Well I’m back from the conference and it was very good and interesting. What I really appreciated most about this conference was the inclusion of many strong Black/indigenous feminist voices. The indigenous women speakers were amazing.
The first speaker on the first day (which we were late to, thanks to Dragort) was Judy Atkinson. Who has written a book called Trauma Trails. She was fantastic, incredible, passionate and funny as. She spoke of her frustrations with white male academic institutions and she told this really hilarious story about what she said to her white male colleagues at the university (they all sounded like a bunch of Phallosophers). You can read an interview with Judy here.
I bought her book Trauma Trails and am looking forward to reading it.
The other event that was herstory-making and so, so inspiring was the first panel on the third day. It was a panel of same-sex attracted indigenous women, the first time that indigenous lesbians have ever convened a panel of that nature in the herstory of this country. It was just so powerful. We were all crying from the stories that these women had to tell. They were all so strong, and so incredibly brave to share their life and experiences with us, mostly white feminist crowd. We were all on our feet clapping at the end of their panel, there was such an overwhelming depth of feeling created by that panel. I can’t describe it. Everyone who commented just couldn’t get past stammering our thanks. It was a very humbling experience, being in the presence of such courageous Black women.
I think that these two panels/speakers are the ones that have burnt themselves most firmly into my memory. I know that I’ll carry these with me.
But also of major note was Kat’s paper on the pornification of lesbian spaces. I met Kat long ago at the Townsville Feminist Summit. She was ‘queer’ back then and a little taken aback by radical feminism. I was probably very rude to her, I can’t actually remember, but I myself had only just dropped the ‘queer’ label and had gotten consumed by radical feminism.
Anyway we talked a little and swapped emails. She planned to attend the APEC protests and we planned to meet up and march behind a feminist banner. So we did, and got to know each other a little better.
When Kat was planning to write her paper on lesbian spaces she asked if she could quote my blog post about the same issue. I of course was very flattered. So when we met up again in Brisbane Dragort, Dissenter, Kat, Kat’s friend from Perth Heidi, and I kind of formed this little group and just talked heaps about everything. We went out for drinks after the Opening Ceremony and just hung out.
Our last day in Brisbane was Saturday and we got together in the park and talked for like 5 hours!!! And didn’t get bored!!! Then we went clubbing at a gay bar which was fun.
I also caught up briefly with Caroline Norma, another woman I met at the Townsville conference, but she wasn’t there for the whole conference so we didn’t get the chance to really talk.
I suppose I should recount this in order of how it happened.
Tuesday Night: Opening Ceremony
Had difficulty finding the venue. Were told to avoid the park. Too dangerous for us little women!!! Of course the Jagera Arts Centre was in the middle of the park.
A wonderful welcome to country.
Lots of brilliant indigenous performers. Really great women-centred atmosphere.
Dragort got Henna tattoos on her hands.
Met Kat and Heidi. Started connecting immediately.
Went out to drinks. I couldn’t believe that people paid $14 for a small amount of liquid in a fancy glass. I stood at the bar totally gobsmacked for a good long while. Um… I… don’t get out much.
Dragort spoilt my night by recounting all of my embarrassing exploits to Kat and Heidi. How rude!!! There is this story about Easter eggs that she tells EVERYBODY. It is so, so mean. Have decided never to introduce her to any of my friends again.
Got there late. Grr.. Dragort. Missed the welcome to country and another indigenous woman’s speech. Caught most of Judy Atkinson’s speech. She was brilliant: see above.
After morning tea there was a really fantastic paper by Bronwyn Winter, titled: Talked up and played down: The global rhetoric and realities of women’s lives. Really interesting examination of how while women’s rights are being championed by governments around the world, the reality of women’s lives keeps getting worse.
Lavender, a woman I met at the Townsville conference, was sick and was unable to give her paper on Intergenerational sisterhood. Very upsetting because Lavender is a really beautiful woman.
Ana Borges paper on ‘gender’ issues in education was interesting. Of course she highlighted the lack of any kind of gender awareness in many schools and pointed out the fact that gender is just a euphemism for boys. Phallic drift anyone, or is it just a wandering dick? (sorry: in joke for anyone who has read Radically Speaking). But it is too typical, when someone says, examination of gender, what they invariably mean is the examination of why gender is bad or limiting for boys. No one gives a shit about girls.
Merci Angeles’ paper Feminism Through The Eyes Of Filipina Urban Poor Women, was a very moving paper. I met Merci in Townsville. She is an incredible woman and she works unbelievably hard for the rights and freedom of women in her country. She is a member of a group of women in the Philipines called Peace Women Partners. Her paper was about sisterhood and community among Filipina urban poor women. Women who lived under bridges, alongside polluted rivers, getting shunted around by the government into houses built a long way away from any employment. She concluded with a poem which left many of us in tears. As I said, a very moving paper.
The next session was equally brilliant and eye-opening. Debbie Kilroy spoke with Kim Pate, both activists and advocates for the rights of criminalized women. Both staunch abolitionists of prisons and the criminal injustice system. They spoke of the conditions in prisons and of the way that women are mistreated. Debbie Kilroy runs a very successful Sisters Inside group, which is a support network of survivors of the criminal injustice system who work and advocate for women currently imprisoned. Very necessary and important work. Of course the Queensland government have made it difficult, currently the group is banned from going into prisons to work with women as the group was responsible for highlighting abuse happening in prisons which led to an enquiry. Of course the government did not like this being exposed so they banned advocate groups like Sisters Inside.
Kim Pate is the Executive Director of the Canadian Association of Elizabeth Fry Societies. The website seems to be down but there are some of Kim Pate’s speeches online here. She ‘attended’ the conference via Skype. Some kind of newfangled internet link up. She does similar work in Canada and says they face very similar problems over there. I found the abolition argument very compelling and I have to say that I completely agree. I have always felt that prisons were not good social practice. (DUH!!!) It is good to know that I am not alone in my opposition to them.
The last session was on women and poverty. I enjoyed Hirut Haile’s paper on The Effects of Married Women’s Access to Credit on Intra-Household Expenditure Responsibilities in Ethiopia. She wasn’t wholely positive or negative about the effects of credit, which I appreciated. I also got a lot out of Lillian Geddess’ paper, How much pain can a woman afford?
So that was the first day. Hope you all enjoyed the run down. Will blog about the rest of the conference. Later.