Female resilience, intersectionality and survival.

Sinead Francis-Coan

This International Women’s Day, I’m celebrating female resilience, intersectionality and survival.

I am not a person who condones or believes in violence as an appropriate response. As a Green, one of our four pillars is peace and non-violence. And yet, there is an aspect of female resilience that is firm and assertive but not violent. A friend of mine has been training in martial arts and self-defence alongside his daughter. Recently this friend described to me how his daughter had been harassed and bullied by some boys at her school, and how she had been called into the principal’s office for using her self-defence skills to silence her bullies. My friend beamed with pride at his daughter’s response and reassured her that she had every right to stand up for herself. She said no, enough.

This got me thinking, how have I responded? Like most women, I have been harassed, dismissed, underestimated, the story goes on. As it turns out, metaphorically speaking, I have looked down at my two feet, and I have stood on them as solidly as humanly possible. I am now sick of looking down. I look at the inspirational and resilient women and girls all around me and see so much to celebrate.

But I have not yet faced question time in the Australian senate. Last year Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young was slut shamed by a male colleague in front of our entire nation. A male colleague who will now contest this very state election that I contest here in Newcastle. But this was not all. Women left, and continue to leave the Liberal party in droves meanwhile the Nationals were focused elsewhere on impregnating their staff and ‘Sugar Babies’. If only they’d stuck to riding horses. Minister for women herself Kelly O’Dwyer fended off attempts on her job barely 2 weeks into her maternity leave. Turns out resilience is necessary. What woman would enter politics at a time like this?

But there were positives. Greens Senator Larissa Waters became the first woman to breastfeed in the senate, the GST on women’s sanitary products was removed, women won all sorts of awards for the first time and Greens Mehreen Faruqi was the first Muslim woman to become an Australian senator. Why is this important? Because not all Australian women are white or Christian. This was a sign of our parliament shifting ever so slightly to reflect the people it governs for.

If you ask me who my feminist icons are (outside of politics), names like Michelle Law, Nakkiah Lui, Nayuka Gorrie and Ruby Hamad come to mind. These women have two things in common, a razor sharp sense of humour and they are all women of colour. If you don’t know who they are, it would be in your favour to start paying attention. Michelle Law is currently showing the first season of her hit show Single Asian female in Brisbane while Nakkiah Lui’s latest work, How to Rule the World is showing at the Sydney Opera House with the Sydney Theatre Company.

These women are skilled and unapologetically scathing, and rightly so. Voices like theirs have been locked-out of the mainstream media and even discussions of feminism. Feminism is ultimately a quest for gender equality, a quest which is not done until equality has come to all women. These women know the eyes of the next generation are on them.

I have also been inspired to see younger women leading the way forward. Greta Thunberg sparked a global uprising that saw millions of children around the world making their demands for climate action heard. Before, her, 12 year old Severn Cullis-Suzuki commanded the attention of the United Nations in 2008 for a whole 6 minutes, demanding action on climate change and Malala Yousafzai became a household name demanding equal access to education, putting her life and body on the line.

As a woman in my community and in politics, I stand on the shoulders of giants, and it has been refreshing and utterly invigorating to realise that the giant shoulders of tomorrow are already barging through the walls and glass ceilings of the patriarchy.

Sinead Francis-Coan is the Greens candidate for Wallsend for the 2019 NSW state election. 

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