In the lead up to International Women’s Day, it is appropriate to take some time to reflect on the many amazing and talented women in our communities.
I have in the past, and continue to be, privileged to work alongside many of them. Others I have known as partners to ACON’s work, while others I have known socially. Whatever the setting or the connection, I am constantly blown away by these women’s strength, leadership and humanity.
Across the community, business, health, political, sporting and other sectors, women are making amazing contributions. ACON has honoured some of the women who work to advance the rights and resilience of LGBTI communities, but I also know of far more women who are actors for change in society more broadly.
We have some incredibly powerful and transformative programs for women in our community. Initiatives like Women Say Something, Lemons with a Twist, Dykes on Bikes, Older Dykes, the Sydney Femm Guild, Lantana Lesbians, LIPS, LISA, REAL, the Sydney Women’s Baseball League, etc. All of these groups lead the way in social inclusion, promotion of diversity, effecting change and giving a much needed profile to women’s issues.
However, unfortunately we still have a long way to go in breaking down sexism and gender based discrimination and in making sure the voices of women – from all of our communities – get heard. You only have to look at the lack of representation of women on our community boards, the disgraceful absence of funding for specific women’s health and well-being programs, and the way some women in our communities are aggressively targeted, particularly online, to recognise this.
Underscoring the importance of these issues are concerns about Australian epidemiological data on the health of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women, which remains inconsistent and inadequate. Where we do have the data, policy makers can be too resistant, uncertain or burdened with fear and ignorance to act.
Next week ACON and University of Sydney will be releasing the findings of the Sydney Women and Sexual Health (SWASH) survey, a critically important piece of research that gives insight into health issues relevant to lesbian, bisexual and queer women, including sexual health, violence, mental health, tobacco and illicit drug use, alcohol consumption and cancer screening behaviours.
We know this research uncovers several issues of particular concern, such as illicit drug use and cancer screening, which have persisted over time and where preventative targeted health interventions, preferably community owned, are urgently required. You can find out more information here: http://www.acon.org.au/SWASH.
As a gay man, I strongly believe that it weakens us all when the voices of women in our communities are not heard, and their health needs ignored. If we let this continue, then we all fail in our responsibility to each other. We need to advocate hard and loud, both within and outside of our community structures, in order to have women’s needs addressed.
Women have been incredible partners to gay men, not only in the ongoing struggle for equality, but for many years in the response to HIV/AIDS. Our relationships are privately strong, it is time they were publicly stronger.
In a speech delivered by Associate Professor Garrett Prestage of the Kirby Institute and the Australian Research Centre in Sex Health and Society on the 20th anniversary of World AIDS Day, he noted what it was like to experience the early days of the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia. Specifically, in relation to the role of lesbians, Garrett recalled:
“Gay men didn’t have a lot of allies at the time – everywhere we turned we were
being portrayed as disease-ridden, infectious, and immorally promiscuous drug-users.
But dykes stuck by us in ways we really had never stuck by them. Especially the nurses.
Lesbians cared for their gay friends when no one else would. They could have easily
distanced themselves from us, and said “We’re not like that – it’s just gay men”. But instead they stood beside us all the way. I don’t remember a single lesbian voice raised publicly against us – although there were a few crazy gay men that tried to condemn our community.”
While HIV has changed, these sentiments remain just as relevant today, for progress in women’s rights is progress for a more just and inclusive community for all.
Marking International Women’s Day in 2015, a year when ACON commemorates 30 years of service, I call on our rich and diverse community to stand together. Women’s struggles – particularly the struggles of lesbian, bisexual, queer, transgender and intersex women – reflect a broad and continuing struggle for us all. United we should stand.