Letter to IWD rally organisers: Organised harassment of women at International Women’s Day rally

Guest post by IWD Rally Attendees

For the second year in a row a group of us were harassed at the International Women’s Day rally in Melbourne.terf n swerf harassment instructions

This year the harassment dramatically intensified as a throng of bystanders who’d been given instructional flyers joined a trans identified male and sex industry activists in relentlessly attacking us.

 

The harassment was so bad we decided to write to the organisers to be sure they know the full extend of what happened and ask them what they will do to ensure our safety next year.

This is the letter we wrote:

ATTN: Melbourne IWD March organising collective

 

Tuesday 12 March 2018

 

To the organisers of the Melbourne International Women’s Day 2018 rally,

 

In the wake of the #metoo movement, women all over the world have been rising up and speaking out against male harassment and violence. We are a group of about 15-20 radical feminists who attended the IWD rally on March 8th, 2018 in Melbourne with the aim of continuing this struggle. We are of varying ages, class backgrounds and ethnicities; some of us are currently or have formerly worked in the sex industry; some of us are lesbians; two of us were accompanied by young daughters. We had prepared a number of signs to display at the rally with slogans including:

  • Safe streets for women
  • Women’s safety before men’s feelings
  • Safety for refugee women and girls
  • Name the problem: male violence
  • Porn hurts women
  • Radical feminism is back (never went away)
  • Womb-yn unite!
  • $$$ =/= consent
  • Porn is racist
  • Lesbians exist, lesbians resist
  • Biology = biology. ⅓ women experiences physical violence (Our Watch). Trans ”women” are men.

 

We expected that our signs would meet with some disagreement from other attendees of the rally. We know that our views are controversial and that not everyone agrees with us. We expected, nonetheless, that we would be able to express our opinions in a peaceful manner in a public space, to listen to the speeches, to participate in the march, and to enjoy spending time together and meeting other women.

 

This was not what happened. Instead, before the rally had even begun a young man seized and ripped up two signs held by an older lesbian in our group. Soon afterwards, while we were standing peacefully and silently holding our signs, individuals began to encircle us, obscuring our signs with their own, yelling and screaming at us, jostling and invading our personal space, attempting to rip our signs out of our hands, repeatedly calling us “fucking bitches”, telling us that we do not know what lesbians are and that we “deserve to be degraded”. A bottle was thrown at us, and a woman who was filming had her phone knocked to the ground. One or more bystanders attempted to help and also fetched a small number of women – presumably marshals – in union t-shirts who stood between us and the main aggressor but this was not sufficient to prevent the harassment as they remained largely silent. The crowd around us quickly became very dense, making it claustrophobic and overheated. It was impossible for the women under attack and those immediately surrounding to hear the speeches and to fully participate in the rally. The women accompanied by young girls were forced to move away as the girls were scared.

 

Subsequently, a number of men from the CFMEU joined the crowd around us, waving their flags in our faces and jeering. One of the women in our group overheard them discussing the fact that they had been asked by the organisers to attend in order to get between the radical feminists and our opponents. These men were all significantly larger than average in build. When the women moved to a different spot to get away from the CFMEU men, other harassers simply surrounded them.

 

We were peacefully expressing opinions that are important to us as well as to many other women. It is unacceptable that such intimidation and harassment was allowed to take place without intervention from you, the organisers. You had a responsibility to ensure the ability of all present to express their opinions without being faced with intimidation and harassment. Why did the organisers not intervene to prevent the intimidation while it was taking place? Why have you not responded to our questions and concerns since the rally, instead deleting our comments made to your facebook posts and blocking us from posting?

 

It is highly concerning that the organisers’ solution to the possibility of conflicts arising between radical feminists and others during the rally was to ask men to attend to separate the two groups. Quite apart from the fact that the men did not actually do this, instead crowding around us and contributing to the intimidation and harassment, it is extraordinary that supposedly feminist women could think it appropriate to deal with the possibility of conflict at a women’s rally by inviting men, and in particular men who were unusually physically intimidating due to their large build. Such a “solution” suggests a complete ignorance of the nature and history of women’s struggles against male violence and a total disregard for the physical and psychological safety of the radical feminists present.

 

We believe that the organisers we encountered were trying to do as little as possible in order to maximise the intimidation and harassment we received. They were trying to appear neutral but were biased from the start against us in favour of our harassers. Some woman in our group heard a female Marshall holding a pro-trans and sex work sign tell the CFMEU men to get between the two groups. Further, we saw leaflets being circulated at the march, advising how to “stand up to” “SWERF n’ TERFs” (a copy can be found here). The existence of this leaflet suggests that the attacks on us were not simply a spontaneous response to our signs from individuals in the crowd, but were planned. The organisers owed a duty of care to all attendees, including our group of radical feminists. The decision by the event organisers to place men of larger than average build between us and other groups, directly led to women feeling unsafe, intimidated and harassed. The decision to surround us with the CFMEU men cannot, in the circumstances, be classified as a reasonable step taken to discharge your duty of care obligation to us. Thus, it is likely that the requisite standard of care owed to us was breached.

 

The attempts of the harassers to prevent us from participating in the rally succeeded: apart from being unable to hear the speeches, we felt too unsafe, afraid, exhausted and upset to participate in the march that followed the rally. This outcome was a result of the consistent infringement of our right to peaceful protest throughout the rally. You as organisers had the responsibility to protect our right to protest, and you did not. Women’s voices were silenced by male violence, facilitated by women’s complicity.

 

We expect the organisers to affirm the right of all women to feel safe and to express their opinions at future International Women’s Day marches and all other feminist events you organise, and to send a message that intimidation and harassment are not acceptable tactics in the women’s movement. More concretely, we expect organisers to ensure the safety of all participants at such future events, and we expect to be able to march safely next year. Please send, by return letter, a list of actions that the organisers will put in place for 2019 to ensure our safety and the safety of all women and girls in attendance.

 

Signed:

The women who attended (not all have signed due to fear of retaliation):

  1. J. Harbinson
  2. M. A.
  3. C. O.
  4. M. R.
  5. M. C.
  6. L. R.
  7. Rebecca Kennedy
  8. Sarah Morrigan
  9. C. E.
  10. M. Parker
  11. B. Clarke
  12. Nina V
  13. Katherine H
  14. Beth Smith
  15. Chris Wilding

 

The letter was also signed by 100+ other women who did not attend the march.

At the time of writing the organisers have not responded to our letter.

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