself, I had been readying myself for a life of my own.
Sisters in Suits
Something distinctive about Australia in 1975 was government machinery to ensure the needs of women were recognised and addressed in government policy. The women's adviser to the Prime Minister, Elizabeth Reid, had clearly articulated the need to monitor Cabinet submissions from across government—policy proposals were unlikely to be gender-neutral in their effect, given the different location of men and women in the social division of labour. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam supported the need for machinery in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet to analyse Cabinet submissions for gender implications ‘on a continuing and official basis.'
This was the kind of perspective taken by Australia to the First UN World Conference on Women in Mexico City and the preparatory meeting in New York. Out of these meetings came the World Plan of Action agreed to by UN member states. The Plan aimed to eliminate discrimination and promote the status of women, to integrate women in development and to increase the involvement of women in political life and international peace-making. For these things to happen, it was agreed, there must be national machinery to advance the status of women, as well as an international convention on discrimination against women.
During the UN Decade for Women (1976–85) many UN member states established some form of government machinery to advance the status of women—127 countries by 1985. Australia continued to contribute to international good practice in this area through the UN and other multilateral bodies. The Australian invention of women's budget statements, an early form of ‘gender mainstreaming', became influential internationally under the guise of gender budgets or gender-responsive budgets. By last year 165 countries had established government machinery and the early initiatives by countries such as Australia and Canada were being emulated in many parts of the world. Few, however, adopted the purple, green and white colours of the Pankhursts—a distinctive feature of Australian government publications for women from 1975.
E.G. Whitlam, Reply to Parliamentary Question on Women's Affairs, Commonwealth of Australia Parliamentary Debates, House of Representatives 9 October 1975: 1926.
Gough Whitlam remembers IWY
University of Western Sydney, Penrith Campus
Tuesday 8 March 2005, 10a.m. to noon
Nancy de Vries,
councillors from Campbelltown, Hawkesbury, Parramatta and Penrith, and staff, students, supporters and friends of the University of Western Sydney
Many of my Government's achievements, such as the abolition of university fees early in 1974 and the abolition of hospital fees late in 1975, were secured by initiatives in Australia. Many of my Government's other achievements, such as the status of women, were prompted by decisions in the United Nations and the United States. In April 1945 the Chifley Government had sent Jessie Street as an adviser to the UN Conference in San Francisco. She secured the insertion of the word ‘sex' in the clause ‘without distinction as to race, sex, language or religion' wherever that clause occurs in the United Nations Charter signed in June 1945.
On 2 December 1972, for the first time since 28 September 1946, Australia's electors gave the Australian Labor Party a majority in the House of Representatives. On 5 December Governor-General Hasluck appointed me Prime Minister and Lance Barnard Deputy Prime Minister. On 18 December the Federal Parliamentary Labor Party (‘Caucus') elected my ministers. Next day, 18 December in New York City, the UN General Assembly unanimously proclaimed that 1975 would be International Women's Year.
In Australia Federal Coalition Governments had failed to celebrate the International Year on Human Rights 1968 and the International Year for Action to Combat Racism and Racial Discrimination 1971. My Government made a special effort to implement the objectives of the International Women's Year before and during 1975.
The timing was auspicious. In June 1951 in Geneva the ILO had adopted its Convention No. 100 – Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value. Harold Holt, the Minister for Labour and National Service in the Menzies Government, tabled the convention in October 1953. The Menzies, Holt, Gorton and McMahon Governments took no steps to ratify it. On 24 October 1972 the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission commenced the hearing of an application by the ACTU for equal pay in Federal awards. The McMahon Government opposed the application. Submissions concluded on 29 November.
On 5 December 1972, at our first press conference, Barnard and I announced that an application would be made to the Commission to reopen the case so that the new Government could support the application. We briefed Mary Gaudron, who had graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours and the University Medal in Law, to appear for us on 8 December. The Commission unanimously accepted the principle of equal pay for work of equal value.
On 15 December, after the resignation of a presidential member of the Commission, I announced that Elizabeth Evatt, who in 1955 had graduated from the University of Sydney with first class honours and the University Medal in Law, would be appointed as the next presidential member and would take up her appointment at Easter. Elizabeth Evatt and Mary Gaudron were the first women appointed to a judicial position or briefed in a leading case by a Federal Government in Australia.
On 22 January 1973 the Supreme Court of the United States, in Roe v. Wade, ruled that the criminal abortion statutes of Texas were unconstitutional. After the Australian Parliament was opened on 27 February, the House of Representatives received scores of petitions on abortion. David McKenzie and Tony Lamb tabled a Medical Practice Clarification Bill for ‘General Business'. Under Standing Orders General Business had precedence over Government Business on alternate Thursday mornings. The bill was set down for Thursday 10 May. On 1 May Fred Daly, Leader of the House, pointed out that the general practice of my Government, contrary to the policy of the Coalition Governments, was to allow motions under General Business to be taken to a vote on all occasions and that on this occasion both sides would have a free vote. On 10 May Race Mathews moved an amendment that a Royal Commission, ‘of which the Chairman shall be a Supreme Court Justice and a majority shall be women, should enquire into and report within 12 months' upon six relevant issues. The amendment was defeated by 80 votes to 42 and the Bill by 98 votes to 23.
Meanwhile, in April 1973, Elizabeth Reid, a senior tutor in philosophy at the Australian National University, had been appointed to my personal staff as adviser on issues relating to the welfare of women. She monitored all Cabinet documents. She spotted an advertisement by the Department of Education for a teacher in the Northern Territory. The advertisement offered additional allowances and assistance in accommodation for the wife and children of a successful applicant. It had never occurred to the Department that a woman might apply. The advertisement had to be replaced by one offering allowances and accommodation for the spouse and children of a successful applicant. Thereafter the Public Service Board and most departments sought Reid's advice on submissions which Ministers were proposing to take to Cabinet.
On 15 June 1973 my Government ratified ILO Convention No. 111 – Discrimination (Employment and Occupation), 1958.
In General Business on Thursday 13 September 1973 Mathews and Don Chipp moved to appoint ‘a Federal Judge as sole commissioner to inquire into the social, educational and legal aspects of sexual relationships….'. Malcolm Fraser and my Minister Frank Stewart supported an amendment to appoint ‘commissioners to inquire into the family, social, education, legal and sexual aspects of male female relationships….'. The motion was defeated by 61 votes to 47 but the amendment was carried by 85 votes to 11.
It took much consultation to secure members and to draft terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Human Relationships. On 21 August 1974 I announced that it would be chaired by Elizabeth Evatt; the other members were the Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, Felix Arnott, and a prominent Sydney journalist, Anne Deveson. I attach the terms of reference.
Preparations for the Year
On 8 March 1974, International Women's Day, I welcomed the decision of the United Nations to designate 1975 as International Women's Year.
On 21 March 1974, as Acting Minister for Foreign Affairs, I announced that Ruth Dobson would be the ambassador to Denmark. She was the first woman career diplomat to be appointed an Australian ambassador.
At the double dissolution elections on 18 May 1974 my Government was reelected. Its sexist composition had been modified when Ruth Coleman, Jean Melzer and Joan Child were elected as senators for WA and Victoria and MHR for Henty in Victoria.
On 11 September 1974 I announced the membership of the Australian National Advisory Committee for International Women's Year:
Ms Shirley Castley – child welfare officer in Tasmania
Mr Barry Egan – Trade unionist
Ms Irene Greenwood – lifetime fighter for women's rights in Western Australia
Ms Ruby Hammond – member of various South Australian Aboriginal committees
Ms Jeanette Hungerford – Queensland occupational therapist
Ms Caroline Jones – extensive media experience
Mr J. H. M. Oswin – Secretary, Department of the Media
Ms Maria Pozos – active amongst migrant women in Melbourne
Ms Elizabeth Reid – my advisor on matters relating to women
Ms Ruth Ross – physiotherapist, active in many voluntary and women's organisations in the Wollongong area
Ms Diana Waite – experience in problems of women in remote areas, particularly the North West of Australia
Mrs Margaret Whitlam – journalist and former social worker.
I had to reassure a querulous member of the Opposition that no sitting fee would be paid to Mrs Whitlam.
I took ministerial responsibility for the Year's program. I asked the Committee to develop themes and programs for the Year which would be of benefit to all women in Australia whatever their cultural background, economic status, occupation, beliefs or ways of life. The Committee was to report by 31 March 1976 on its activities, the effectiveness of the Year's program and its recommendations for future action by the Government in relation to the aims of the Year.
The Budget on 17 September 1974 allocated $2 million to Government departments and non-governmental organisations for activities relevant to International Women's Year.
On 4 December 1974, the day before the House adjourned for Christmas, I presented a Green Paper on the Year.
On 10 December 1974 my Government ratified ILO Convention No. 100 – Equal Remuneration for Men and Women Workers for Work of Equal Value, 1951, and acceded to the UN Convention on the Political Rights of Women, 1953.
International Women's Year 1975
The first significant event of the Year was International Women's Day, 8 March, which was marked in the major cities by rallies, marches and receptions. I gave its history at a reception in Melbourne:
The history of International Women's Day is often traced back to 1909 when women garment workers poured out of every garment factory in New York, Brooklyn, Philadelphia and Chicago protesting against the sweatshop conditions under which they had to work. It was like a mighty army rising in the night and demanding to be heard. The response was violence, assault and arrest. Half the women were under the age of twenty. Their demands were for the organisation of all workers into trade unions, for equal pay for equal work, and eight hour day, a living wage and full citizenship for women.
Later in 1975 there were three major conferences, the World Conference for the International Women's Year in Mexico City from 19 June to 2 July, the Tribune for representatives of non-government organisations in Mexico City between the same dates and the Women and Politics Conference in Canberra from 30 August to 6 September.
I attach a list of the Australian delegates to the World Conference and a list of the Australians sponsored by the Government at the Tribune. Among those who attended the Conference in Canberra was Dame Enid Lyons, the widow of Joe Lyons, the Labor Premier of Tasmania (1923-28) and United Australia Party Prime Minister of Australia (1932-39). She was the first woman in a Federal cabinet (1949-51). After dining with Margaret and me at the Lodge she wrote that for the first time since she had left it 36 years earlier she had been made to feel at home there.
On 31 March 1976 the National Committee duly presented its report to Prime Minister Fraser, who tabled it on 25 May. The Royal Commission had prepared an interim report for Governor-General Kerr in January 1976. It was asked by Minister Withers to curtail its inquiry and to complete it by the end of the year. The Fraser Government could not terminate the Commission but limited its staff and resources. The Commission had to abandon some projects and to compress its work in other areas. It presented its final 1300 page report in November 1977 after the Parliament rose for a premature election. Fraser leaked some excerpts on incest during the election campaign and perfunctorily tabled the report a week after the new Parliament assembled. No action ensued.
On 18 December 1979 the UN General Assembly adopted the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. On 2 June 1983 Susan Ryan, the first woman in an ALP Federal Government, introduced the Sex Discrimination Bill to implement the convention. The Hawke Government ratified the convention on 28 July 1983 after 50 other states had already done so.
Australian Delegates to the World Conference in Mexico City
The principal event of the Year was the World Conference of the International Women's Year held in Mexico City from 19 June to 2 July 1975. Australia was represented by a delegation of fourteen, led by Ms Elizabeth Reid , with Mrs. Margaret Whitlam and Ambassador Robin Ashwin as Representatives. Other delegates were:
- Mr. P.J. Galvin, Co-ordinator, International Women's Year Secretariat.
- Ms S. Dowse, Senior Adviser, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
- Ms S. Castley, Member of the Australian National Advisory Committee for International Women's Year
- Ms M. Pozos, Member of the Australian Advisory Committee for International Women's Year
- Mr. A. Wilson, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Lima
- Mr. J. Campbell, First Secretary, Australian Mission to the United Nations, New York
- Ms P. Wensley, First Secretary, Australian Embassy, Mexico
- Ms S. Ryan, Executive Officer, International Women's Year Secretariat, (Member of the A.C.T. Legislative Assembly)
- Ms L. Manderson, Executive Officer, International Women's Year Secretariat
- Ms H. Robertson, Consultant, International Women's Year Secretariat
- Ms L. Lake, Prime Minister's Office
Australians sponsored by the Government at the Tribune in Mexico City
The Tribune was attended by about fifty Australians, ten of whom were sponsored by the Australian Government on the recommendation of the Australian National Advisory Committee. Those who attended with this sponsorship were:
- Catherine Allen VIC. Young Women's Christian Association
- Eva Bacon QLD Union of Australian Women
- Laurie Bebbington VIC Women's Officer, Australian Union of Students
- Pat Eatock ACT Fighter for aboriginal and women's rights
- Pat Giles WA Western Australia's first woman trade union official, Chairman of WA Anti-Discrimination Committee
- Leonora Howlett NSW.Artist
- Joyce McConnell ACT National President, National Council of Women of Australia
- Edna Ryan NSW Lifetime worker for women
- Vi Stanton NT Aboriginal welfare worker
Gail and the ILO
In 1975 I attended both the International Labour Organisation (ILO) Conference in Geneva and the United Nations Conference in Mexico City. I then went on to the USA to look at their equal employment opportunity programs. On my return to Australia I was appointed, in a blaze of negative publicity, to the newly created position of Director of Equal Employment Opportunity in the Australian Public Service Board.
The outcomes and importance of the Mexico conference are well known. The outcome of the ILO Conference, the Declaration on Equality of Opportunity and Treatment for Women Workers and its plan of action, are not so well known. Further, the importance of these documents in the development of equal employment opportunity and affirmative action programs appears to have been a well-kept secret.
I used these ILO documents as the basis of long and hard negotiations between unions, employers and Commonwealth government representatives. The result was the booklet, published in 1980 by the National Labour Consultative Council, called Guidelines for Employers: Equal Employment Opportunities for Women . Commonwealth departments and a number of private employers used these guidelines to introduce voluntary EEO programs.
The Hawke Government was elected in 1983 with the intention of legislating for affirmative action programs for women in the private sector and tertiary institutions and for EEO programs in Commonwealth employment. Once again representatives from unions, employer bodies and the Commonwealth government gathered around negotiating tables. To the surprise of some of the government representatives, the unions and employers said that agreement to the content of such programs would not be a problem, as long as it was to be in line with the NLCC guidelines - based on those 1975 ILO documents.
14 July 2005
From Marcia Langton
The Terry Castle article on Susan Sontag in the London Review of Books summed up the era of feminism for me – the thrilling, shocking, invigorating early feminism, the development of the generation divide, the starry-eyed young women who flocked around the fem superstars, the anabranch of dyke politics (feminist separatism), political correctness and the fem-stalinism of women's collectives (herstory, gynaecological politics etc), the dreadful hypocrisy of the feminist hyper-intellectual roadshows (Greer), the bizarre hybridisation of feminism, postmodernism and cultural studies during late feminism (Paglia), the bitchiness (Burchill) and the dawning realisation that, male or female, intellectual showbiz becomes tawdry and tedious after the first flowering, and especially in the hands of hacks.
Terry Castles is both cruel and kind, and the article is deeply touching in a way. But it unintentionally says so much about the cynicism of late feminism.
This very western potted history of feminism as a literary exercise is very much the view from privileged urban Australia but at the same time there are parallel feminisms developing all over the world ( Afghanistan , Iran , Africa ) with such pressing human rights, labour rights, global population displacement, slavery (involving women and children), sexual exploitation and development issues. Feminism is now heavily implicated in NGO and aid politics and delivery, and rightly so. Then there's the massive tragedy of the HIV-AIDS epidemic in the developing world.
The world has changed so much. How to represent all this? Perhaps another, wider event next year. There are some very groovy women in Africa and the rest of the world who might liven up the get-together (if they can get into fortress Australia ). How about women who made the heavy hitting interventions at the UN conferences on the rights of women? I do believe that it is important to find some affordable and timely way of representing the desperate need for progress in women's rights in some parts of the world.
Many young women in Australia need a wake up call – if Paris Hilton is their heroine, goddess help us.
Many thanks for the initiative.
Suiting the Women and Politics Conference 1975
While the 600 delegates to the 1975 women in Politics Conference all received an invitation to the Government Reception in Kings Hall of Parliament House in Canberra , not all of them complied with the request on the invitation to wear a 'lounge suit'
But seven Canberra women did.
Meredith Hinchliffe (L), Mary Sexton, Liz Kentwell , Kay Vernon, Kirsty McEwen, Jenny Neary and Gail Radford.
The Daily Telegraph (NSW) described ‘ Miss ' Meredith Hinchliffe of the Women's Electoral Lobby leading her ‘ girl ' friends into the reception in Kings Hall. Miss Hinchliffe stated that, 'the invitation is a truly thoughtful effort on the part of the men to make us feel at ease in the political arena. Nevertheless it has caused some inconvenience. Perhaps the men who have come, including Mr Whitlam (the Prime Minister), should have made a reciprocal gesture by bringing a plate'.
The fashion writer in the Sydney Morning Herald , Tess Lawrence, suggested that as a consequence of the faux pas , the lounge suit had been de-sexed somewhat. She went on to say that is was re-appearing as a leisure suit which is more casual in design, in the texture of the fabric and the colours. She described the leisure suit as being a compromise between suits and shorts and that the jackets and trousers could be bought separately. Ms Lawrence advised readers that these new fashion items would be available in speciality shops in late September.
Meredith Hinchliffe and Mary Sexton
At San Francisco in 1945
With Jessie Street as a guide, we can sense the hope and excitement that Spring in San Fran cisco , when 51 countries founded the United Nations. But it is the unexpected sights and scenes she provides that tell us most.
Forging an unexpected alliance, a group of women delegates from Brazil , the Dominican Republic , Mexico , Uruguay , Venezuela and Australia worked to secure a place for women in the work of the new organisation. The success of this small but effective ginger group is also evidence of rarely acknowledged connections between the new United Nations and the League of Nations , founded with just as much hope a generation before.
Jessie Street 's view of the plenary sessions in the grand Opera House, the meetings of Committee 3 next door in the Veteran's Building; and the planning and strategy sessions in corridors and cocktail lounges is an important account not only of successful strategy, but also of the place of women in international relations.
Reinventing Feminism – 1975 and Beyond
Building on my remarks in the introductory piece on the highlights of 1975, I propose to focus on the circular nature of feminism – that is, its intermittent re-emergence after periods of seeming quiescence, my own generation's experience of this and a stab at why this generally might be the case.
Then I'll move on to suggest a scenario for a more visible resurgence in the near future, what the demands of such a resurgence would be and how they might be addressed.
HOW THE MEDIA SAW IWY
A major objective of IWY 1975 in Australia was to change attitudes, of women to themselves as well as of men to women. The mass media were seen as central to this objective, both in their reporting about women and issues particularly relevant to women, and in the advertising they carried. The media reaction to the announcement of the year and the $2m funding allocated to it was hostile, reinforcing their generally scathing treatment of anything perceived as being ‘feminist'. As the year proceeded, coverage deteriorated further; trivializing, distorted reporting of events like the UN's IWY World Conference in Mexico and the influential Women and Politics Conference focussed on the negative and ignored positive outcomes. The extreme reaction demonstrated that the essentially male-dominated, conservative media felt threatened by women demanding fair treatment and celebrating their strength and creativity.
To some extent, IWY suffered from the general backlash against the Whitlam Government, which reached its peak in late 1975 in the lead-up to the dismissal. But the consciousness-raising effects of the year, as well as judicious use of grant funds, sowed the seeds for later, more encouraging media developments such as the use of less sexist language; improvements in advertising content; and greater employment of women in key editorial and decision-making positions in the media, and in the Australian film industry.
But in the current political climate and in a radically different communications environment, these gains could be eroded.
The IWY Health Conference
1975 really was a very important year for women, giving an immense boost to the processes of change which grass roots women's groups had initiated but were were struggling to get support. I was a member of the IWY Secretariat with the responsibility for Health and Welfare matters, so was very much involved in such issues as violence against women and among other things played a key role in setting up the Women's Refuge Program as a Government funded program.
I notice that the Women and Politics Conference is frequently mentioned in relation the IWY and rightly so it was a fantastic event and had many great outcomes.
It seems to have been forgotten that there was also a Women and Health Conference held in Brisbane on the University of Queensland campus which was attended by almost as many women and which gave impetus to significant changes in health deliver for women. Much of this is now taken for granted, but in 1975 health services was a major issue for women.
I am looking forward to the seminar and dinner and catching up with former colleagues. Congratulations to NFAW for organising a celebration of IWY.
That was My Life –1975 by Pat Eatock, GoomiGuyrie.
(a grandmother of the Guyrie or Kyrie people)
In 1972 I attended the 1 st National Aboriginal Land Rights Conference in Alice Springs and was closely involved in the Aboriginal Embassy. In the middle of this my marriage ended, and I later stood as an Aboriginal independent candidate for the ACT in the Federal elections that brought the Whitlam Government to power. In 1973 I was elected as Vice –President of the National Council of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Women in Townsville, and then started my university studies at ANU. In 1975 I attended the Women in Politics Conference here in Canberra and, later, the International Women's Year Conference in Mexico.
My memories of the Women in Politics Conference centered on a personal conflict between fulfilling my commitment as Rapporteur on the Women as Candidates Workshop and my participation in the Black Women's Caucus and Aboriginal Women's Issues section, where I had to defend myself from a major attack launched against my identity as an Aboriginal. Between these two issues, I ended up an emotional wreck! But, apart from personal matters, I remember most specifically the unsuccessful insistence of a small group of women who threatened a boycott of the conference unless it was opened with a Christian prayer ; and later, a group of racial extremists from western Queensland who called for all Aboriginal women to be forcibly excluded from any participation in the Conference! TRUE ! We were not supposed to be human or something!
Later, in August 1975, I attended the Non-Government Organisations section of the International Women's Year Conference in Mexico City . En route to Mexico and in the company of a politically diverse group of women, this Aboriginal heterosexual mother of six and Laurie Bebbington (from the Australian Union of Students) broke away and explored the city with the help of “The Gay Girls Guide to San Fran cisco”! Later, at the IWY Conference in Mexico we were all so proud of Laurie when, despite threats of gaol or worse, she was the most outspoken advocate of Lesbian issues.
The biggest disappointment from the Conference in Mexico was the way the Americans brought their internal squabbles about “leadership” and “the correct way forward for feminism” into the international arena and tried to dominate the agenda. The rest of us just wanted to learn about the experiences of others and to offer our support where we could.
Conversely, one of the best things from IWY was recognizing that, although we had had our share of squabbles and petty jealousies, most Australian feminists recognised that while some individuals had organizational talents, “leadership” per se was a male construct that offered nothing to feminism, and that work was needed on every front if women were to correct the imbalance against their participation and entitlements in a patriachal society. Because of this broad acceptance, Australian women were already actively seeking change through politics, the bureaucracy, academia and a plethora of grass roots organizations and activities.
In 1975 Australian feminist theory (and action) was leading the world!