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i got loud, and i loved it: a review of Vocal Majority’s ‘Let’s Get Loud’ conference

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‘When I was asked to come and be a keynote speaker for the first conference held by Vocal Majority, an organisation that champions the rights of women, I thought: thank God you’re here, it’s about time.’

Thus spoke Anne Summers at the commencement of ‘Let’s Get Loud: Gender, Politics, ACTION’, the first conference held by feminist lobby group, Vocal Majority. It has been far too long since an organisation devoted entirely to women’s rights has been formed (and has not euphemistically referred to themselves searching for ‘equality’ given that feminism has become such a dirty word). This sentiment was shared and passionately echoed by both panel members and attendees throughout the day and it started to seem possible that the marginalisation of women’s issues would no longer be tolerated. With statistics such as that one in three women are beaten or raped at least once during their lives, and that women earn 85 cents for every dollar a man earns, it is infuriating that feminism is deemed by many as no longer necessary.  We need to get angry, we need to get loud and Vocal Majority and organisations like it give us the tools to do so powerfully and effectively.

On Monday 22 April this remarkable group held a conference of talks and workshops which left attendees feeling informed, invigorated and surprisingly optimistic. I say surprising as it was pointed out by the first keynote speaker of the day, Dr Anne Summers, that many of the struggles and issues women and girls face today are similar if not identical to those of over 40 years ago when Gough Whitlam first put women’s rights on the national political agenda in 1972 . It would therefore be easy to become despondent towards the cause and to just accept that there will always be injustices such as the pay gap.

However, it is often in times of extremism and hardship that the warriors of just causes come out and fight. In fact, during World War 2 the resistance movements bent on fighting the Nazis were largely found in places where the brutality and horror was the worst, in Germany rather than in the neutral countries. Facing the more and more likely prospect of Tony Abbot as a future Prime Minister is mobilising young people to become more active. The recipe for success is a) inclusion (first and foremost we need to be present), b) equality (once we’re there we needed to be treated equally), and c) Respect (for example, Julia Gillard may have inclusion and equality but I can think of a number of times where she has been blatantly disrespected due to her sex).

The second keynote speaker, international lawyer Professor Hillary Charlesworth, added to this argument when she stated that progress isn’t linear and there are no easy answers to these questions. It can also be difficult to measure progress; 25 years ago there were two female heads of government in the world, today there are 15. This is certainly progress but has the gap between the sexes been breached? No.

Professor Charlesworth spoke about The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women formed by the UN in 1979 and how this particular convention highlights the need for equality not just for opportunity but also for outcome. This is a multi-layered issue affected by several factors such as that women in post conflict countries are on an unequal playing field compared to that of their first world counterparts.

I thoroughly enjoyed the first panel topic ‘Global Injustice and its Gendered Face: The Battlegrounds and Why We Must Fight’, featuring Kate Marsh, Julie McKay, Rebecca Sheehan and Mina Barling. Kate Marsh, the Public Liaison Officer for the organisation Children by Choice articulated problems surrounding abortion in very real terms: a safe and effective abortion costs approximately $500. A mother with at least one dependent child will receive $530 per fortnight from Newstart Allowance. An abortion would cost almost her entire fortnight’s income, leaving no money left over for rent, food, bills etc. Furthermore, the doctors that perform abortions in QLD are few and many of them are over 60 years old. In any other profession they would have retired long ago. However, in almost every other profession there would be someone else to step up and take their place. In this instance, there is no one.

There were three workshops on offer to attend in the afternoon, on Social Media Activism, Campaigning for Young Activists,  and Activism in Your Arena. I attended Social Media Activism which was facilitated by Clementine Ford. The two best pieces of practical advice I received were ‘know when to turn it off’ and ‘develop a thick skin’. I don’t think this advice can be over-estimated – the viral world is so easily accessible that we can sometimes forget that we can just walk away from it. What people may say about us is often vile, unfair and deeply wounding. But it does not have to factor into your sense of self.

I left this conference feeling connected and inspired. The myriad of issues discussed were all ones I feel strongly about however I had not had the tools to act powerfully on these feelings beyond ranting with like-minded friends.  ‘Let’s Get Loud’, among many things, gave its attendees practical advice and tools on how to take action – such as being clear and precise about what we want. For example, we don’t just want equality, we want equal pay. We don’t just want access to abortion, we want them to be inexpensive, safe and readily available. It is so important to call attention to these issues by writing to your local Minister, publishing articles on a blog or campaigning.

Now is not the time for despondency. Now is the time to get active!

By Emma Robinson

You can find out more about Vocal Majority through their Facebook page.

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