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2015: the year that was in feminist news

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TW: sexual assault and harassment, gendered violence, misogyny, racism, queerphobia, transphobia, ableism

Here’s a round up of feminist news in 2015. A lot of it was awful – violence against women continuing unchallenged, male privilege going unchecked and feminist initiatives that continue to exclude women of colour, queer women, women with disabilities and trans women. BUT! Some of the news was good too. 2015 saw Australia have a conversation about domestic violence it hadn’t had before, some serious sporting prowess from Australian women and Saudi Arabia’s first election open to women voters and candidates.

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This year domestic violence became a focus of Australia’s broader mainstream media and the sheer size of the problem became more widely understood. The number of women and children affected, the scarcity of resources and the ingrained nature of the individual mindset and broader cultural norms that excuse and cover up the abuse all came into sharper focus. The reasons for this shift are numerous but perhaps the most obvious is the appointment of domestic violence survivor and campaigner, Rosie Batty, as Australian of the Year. The platform given to Batty’s very personal experience of domestic violence also gave her campaign greater visibility. Throughout the year Fairfax media ran its campaign Shine a Light in its major publications, while politicians and public figures spoke repeatedly of the need to develop solutions to gendered violence in Australia.

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In September, Chris Brown’s visa to Australia was denied due to his history of violence against women. Some believed the decision was misguided and inconsistent, with problematic racist undertones as it bought into the idea of a “foreign” threat (read: a black hip hop artist) at the expense of acknowledging that the real danger for most women comes from their own family or partner.

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In November, the ABC aired the two-part documentary, Hitting Home, looking at the complexities of domestic violence in detail. The series was rounded off with a special edition of Q&A that resoundingly debunked the MRA-favourite that one-in-three domestic violence victims is a man. ‘I don’t accept that statistic. I don’t know where it has come from,’ responded Minister for Social Services , Christian Porter. ‘This is a problem that is perpetrated by men against women and girls, almost exclusively.’

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The number of women who have been killed this year by a current or ex partner is currently at 79. Indigenous women, despite making up roughly 3% of the population represent up to 22% of those deaths. Violence against women of colour also occurred in our offshore detention centres. In March this year an inquiry into the Nauru detention centre found evidence of rape, and guards trading marijuana for sexual favours from female detainees. In October, a Somali asylum seeker on the island told authorities she had been raped and wished to terminate the resulting pregnancy. The botched response by the Immigration Department demonstrated the inability of offshore processing to meet the needs of the very vulnerable women in its care.

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In November, journalist Clementine Ford released screen shots of many of the violent, demeaning, and misogynistic messages she has received from men in response to her calling out of male privilege and the violence it spawns against women. In an unusual twist, one of these men lost his job with Meriton Apartments after his messages to Ford – in which he called her a slut – were made public. Ford received plenty of criticism for the move, in particular from Jack Kilbride at New Matilda, who reassured us that, yes, feminism’s main concern is men’s feelings.

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In sport, the Melbourne Cup had its first woman winner with Michelle Payne, the Diamonds won the netball final and the Matildas won the FIFA Women’s World Cup.

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Elsewherein the world, Donald Trump continued to be an odious buffoon. Somehow his campaign continues, despite belittling women, people with disabilities, and immigrants, while pouring out hate-speech against Muslims and Latinos. And just in case you’re feeling excited about what that means for Hillary Clinton’s chances, let’s not forget that her particular brand of feminism is yet to acknowledge its own racist, corporate and imperialist stripes.

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Meanwhile, as America ums-and-ahs over whether a woman can be president, Nepal and Mauritius both elected women heads of state, putting to shame the suggestion the Western world has a monopoly on gender equality.

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January saw the consecration of the Church of England’s first woman bishop and by March it had appointed two more.  However, gender discrimination in the church continues, with only half of the women currently in the clergy being paid for their work.

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In August, Amnesty International voted in favour of supporting the decriminalisation of sex work. Although the decision was met with considerable criticism, Amnesty maintains that decriminalising sex work will improve the health and safety of the workers, and help lessen the alienation and marginalisation experienced by many of them.

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In December, Saudi Arabia held its first elections in which women could vote and elected 18 women to municipal councils. One woman explained the significance of voting. ‘As a woman, I need some services, some needs in my neighbourhood, like nurseries. I need social centres for youth and retirement…So maybe the woman can concentrate more than the man on those needs.’ In the same month, Japan agreed to finance a fund for the Korean women sent to Japanese-run military brothels during World War II.  Tens of thousands of the women from the region were forced into sex-slavery on the front-line to provide sex to the Japanese soldiers. Japan will provide 1 billion yen ($8.7m) to the fund.

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In the meantime, gendered violence continued across the world. In December, the US police officer convicted of 18 counts of abuse against eight African American women demonstrated once again the prevalence of police brutality and the power structures in place that enabled him to assault as many as 13 poor, black women before he was reported and charged.

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November’s attack on a Planned Parenthood clinic was a stark reminder of the hostility towards reproductive rights that resides in conservative America.

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Politically motivated violence against women was also in the news earlier in the year following the shooting at a screening of Amy Schumer’sTrainwreck in July. The incident prompted discussion on the gendered nature of gun violence in the US. Schumer made a lot of headlines this year. As part of pop culture’s ongoing feminist moment, her television show was praised for its acerbic dissections of rape culture, male privilege and the objectification of women. But her work had moments of tone-deaf insensitivity towards trans people and sex workers, as well as the occasional blatant racism.

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A similar vein of white feminism was evoked when the nominees for the VMA’s were announced in July. Nicki Minaj’s critcism of the white-washed nature of the awards riled Taylor Swift, who decided Minaj’s frustration with the dominance of The White Woman Aesthetic was a personal attack on Swift’s own brand of girl-power feminism. Swift was wrong but by the time she realised she had already derailed the original conversation about racial inclusion at award shows.

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Caitlyn Jenner appeared on the cover of Vanity Fair in June and brought her particular experiences of oppression and discrimination to the pop culture discourse. While her stated mission to normalise trans lives is undoubtedly praiseworthy, her comments in December that looking ‘like a man in a dress…makes people uncomfortable’ demonstrated how pervasive the gender binary is.

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And finally, this month saw Sweden announce that every 16-year-old will be receiving a copy of Chimamanda Ngozi Adiche’s We Should All Be Feminists. The organisations distributing the text hope to open a discussion about gender equality. The essay, taken from her TED talk of the same name, defines a feminist as “a man or a woman who says, ‘Yes, there’s a problem with gender as it is today and we must fix it, we must do better.”

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That was 2015. It’s important to note that this is only a fraction of what could be included in a feminist news round up for 2015. Many women’s stories from the non-Western world are not included here. Also not covered are the stories closer to home that go unreported and undiscussed.  It is impossible to include everything here, but these stories deserve an audience. For regular feminist news round ups, click here.

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