Archive for the ‘Australasia’ Category

The Fiji Women Crisis has recorded the highest number of domestic violence cases this year compared to the last five years.

According to the statistics provided by the Crisis Center their Suva Office dealt with a total of 882 cases this year compared to 760 cases last year and the most significant increase in reported cases was domestic violence which increased from 371 last year to 553 this year.

Deputy Co-ordinator, Edwina Kotoisuva said this is the highest number of recorded cases for domestic violence over the past five years and that while they believe more women are coming forward to report such crimes there is a possibility that the levels of violence are increasing.

Kotoisuva said while there has slight increase in rape and sexual harassment cases recorded at the center, there has been a decrease in what they called Other’s category due to the fact that women are able to access information and support.

An survey has shown there are more than 100 children under 18 working in Fiji’s sex trade.

The report, by the International Labour Organisation, says there are an increasing number of children involved in child labour.

It says more than 500 children are involved in the worst forms of child labour in Fiji, including drug trafficking, commercial sexual exploitation and collecting and handling scrap metals and chemicals.

The ILO says although the majority of respondents started sex work between the ages of 15 and16 years, the survey also found that some started as early as 10 years old.

More than half of the child sex workers interviewed were living at home with their parents or guardians.

The outcome of a trial against a Cairns couple for procuring an abortion has turned the tables on the Department of Public Prosecutions and the Queensland government.

The Cairns jury swiftly returned a “not guilty” verdict on October 14 and the question now being asked is “what real crimes are exposed by this case?”

For many, the real crime is the fact that the anti-abortion laws from 1899 have not been repealed.

Judge William Everson at one stage in the trial referred to the archaic nature of the laws and defence barrister Kevin McCreanor explained in his closing statement “like most things designed by mankind, the law is not perfect”.

McCreanor said the laws under which the Cairns couple was charged began in 1861 in England and were enacted in 1899 in Queensland. Safe terminations of pregnancy by medical means were unknown at the time, he explained.

He said politicians have not changed the law in 111 years and now the state government had persisted in prosecuting this young couple.

But he said the state government did not control the courts. It would be the combined wisdom of 12 women and men of the jury that would determine the couple’s fate. And they did. They found that the couple was not guilty of a crime for making this choice.

A real crime is that access to abortion drug RU486, which is listed on the World Health Organisation’s list of essential medicines, was severely restricted in Australia for 10 years while many other countries made it available.

In 1996, the government of former prime minister John Howard, in exchange for Senator Brian Harradine’s vote to privatise Telstra, removed RU486 from Australia’s standard drug approval process. The use or import of RU486 was prohibited without the personal permission of the federal health minister.

It took 10 years and concerted campaigning until, in February 2006, a private members’ bill across party lines in the federal parliament overturned the Harradine amendment.

Doctors in Australia could now apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to prescribe and supply RU486.

But no Australian drug company has tried to market RU486 in Australia.

Women seeking to terminate pregnancies have been denied access to safe drugs that are used around the world.

It is a crime that, depending on where a woman lives in Australia, her choices regarding both medical and surgical termination of pregnancy varies widely. If RU486 were available nationally, it would help reduce unequal access to abortion services for Australian women — especially rural women.

By criminalising drugs and services that only women need to access, the Queensland government upholds the idea implied by the 19th century law makers, all of whom were men, that women must be protected from themselves.

Prosecutor Michael Byrne used similar arguments in his closing statement in the Cairns trial. He said the law was required because some people needed to be protected from themselves.

Byrne compared the crime of taking the abortion drug and its potential complications to someone shooting a gun in a crowded room — even if it did no harm, it is still a crime.

The courtroom public gallery groaned at this.

It was an analogy that tried to criminalise women who make the decision to not continue with a pregnancy without “authorisation, justification or excuse”, as outlined in the criminal code. Byrne described the young woman’s decision as a “lifestyle choice”.

The prosecution’s distinction between illegal “lifestyle” and legal “life threatened” abortion drew heavily on conservative views about women’s sexuality and reproductive rights. But the right of a woman to control her own fertility is not a “lifestyle” choice: it is a fundamental human right.

Restrictions on abortion, such as those in the Queensland criminal code, can easily become forms of intimidation.

Anti-abortion laws make women’s choices more difficult to realise. They are in direct opposition to the idea that women can be trusted to make autonomous decisions about what happens to their own bodies. They say the state knows better about what should happen to a woman’s body than she does.

This is why these laws should now be repealed. Women’s choices about what happens to their own bodies must be respected if women’s equality and autonomy is to be respected.

In fact, the real crimes in this case are too many to list. They also include the nightmare that the young couple has endured from when they were charged in April 2008 until their acquittal on October 14. They include the fact that a Queensland government Taskforce on Women and the Criminal Code recommended in 2000 that these laws be repealed and the government took no action for the past 10 years.

One of the disappointing aspects of the trial was that there was little cross-examination of the police witnesses. No one asked who decided, between discovery of the evidence of the empty blister packs by a police search in early February 2008 and the interview of the couple on March 30, to proceed with anti-abortion charges in April 2008.

A deciding factor in the verdict was Everson’s direction to the jury about the meaning of “noxious”. Under the Queensland Criminal Code, it is an offence for a woman to “administer to herself any poison or noxious thing” to cause a miscarriage.

Byrne had argued for a more old-fashioned definition of “noxious” as “injurious, hurtful, harmful or unwholesome” and that a noxious substance would be intended to cause the expulsion of the fetus from the woman’s body and change the state of the woman’s body. In contrast, the judge defined “noxious” as “harmful or injurious to health or physical well-being”, but said that it must be “noxious” to the woman, without reference to a fetus that may or may not be present.

The jury had to decide if the prosecution had proved beyond reasonable doubt that the drugs taken by the young woman were harmful or injurious to her health or physical well-being. The judge cited the evidence of an expert witness Professor Nicholas Fisk, who had stated that RU486 was not harmful to the person taking it.

The dust is settling from the Cairns trial and the lay of the land is a little clearer for all to see.

The Queensland government has avoided its responsibility for repealing the anti-abortion sections of the state’s crimes act. It said the Cairns case was not about legal abortion and tried to mask the real issues by lying about drug importation and unsafe medications.

The government says it can’t win support for repeal on the floor of parliament. But a jury drawn from a small regional city in the far north of the state saw through these lies, as do many more Queenslanders.

A protest outside the Cairns courthouse, where a vigil tent had been set up, provided a place for many in Cairns to show their support for a woman’s right to choose. And many hundreds did.

The community campaign bodies that have been active over the past 18 months in Queensland — Pro Choice Cairns, Pro Choice Queensland and Pro Choice Action Collective in Brisbane — have all vowed to continue the campaign to completely decriminalise abortion.

See earlier postings

See also: Queensland doctors call for abortion law certainty
Queensland’s abortion laws are a barrier to a doctor’s first duty – best patient care, the Australian Medical Association says.

Women can’t stop rape. We’ve been trying for decades.

From the early days of the women’s movement in the late 1960s and 1970s, feminists have launched anti-rape campaigns. But, while rape crisis centres continue to promote the message that rape is not a women’s issue – rather it’s a social problem that can only be rectified by a change in the male mentality into one that acknowledges men’s power to stop rape – few people seem to be listening.

In Australia, we’ve seen evidence of male sexual violence inherent in Rugby League and several elite boys colleges, while in Canada, photos of the gang rape of a teenage girl were posted to Facebook.

According to the NSW Rape Crisis Centre, one in five women in Australia will experience sexual assault at some time in their life. Seventy per cent of sexual assaults are committed by someone the victim knows, such as a family member, friend or workmate. Of the remaining 30 per cent of sexual assaults most are committed by a person the victim meets socially or goes out on a date with. For one in 10 adult women who are sexually assaulted the perpetrator will be their current or past intimate partner.

Why these men believe it’s ok to rape or sexually assault a woman or girl is bound up in conceptions of gender normativity and the imbalance of power between men and women that flows from such assumptions: Masculinity is associated with dominance and virility while femininity is deemed passive. Men’s sexual prowess is regarded as something ‘natural’, while women’s sexuality must be controlled.

One of the negative outcomes of the current obsession with ‘raunch culture’ is the slut-shaming of women and girls who dare to be sexual – sometimes with many different partners; who dare to explore their sexuality and desires – sometimes in public.

A recent example is the ThinkUKnow campaign created by the UK Child Exploitation and Online Protection (CEOP) Centre and developed by the Australian Federal Police and Microsoft Australia. While its motives may be honourable – protecting young people from unwanted images of themselves being distributed without their consent – the delivery is not. A short video, ‘Megans Story’ shows a teenage girl walking into class happy and confident after ‘sexting’ her boyfriend. Her confidence turns to shame and humiliation as the sext is forwarded to her classmates and teacher, and she runs out of the room in tears. The message is clear: If a boy behaves inappropriately (by forwarding a private sext of his girlfriend), the girl is to blame, not him.

This is a spin-off of the victim-blaming mentality that says a woman was ‘asking’ to be raped because of what she was wearing, or because she left a party with a group of men.

When are we going to see a prolific national campaign to educate boys and men that it’s their responsibility for not raping or sexually assaulting girls or women? When is it going to become a mandatory part of the school curriculum to teach boys from a young age that it’s not ok grab a girl’s breasts or genitals unless she explicitly gives permission? When are we as a society going to redefine what ‘makes a man’ and reject the hyper-masculine qualities that see women violated sexually as an activity that bonds ‘real’ men together?

Let’s be clear: The rape of women by men is not about men’s uncontrolled lust – it’s about power and domination that stems from fear and hatred of the female and the feminine.

On 29 October national Reclaim the Night rallies will be held across Australia and other parts of the world in which women march through the streets to protest against men’s sexual violence. These events first took place internationally in 1976 and the fact they still need to happen today is a sad indictment of men’s refusal to acknowledge and use their power to stop rape.

Some men have made an effort in this area, such as Men Can Stop Rape, an international organisation that aims to redefine masculinity by mobilising men to use their strength for creating cultures free from violence, especially men’s violence against women, but they are few and far between.

By and large, preventing rape is still put on women’s shoulders. Well-meaning college campuses distribute advice to female students on how to avoid being sexually assaulted: don’t get drunk or stoned, don’t leave a party with a group of guys or alone, carry a whistle. The problem is, it’s all about controlling women’s behaviours, not those of men.

A Facebook friend recently circulated a document that turns the tables and offers “100 per cent foolproof tips to prevent rape/sexual assault”. It includes helpful suggestions to potential rapists such as: “Use the buddy system: if you are not able to stop yourself assaulting someone, ask a friend to stay with you when you are in public” or “When you see someone walking by themselves, leave them alone!”

Facetious as some of the advice may be, it’s a stark reminder that there is only one way to stop rape: Don’t do it.

Katrina Fox is a freelance writer and editor-in-chief of The Scavenger

Believe it or not, abortion is still illegal in most of Australia! And a young couple in Cairns, Queensland is being prosecuted for “procuring” an abortion through the use of RU-486, a drug that is commonly prescribed in the U.S. For decades, Australian officials didn’t take action against women who chose to terminate a pregnancy. But under pressure of the international “Right to Life” movement, including groups that originate in the U.S., the right of women to control their own bodies is under tremendous attack.

Radical Women in Melbourne, Australia is part of a nationwide organizing effort to get the charges dropped against the Cairns couple and to get anti-abortion laws off the books. You can help by signing the online petition at Please forward this message to your friends and promote it on your Facebook and MySpace pages and Twitter account. The deadline for signatures is October 1.

To read more about this issue and the October 9 National Day of Action Rallies in Australia, please visit the Radical Women website at There you can download a petition to circulate, endorse the nationwide Day of Action, and read more about the Cairns case.

National Radical Women
625 Larkin St. Ste 202, San Francisco, CA 94109
Phone 415-864-1278 * Fax 415-864-0778

See also: Happy Women’s Rights Day!

The reaction by abortion opponents to Labour MP Steve Chadwick’s proposed decriminalisation bill has revealed a sea change in their attitudes, said Di Cleary of the Women’s National Abortion Action Campaign.

“To a man, anti-abortionists have not responded by calling publicly for an outright ban,” she said. “Instead, they say they just want fewer abortions – a position that blows their whole ‘sanctity of life’ argument out of the water.”

Ms. Cleary said the main anti-choice groups have all stated in one way or another that they oppose Chadwick’s proposal because it might lead to more abortions.

“This position also contradicts their oft-stated claim that we already have de facto abortion on demand in New Zealand,” she said. “Their response has been muddled and inconsistent at every turn.”

Ms. Cleary said WONAAC was proud that the proposed bill closely resembled the woman’s choice position the group adopted and fought for in the 1970s.

“Over the last 30-plus years since the current laws were passed, many millions of dollars have been spent on consultants’ fees, court cases and administrative costs,” she said. “We opposed the laws then, and everyone agrees now that they don’t work.”

Ms. Cleary said anti-abortionists were focusing on the issue of later-term abortions because they had no coherent argument against decriminalisation.

“Late-term abortions have always been available, but extremely rare – and their rate would not increase after decriminalisation. It is simply lunatic to suggest women will wait to have abortions at 24 weeks,” she said.

Research involving more than 1000 Australians has found the vast majority — 87 per cent — support allowing abortion in the first 12 to 13 weeks, comprising 61 per cent who said it should be legal at this stage and a further 26 per cent who would allow it in certain situations. But qualified support persisted even for later stages of pregnancy, with 12 per cent of those polled saying abortion should be permitted in the second trimester and a further 57 per cent under certain conditions.

Although nearly half, or 48 per cent, of respondents thought abortion in the third trimester should be illegal, an equal proportion was prepared to allow it — 6 per cent without qualification and 42 per cent in set circumstances.

Victoria decriminalised abortion in 2008, but the procedure remains a crime in at least some circumstances in every other Australian jurisdiction except the ACT.

In Queensland, Cairns woman Tegan Leach is expected to reappear before the state’s courts this month charged with attempting to procure an abortion. If convicted, she could face up to seven years’ jail.

Ms Leach is understood to be the first woman to be charged with the offence under a 111-year-old clause in the Queensland criminal code.

Her partner, Sergei Brennan, is charged with supplying drugs to procure an abortion.

The poll, conducted by research firm Crosby/Textor and published today in the Medical Journal of Australia, also found that in only five of 16 specific examples of why a woman might seek an abortion did respondents believe a doctor performing the procedure should be struck off or face other professional sanction.

Lead author of the MJA article Lachlan de Crespigny, associate professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at the University of Melbourne, said abortion laws in most parts of Australia were complex and differed from state to state, leaving women and doctors unclear about their rights and obligations.

A spokesperson for NSW Attorney-General John Hatzistergos said the state’s laws, which allowed abortion in certain circumstances, “provide the right balance”.

Even if Julia Gillard never gets to move into The Lodge, Australia’s first female prime minister will have a profound effect on the standing, expectations and limitations that have long held and often shackled women.

Gillard announced on Thursday, after taking over the Labor leadership, that she would not move into the PM’s official residence unless she won the election. Practical and politically smart – who’s got time to move when you have just become PM and are months out from a tough election battle? – and typical of Gillard.

But while the euphoria around her triumph is intoxicating, will her supporters wake up with a nasty hangover? If Gillard fails to win the election, will she be seen to have set back the cause of feminism?

Sex Discrimination Commissioner Elizabeth Broderick doesn’t doubt that Gillard’s achievement will raise the expectations and ambitions of young women.

”Her elevation sends a message that there is no public office that is out of reach of women. As my daughter [12] said to me yesterday after breathlessly telling me we had a female PM. ‘Mum that could be me!”’

The Melbourne headquarters of Emily’s List, the group that Gillard, Joan Kirner and others founded to get Labor women elected, has almost sold out of its ”Future PM” T-shirts for girls. Hutch Hussein, the group’s national co-convener, says Gillard’s winning the highest political office of the land ”speaks volumes about the position of women in society”.

”There is probably no other vocation with as many barriers for women. More so, to have a woman from a working-class background with power to make decisions over the shape of our society,” Hussein says.

Broderick says Gillard’s rise is more of a game-changer than other female pioneers, including Governor-General Quentin Bryce and Australia’s first elected woman premier, Queensland’s Anna Bligh. ”[This is] because it is arguably the most powerful position in our country and power is a trait often attributed to men, not women.”

Former Victorian premier Joan Kirner says she and former WA Labor premier Carmen Lawrence were ”one-offs”. Gillard’s rise is fundamentally different in that there is now something approaching a critical mass of women in Australian parliaments, says Kirner – almost 30 per cent federally.

Kirner says Thursday’s triumph was underpinned by groups such as Emily’s List and women including herself and Gillard pushing the ALP to adopt affirmative action. ”It was clear that unless we had affirmative action, women like Jenny Macklin and Julia Gillard were going to be frustrated in their attempts to be elected – so she was both a gate-opener and she walked through the gate,” Kirner says.

Kirner also notes that the scrutiny on Gillard’s hair, reproductive and marital status has lessened from three years ago. ”Comments like, ‘well she’s childless’, that offends not only many women but also many men. That’s ’70s talk,” Kirner says.

”Women are now seen as making their own choices … Julia Gillard’s not only made it, she breaks the mould. She doesn’t have a marriage partner, children … That would have caused a revolution 20 years ago!”

Lawyer Moira Rayner, a former equal opportunity commissioner, says Gillard has managed to get to the top without becoming ”one of the boys” or needing a patron. ”Julia’s her own woman and has learned a heck of a lot from the women who have gone before,” Rayner says.

Gillard herself has been at pains to not play up her feminist credentials, a smart political tactic, couching policies on principles of fairness, inclusion, hard work, opportunity and productivity. She has said repeatedly that she got into politics to make a difference, not to be the first.

Political scientist Lindy Edwards says Gillard has persuaded the Labor Party that gender doesn’t matter. ”But the question is whether she can convince the general public”.

Lauren Rosewarne, a social and media researcher who lectures in public policy at the University of Melbourne, says acclaim for Gillard – even among young women – is not universal. ”On social media like Facebook and Twitter there’s a mix. Some young women are criticising her appearance,” Rosewarne says with exasperation. ”We can be our own worst enemy, but there are also positive posts from women my age [20s] and younger who are seeing it as a huge victory.”

Edwards says that in 2006 Gillard had more support than Rudd but ceded him the top job because of Labor’s reservations about a woman in the role. (Joan Kirner disagrees on that point, saying Gillard and Rudd needed each others’ numbers.)

”It’s worth remembering all the nastiness that came out from inside the Labor Party in the 2006 contests, about a childless woman being unelectable,” says Edwards. ”What they did [Thursday] was a very high-risk strategy, but there was overwhelming confidence that if anyone could pull it off it would be Julia.

”After 2½ years in the job they are seeing her competence not her gender.”

Broderick says the only risk she can foresee in Gillard’s rise, apart from the inevitable extra scrutiny given to her personal appearance because she is a female, is that some might take the view that because we now have a female PM, gender equality is ”finished business”. ”We need to keep the debates and messaging around pay equity and other areas of inequality very much alive,” Broderick says.

Catherine Marshall, a Sydney-based journalist for Jesuit Communications, doesn’t doubt that Gillard is the best qualified for the job, but is uneasy at how all this feminist ”backslapping” has obscured the ”brutality” of Rudd’s political assassination, and how feminists are being asked to overlook that.

”If the knives were out for Julia Gillard, would we then be saying ‘this is happening because she is a woman’ or will we be man enough (pun intended) to act as equals and take it – because Julia Gillard will not be exempt from that kind of treatment,” Marshall says.

Commentator and writer Helen Razer shares that uneasiness, saying it is dangerous to celebrate this as a ”victory” for women and feminism.

”First, this diminishes the real victory which, in my view, is of a civic-minded pragmatist over a cultural conservative. Second, it reduces the aims of feminism to that of amassing trophies,” she says.

Razer says that many battle fronts – equal pay, equal representation, and domestic violence to name a few – remain. ”I couldn’t, in this moment, be happier that the ALP has a leader that may take real action on industrial reform and indigenous rights … And, I’m hoping that she will demonstrate some feminist mettle. This will only be observed in her policy; not in her appointment. So, I’m reserving my ‘You Go Girl’ sentiments for a future date.”

All the women interviewed emphasise that regardless of the symbolism of Gillard’s appointment, Gillard stands or falls on her policies and politics.

”It’s not her gender that will determine whether she is a good PM, although it may help,” says Kirner, who believes Gillard is ”normalising” women in power.

Rosewarne warns, however, that she’ll have to do that while still batting ”idiotic” questions about her appearance and womb, and carefully calibrating how she projects power and aggression.

The concept of being a ”backstabbing bitch” doesn’t affect men in the same manner, Rosewarne says. ”For a man to backstab, it’s a game men are meant to play in politics because politics always seen as a men’s game. For a woman to do that it’s seen as sly and underhanded.”


See also:
* From Greer to Gillard
* Australia’s new prime minister takes her place beside 18 other elected female leaders. But does a woman at the top make any difference to the lives of ordinary women?

Decriminalisation of New Zealand’s sex industry has resulted in safer, healthier sex workers, a new book by University of Otago, Christchurch, researcher Gillian Abel shows.

Since decriminalisation seven years ago sex workers are more empowered to insist on safe sex, Abel’s book “Taking the crime out of sex work – New Zealand sex workers’ fight for decriminalisation’’ shows.

Abel is a senior lecturer at the University of Otago, Christchurch’s Public Health and General Practice department.

She edited the book with Lisa Fitzgerald (a former Otago University, Christchurch, health promotion lecturer) and Catherine Healy (with Aline Taylor).

They interviewed 772 sex workers for the book.

Abel says the book provides compelling evidence decriminalisation has achieved the aim of addressing sex workers’ human rights and has had a positive effect on their health and safety.

Decriminalisation has also provided sex workers with more tools to manage their work environment. With knowledge of their employment rights, brothel workers are better able to assert these rights with brothel operators and clients, Abel says.

The relationship between sex workers – particularly street workers – and police has improved, the book shows.

They are more likely to report violence against them to police, Abel says.

Despite vast improvements in the safety of sex workers since decriminalisation, there is still work to be done, she says.

There is still stigma associated with the job.

Government social policies need to be improved to protect those aged under 18 entering sex work, such as freeing up access to the independent youth benefit. Likewise, greater support is needed for transgender youth, who are particularly vulnerable to being drawn into the industry, Abel says.

The book can be bought from

For further information contact:

Gillian Abel.
University of Otago, Christchurch
Tel: 03 3643619 / 021 337 240

Or Kim Thomas, Senior Communications Advisor
University of Otago, Christchurch
027 222 6016.

A total of 2,753 women were victims of violence in the decade 2000-09, according to Tonga Police statistics that show on average 23 women per month come to police to report an incident of physical or sexual violence; and last year four women died in domestic incidents.

“The majority of these victims were assaulted in the domestic environment – ‘the home or safe environment!’ and without doubt nearly all the attackers, the offenders were known to the victims,” said Tonga’s Police Commander Chris Kelley today, in opening the National Consultation Process on “Advocacy Strategies for Advancing Legislative Change to address Violence against women”.

Commander Kelley said that, perhaps, an anti-violence curriculum is just as important as reading, writing and arithmetic in schools and that Tonga Police are looking to introduce a schools programme over the next two years.

“My point is that look to the starting point, look at when, how, where it might begin, in the sons of today are the traits of the men tomorrow,” he said.

“If you are to review the concepts of violence against women, endorse findings in local research, develop strategies, introduce new laws, initiatives, you need to identify at least one important point. Where does it begin? What stimulates the act of violence against women here in Tonga?” he said.

“In my opinion it’s a learned behaviour perpetrated in peer pressure. Yes, it’s a power thing, a control mechanism but I don’t think you are born with a gene labeled ‘domestic violence’ – you learn from others, regrettably.

“If your son sees his father assaulting his mother and getting away with it, is it OK?

“If your son is encouraged to indulge in school fighting because of some misguided honour, or his father and grandfather did it, is it OK?

“If the availability and consumption rate of alcohol plays a major part in domestic violence, is it OK?

“If you have a wife and family but little or no relationship skills then is it OK?

“If it’s not appropriate to assault your mother and sister but it is alright to assault your wife or other women, then is it OK?

“We all know it’s never OK!” he said.

Commander Kelly said that the ten years of statistics referred to grievous bodily harm, to rape, indecent assault, injury and wounding, but these statistics did not include intimidation, threats or psychological and emotional abuse.

“The reported rate of violence against women has climbed from 113 in the year 2000 to 404 in 2009. Now, well over one report each day of a serious assault incident against women is made by women.”

He said that the courts have entered convictions in 1304 of those 2,753 cases, or 47%. Other cases were withdrawn, acquitted or still under investigation and pending trial..

These statistics don’t include murder and manslaughter, which reached a peak in 2009 when four women died in separate domestic incidents.

“Remember I am quoting you reported crime. What about the unreported figure and %. I don’t know what that figure is – who does?

“Don’t fall into the trap of changing the law for change sake but I strongly believe the law needs to reflect the rights of women and children and recognize their special place in society,” he said.

“If we are to introduce new laws we must look at ways that will benefit women and children, protect women and children – not just punish men, because that hasn’t been too successful if you accept the reported statistics,” he said.

Tonga Police are introducing a domestic violence response policy in July this year and a draft will be discussed in the seminar. A feature of the police Domestic Violence Response Guidelines is the ‘No Drop Policy’ for reported physical assaults.

“Police will seek feedback on the draft policy before introduction – that process will help contribute to positive outcomes for this consultation,” Commander Kelley said.

He added that these issues are not peculiar to Tonga, not indigenous to this country, not a reflection of every male in Tonga today. “Acknowledgment is one thing, acceptance is another, acceptance that change is required will be the key to progress.”

The consultation was organised by the Pacific Regional Rights Resource Team of the Secretariat of the Pacific Community (SCP) in partnership with the Women’s Affairs and Culture with the aim to improve legislation to protect women and to develop appropriate policy and legislation in Tonga. Over four days this week the participants will review existing general assault laws, discriminatory provisions and practices in the areas of violence against women and develop practical strategies for legislative change in the area of violence against women.

Women in the Asia-Pacific region are lagging behind most of the world with little economic power, political voice and legal rights, while their reduced status is depressing economic growth prospects in developing nations.

Those are the conclusions of the U.N.’s Asia-Pacific Human Development Report, which was published on Monday to mark International Women’s Day.

The report ranked the region near the worst in the world — often lower than sub-Saharan Africa — on issues related to women’s employment, parliamentary participation and property ownership.

“The key message (of the report) is that to meet any development goals that a society sets, you need the full participation and involvement of women,” Helen Clark, head of the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) told AlertNet.

“The fact is that when women do have equal rights, it is very good for the society they live in and it is very good for the economy they live in, so there are many levels on which we should be promoting equal rights for women.”

Asia-Pacific is currently losing an estimated $89 billion every year due to the lack of women in the workforce, according to the report titled: “Power, rights and voice.”

Clark said raising the rates of women in the workforce to levels in developed countries would certainly raise the annual gross domestic product (GDP) of many of the countries in the region.

In countries like India, Indonesia and Malaysia, conservative estimates show that GDP would increase by two to four percent if women’s employment rates were raised to 70 percent — comparable to the United States, the report said.

While many women in the Asia-Pacific region have benefitted from improved education, health and prosperity, they continue to face barriers to the same opportunities available to men.

Almost half the adult women in South Asia are illiterate, more than any other region in the world, and women in this region can expect to live five years less than the world average of 71 years, the report said.

Asia-Pacific women also hold only a handful of legislative seats — fewer than anywhere else in the world except the Arab region — with the Pacific sub-region accounting for four of the world’s six countries with no women parliamentarians.

Those who do manage to gain a voice at local or national level face trouble.

“Women politicians, particularly those with extra vulnerabilities of poverty or association with marginalised groups, have been killed, raped or faced physical threats for challenging the status quo,” the report said.

It cited an example of a village council in India where male members spread stories that female members were sexually promiscuous, harassed them with obscene phone calls and made sexual innuendoes during meetings.

The report added that legal rights of women were also lacking with laws related to property and assets biased in favour of men.

While agricultural jobs account for more than 40 percent of women’s jobs in East Asia, and 65 percent in South Asia, only 7 percent of farms in these regions are controlled by women, compared to 20 percent in most other regions of the world.

It said that the lack of property and asset ownership left women in vulnerable to poverty, with no control over household finances.

Few countries have also adopted laws prohibiting violence against women and nearly half of the countries in South Asia and more than 60 percent of those in Pacific have no laws against domestic violence.

UNDP’s Clark called on policymakers to make it a priority to correct gender imbalances.

“Human development cannot be achieved if 50 percent of the population is excluded,” she said.

Fiji’s new Crime Decree will be harsher on prostitution, penalizing not only those who make a living off prostitution but also those involved in prostitution-related activities.

According to Fiji Times Online, under Fiji’s new Crime Decree, those who make a living off prostitution are liable for a jail term of six months while people caught hiring prostitutes can get jail terms of up to 12 years.

In addition, anybody found operating a brothel, or services which procure prostitution are liable for prosecution with the penalties being harsher when the crime involves people under the age of 18.

Also, anyone residing with a prostitute is also liable.

However, according to the report, the Fiji Women’s Crisis Centre says bringing in tougher laws will help ease the problem of prostitution but will never eradicate it.

According to the report, the Centre’s coordinator, Shamima Ali, says that even if the new laws with its harsher penalties take away the sex workers from the streets, “there is a very high chance that prostitution will go underground”.

She said the level of poverty in some areas was extreme, and the Centre was aware of cases where wives took up prostitution in order to take some money home.

“The men usually stay at home waiting for their grog and cigarette money, and the women provide for the whole family including sending the children to school,” she said.

The new Crime Decree comes into effect in February.

Forty years after the second wave of the women’s liberation movement began there has been a major slide in consciousness about women’s rights and the continuing need for women to struggle for them. Since the demise of the movement in the late 70s women have been the target of a sustained ideological campaign, or a ‘backlash’ as that has been aimed at weakening feminist consciousness.

The most important aspect of the backlash message is that on the one hand women have broken down all the old barriers and therefore don’t need to worry about old-fashioned feminist ideas. Liberal feminists point to individual examples of women who have ‘broken through’ the glass ceiling thus proving that any woman can make it in a man’s world if they have the talent and determination. However, the weakness of the liberal perspective is that it doesn’t recognize the structural limitations imposed on women under capitalism, rather focusing on the piecemeal approach of gradual reform. While they may admit that the majority of women are still concentrated in lower-paid jobs and bearing the double-burden of paid work and housework, these isolated ‘issues’ simply become more grist for further campaigns for reform, they don’t recognize that these conditions are fundamental to capitalism and therefore cannot offer a way forward.

The other major element of the backlash message is that the women’s liberation movement has left women holding a poisoned chalice – now that women have all the freedom and equality they could possibly want they either don’t know what to do with it resulting in confusion and depression, or they went too far following their dreams of a fulfilling career and missed the boat on the ultimate prize – motherhood and marriage. Thus more and more women are realizing that you can’t be a ‘superwoman’ and have everything and logically the extraneous part of a woman’s life is her broader social role and is the first to get sacrificed. There is a constant supply of books and magazines discussing why women are ‘opting out’ of the ‘rat-race’ in order to find true fulfillment in their roles as mothers and housewives.

Of course the media never venture to question why it is that women do find it difficult to juggle motherhood and a career, for example lack of affordable, quality child-care, paid maternity and paternity leave etc, etc, simply shunting the responsibility of working out the balance onto individual women. Furthermore, the bigger question of why so many people, male or female, hate or simply tolerate their paid work is ignored, trying to answer that question might call into question the nature of system and the meaningless and lack of control that most people find in their paid work. And while Susan Faludi originally identified the key elements of the backlash message in the early 90s, an article in the US Socialist Worker critiqued the results of a survey that had come up with the exact same backlash conclusions – in October last year! In reviewing the results of the survey entitled ‘The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness’ self-help guru Marcus Buckingham claimed that “though women now have the liberty to choose whichever life they’d like, many are struggling in their pursuit of a happy life”. But as the author of the article notes “maybe the declining numbers of women who consider themselves happy … represents women who are unhappy not because these victories were won in the past, but because they are being pushed back in the present” for example by “the fraying of the social security net, the turbo-charged misogyny of pop culture” etc.

However the predictability of the bourgeois media in pushing the same old line for more than two decades also gives us a clear indication of the arguments that we need to take up, through our internal education and also through our publications and in any campaigns that we may get involved with. Firstly, the most important task is to convince a new generation that women are still the oppressed sex. Secondly, to convince women that the only way they really can ‘have it all’ is to get rid of capitalism, the ultimate barrier to women’s liberation while at the same time struggling for reforms, and against attacks on women’s rights, in the here and now.

In order to understand women’s oppression we need to look at the big picture and uncover the long view of women’s history, only then will we be able to see that seemingly disconnected fragments connect into an ancient storyline that has been replaying itself over and over again for thousands of years.

If we want to understand the issue of women’s oppression we need to start with the family. Today the image of the happy (and in Australia nauseatingly white) nuclear family is absolutely everywhere we look. It goes without saying that when a politician announces a new policy it’s pitched as being in the interests of ‘working class families’ or ‘Australian families’. The image of the family is used to sell everything from cars to Weet Bix, which apparently has been “building Australian families for more than 50 years”. In fact you could say we are living in a culture that seemingly idolizes and adulates the family, perhaps we will be seen by future anthropologists as the ‘family cult’ culture.

But while it can seem as if everybody who is anybody is living within the cosy confines of the family the facts are seriously out of kilter with the image. For example currently about a quarter of all households are composed of one person and this proportion is expected to increase to one third by 2026. Furthermore the “proportion of total households comprising families with children has steadily decreased over the last 20 years”. Furthermore behind the airbrushed perfection of the ads and comforting conservative rhetoric of today’s politicians, lies the reality of nuclear family as often being a private hell rather than comforting haven, for example in 2002 46% of all marriages ended in divorce, domestic violence is the most likely cause of preventable death for women under 45 and there were 55,000 cases of child abuse and neglect recorded in 2008.

So why aren’t the images and policy changing to fit the reality?

article continues at

Holiday care has fallen through the cracks of Australia’s childcare debate but is looming as a flashpoint in workplace relations, as parents and unions push for greater flexibility.

Women’s groups are demanding a Productivity Commission inquiry into school holiday and before and after-school care because of the long-term impact on working mothers and families.

While holiday care is usually juggled by parents using a mix of relatives, friends and commercial programs, it is typically women who opt out of paid work or take lower-status, less-secure jobs to cover the eight-week gap between a worker’s annual leave and 12 weeks of school holidays.

Women will regularly trade away pay, conditions and workplace prestige for jobs beneath their educational and professional levels to cope with holidays, said Dr Sara Charlesworth, an RMIT expert in industrial legislation and part-time work.

”They will choose part-time work and trade off job quality in many instances so they are able to manage the sometimes insurmountable issue of vacation care,” Dr Charlesworth said.

”The problem is there is not a central regulator for before and after-school care or vacation care so we don’t know what the shortfall [in supply] is.”

ACTU president Sharan Burrow agreed parents had been left high and dry on the holiday issue, although new national employment standards gave them the right to request flexible working arrangements, which could help some balance their work and family responsibilities.

”Possible arrangements during school holidays could include changed starting and finishing times, part-time work, or working from home,” she said. ”There is also a clear need for more access to affordable services such as school-holiday care programs. Unions will be campaigning for more of these services this year.”

Many union-negotiated collective agreements also include options such as 50/52 arrangements, where employees gain additional annual leave in return for a salary reduction.

”If we value women’s participation in the workforce, we have to provide more services and options to enable mothers to seek employment,” Ms Burrow said.

The National Foundation of Australian Women wants the government to tackle the childcare imbalance because of its impact on women’s financial wellbeing and retirement funds.

”It’s high time attention is focused not only on childcare for children under school age, but also on the needs of school-aged children,” the foundation told a recent government inquiry into the collapse of ABC Learning Centres.

”The lack of availability of affordable, accessible, acceptable-quality care for school-aged children (6-15 years) out of school hours, including during vacations, is a major cause of disadvantage in relation to women’s workforce participation.”

Part-time work affects immediate pay rates, advancement to better-paid positions and the likelihood of poverty in retirement, the group warned.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports that 42 per cent of working couple families use some childcare for schoolchildren aged five to 14 years.

The main sources are grandparents (18 per cent) and before/after school care (11 per cent). No exclusive statistics have been gathered on the demand for and use of formal and informal vacation care.

In Europe and the United States, working families have traditionally used summer camps to cover the long school holiday breaks, but it is a fledgling industry in Australia struggling with parental resistance to costs and the idea of children being left in the care of strangers.

New State Government regulations enforcing health and safety standards and ratios of carers to children on long-stay or day-care vacation programs have caused some operators to close down or cancel programs this summer.

Many private operators contacted by The Sunday Age reported a 10 to 15 per cent drop in bookings as families cut back in the wake of the financial crisis.

A push by doctors and pro-choice activists to have abortion decriminalised in Queensland has been formally refused.

State Attorney-General Cameron Dick has officially responded to 4368 petitioners who called for Queensland to remove abortion from its Criminal Code in the wake of a Cairns couple being committed to trial for procuring an abortion.

“The Premier has made clear that the government has no plans to undertake a wider review of the general abortion laws,” Mr Dick wrote in his response, tabled in Queensland parliament on Christmas Eve.

“Any move to change the legislative provisions concerning abortion would have to be introduced as a private member’s bill and be subject to a conscience vote. The Premier has indicated that she would not seek to bind any of her colleagues to a particular position.”

More than 6000 Queenslanders signed an opposing petition arguing to keep the legislation as it is.

The abortion debate was reignited in Queensland with the laying of criminal charges against Cairns couple Tegan Leach, 19, and Sergie Brennan, 21, for allegedly procuring an abortion using drugs imported from Ukraine.

The pair were committed to trial in September. If convicted, Ms Leach faces up to seven years’ jail and Mr Brennan a maximum of three years.

The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has pushed for abortion to be decriminalised in Queensland. There was also concern among doctors that the laying of charges against Ms Leach and Mr Brennan would mean medical abortions — as opposed to the surgical termination of pregnancies — would be illegal.

The Bligh government moved to clarify the law and amendments were passed in September to extend legal protection to those medical practitioners who carry out medical terminations.

Mr Dick’s decision has attracted praise from anti-abortion groups and criticism from those who are pro-choice.

Australian Christian Lobby chief of staff Lyle Shelton said the decision showed “integrity” on the Bligh government’s behalf.

Queensland is one of the few states to retain criminal sanctions against abortion on the statute books.

Caroline de Costa, the Cairns-based professor of obstetrics who suspended her abortion service using the drug RU486 after Ms Leach and Mr Brennan were charged by police, said the Attorney-General’s decision meant Queensland was out of step with the rest of Australia.

“Keeping (abortion) in the Criminal Code means it’s a grey area for the public and also for doctors,” she said.

Last week we have observed another White Ribbon Day. Laudable statements have been made by the heads of our government agencies, celebrities, and politicians that violence against women will not be tolerated in New Zealand.

The Stop the Demand foundation has reminded us in their press release “that we have recently witnessed a litany of cases of women callously murdered, some of whom were raped either before or after their death. We think of:
* Marie Davis (15, of Christchurch)
* Jashana Robinson (16, of Titahi Bay)
* Emma Agnew (20, of Christchurch)
* Joelene Rangimaria (21, of Titahi Bay, mother of two)
* Sophie Elliott (22, of Dunedin)
* Tisha Lowry (28, of Christchurch)
* An An Liu (28, of Auckland, mother of “Pumpkin”)
* Rebecca Somerville (35, of Christchurch)
* Leanne Kingston (39, of Papakura, mother of four)
* Helen Meads (42, of Matamata, businesswoman and mother).

We have witnessed a parade of husbands, former partners or boyfriends, neighbours, and strangers – across ethnicities, ages, occupations – some in business suits, charged with acts of violence arising from rage, jealously, possessiveness, sexual obsession and self-obsession.”

Kiwi Party leader Larry Baldock said, “I am reminded of one of the darkest days of my political life, June 23rd, 2003, when our House of Representatives passed the Prostitution Law Reform Act by 60 votes in favour, 59 against and I abstention.

By the slimmest of margins possible we passed a law in this country declaring prostitution to be a legitimate form of work for women. Despite Parliament’s misguided attempt to make sex work safe for women, it is and will remain, the breeding ground for violent acts and attitudes towards women.”

“New Zealand’s new law was considered out of step with moves in many other nations around the world. They were passing laws to criminalise those engaged in the purchase of sexual services in an attempt to reduce the demand that has been fuelling the massive increase in the trafficking of women and children across national boarders for sexual slavery.

“Later in 2003, Gordon Copeland and I co-sponsored a CIR Petition to promote a referendum seeking the repeal of the PR Act 2003. Along with other organisations and volunteers we collected just over 200,000 signatures in 14 months before the petition lapsed.

“This week on behalf of Kiwi Party president Gordon Copeland, and all our Board members, I renew our party’s commitment to ensuring that a referendum is held to give every Kiwi a chance to give their support to overturning the law that was passed by such a slim margin,” said Mr Baldock.

Speaking recently at the Family Forum in Auckland Prime Minister John Key said, “The reason I voted against the prostitution law was that I had to look NZ parents in the eye and say what message am I trying to send, and I wasn’t satisfied that the message that said its ok for your kids to be involved in prostitution, or for their children to be involved in prostitution was the right one because I don’t think it is.”

This week John Key issued his statement in support of White Ribbon Day saying that “it makes a strong statement that violence against women will not be tolerated in New Zealand.”

He said, “I’d like to acknowledge the thousands of New Zealanders who support the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women and who are speaking out to end abuse against women. I’d also like to thank the many organisations – like Stop The Demand – taking a stand on this issue.”

“Prime Minister I agree with you that the Prostitution Reform Act was the wrong message to send to the nation. Now that you are in charge of our Government I call on you to have the courage to take a stand on your convictions and alter this wrong message you acknowledge was sent by Parliament when it passed the Prostitution Reform Act.

“The elimination of violence against women will never be achieved when we pretend that sex work is an acceptable career choice for any woman in this country. If men are given the legal protection of the state to purchase women as objects for sexual pleasure, it is inevitable that violence toward women will increase,” Mr Baldock said.

The therapeutic support will be offered to 12 to 16-year-olds as part of an expansion of services offered by the NSW Rape Crisis Centre.

Minister for Women Linda Burney said the online support group would complement face-to-face counselling and other clinical care.

“This is the first time an online group like this has been used in Australia,” Ms Burney said in a statement.

“It targets young people with a tool they are familiar with – the internet – and will ensure effective and sensitive responses to their terrible trauma.

“Irrespective of where they live, they will have support and assistance from a peer support group and a counsellor.”

The online trial is one of three new services being offered by the NSW Rape Crisis Centre after a $616,000 funding boost from the NSW government.

The centre is also increasing telephone counselling hours and face-to-face counselling services in metropolitan and rural areas for those who have suffered childhood sexual assault.

Rape Crisis Centre executive director Karen Willis said the expansion of services will help address additional demand.

She said that in 2007-08 the centre received 7,029 calls, up from 2,927 received in 2004-05.

“We don’t think that relates to an increase in violence,” Ms Willis told reporters.

“All the indicators are that means more and more of those who experience sexual violence are making decisions to seek help in their recovery.

“We also know they are reporting to police … and that’s a really good thing.”

NSW Health Minister Carmel Tebbutt said the government would contribute an additional $80,030 to the Rape Crisis Centre to cover the establishment costs for the new services.

Most counsellors in NZ rape crisis centres and other non-medical work have been shut out of fast-track claims for sexual abuse victims under the final version of new rules.

As indicated in earlier drafts by the Accident Compensation Corporation, it will pay for counselling for sexual abuse victims from Monday only when they have a mental illness listed in the US Diagnostic and Statistical Manual Version 4 – abbreviated to DSM-IV.

Unexpectedly, the final version of the new “clinical pathway” sent to counsellors this week also says that the only people qualified to give a DSM-IV diagnosis are psychologists, psychiatrists, and psychotherapists and medical practitioners – suchas GPs – who have a a DSM-IV qualification”.

This definition appears to exclude all 272 ACC-registered counsellors who belong to the Association of Counsellors and work in rape crisis centres, church and other community agencies and in private practice.

Susan Hawthorne of the Psychotherapists Association, said it was also likely that only a minority of New Zealand’s 450 psychotherapists had a “DSM-IV qualification”.

“We haven’t heard of such a thing,” she said.

She said ACC had told her it meant “a tertiary-level paper where DSM-IV is explicitly taught as part of the qualification, followed by continuing use in practice”.

Associate Professor Stephen Appel of Auckland University of Technology, which teaches the country’s only masters-level psychotherapy course, said use of DSM-IV had been part of that course since it started 20 years ago.

But Ms Hawthorne said many psychotherapists had trained before the AUT programme started, or trained overseas.

“If they [ACC] had said, ‘We are going to organise training courses,’ that would be more credible,” she said.

“I feel quite devastated, to tell you the truth, quite stunned.

“It’s incredibly disrespecting that they haven’t taken on board many of the points that we’ve made, and that in this final version there are some things that they hadn’t even forewarned us that they were thinking about.”

The new pathway still allows any counsellor to lodge claims for sexual abuse counselling.

Bit it says only those with a diagnosis from someone with a “DSM-IV qualification” will be “fast-tracked” to a decision within a week.

All other claims will require a second assessment by someone with a DSM-IV qualification and will be decided within six weeks.

The pathway also provides that funding will start from the date a claim is approved, with no backdating for the waiting period.

Elayne Johnston of the Association of Counsellors said a six-week delay would harm many victims.

“What we can see happening is that they are going to be exposing their story and then left high and dry while someone else makes a decision on whether their claim is upheld or not.

“If that takes some weeks, we could well see an increase in suicides,” she said.

But Dr Lyndy Matthews of the College of Psychiatrists said there was no evidence that long-term counselling was an effective treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder – the most common DSM-IV diagnosis given to sexual abuse victims.

“While more generic forms of counselling can be a very reparative form of therapy, and healing in terms of providing long-term relationships, that is not the same as effective evidence-based treatment.”

Sexual abuse claims

ACC receives 550 claims a month for sexual abuse counselling.

It spends $56 million a year on sexual abuse claims.

Tighter rules for counselling took effect on Monday.

ACC says the changes are not about cost-cutting but aim to give survivors treatment reflecting the latest evidence.

In early September, most abortions performed in Queensland health facilities came to a halt. The Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists had passed on a legal opinion to their members that said doctors were still at risk of prosecution while abortion remained in the criminal code.

Meanwhile, the ALP state government moved changes to section 282 of the criminal code. The changes widened the legal defense for doctors that perform abortions if the woman’s life is at risk. Both medical and surgical terminations are now covered.

However, abortion remains a crime for the doctor, the woman and any person assisting, such as nursing staff, under the law. For this reason, Queensland doctors have not resumed performing terminations of pregnancy.

For the past six weeks, Queensland women have had their access to safe terminations restricted. Some have travelled interstate or overseas to access abortion services.

This kind of “abortion tourism” is common in countries like Ireland or Poland, but it hasn’t existed in Australia for many years.

Queensland premier Anna Bligh has restated her opinion that abortion is a private matter, but has resisted calls to make the legal changes to allow this.

The recent charges laid against a young Cairns couple for procuring an abortion have shown that Queensland women have absolutely no right to privacy to make a decisions to end a pregnancy.

The couple has had their names and pictures splashed across the mainstream media.

A Cairns nurse, who wished to remain anonymous, told Green Left Weekly many health professionals fear women have been deterred from accessing abortion services through the health system because of the publicity surrounding the Cairns court case.

This creates the dangerous potential for more young women to procure abortions outside the health system rather than consulting a doctor.

As in the past, women with greater access to money might be able to organise their own travel for a termination while poor women often pay with their lives.

Having to travel miles away from home also can raise suspicion for family and friends and can deny a woman any privacy in accessing a termination.

GLW spoke to another Cairns resident, former British MP Dr Peter Jackson. In 1967, Jackson was the whip on David Steel’s abortion bill. The bill liberalised access to abortion in Britain. He was also a member of the British Abortion Law Reform Association.

He said he is “amazed that Queensland still has a 19th century statute criminalising abortion and that a young woman and her partner are being charged in Cairns with the attempt to terminate her pregnancy.

“Frankly, I find it difficult to believe that in this day and age, the state in which I have chosen to live and in which I expect to die — I am 80 — denies women the right to choose as to whether they wish their pregnancy to go to term.”

Jackson said now is the time to take action in Queensland. With motivation and organisation the groundswell of public support on the issue can be tapped to make sure Queensland law respects, and doesn’t continue to violate, women’s rights.

He also said politicians should not be fearful of the small minority of religion-inspired anti-choice voters. In the 1970 election, after the abortion reform bill was passed, his constituency had the smallest swing against him in the whole northwest of England.

In fact, Jackson predicted the Queensland ALP faced a greater electoral risk if it did not show leadership on this issue, particularly from women voters.

The ALP’s failure to decriminalise abortion, as women’s rights activists demand, angers most Queenslanders.

The Cairns nurse said: “I think that there are people with power who are having a huge impact on women’s lives. The current government seems to lack the strength to change legislation to reflect up-to-date medical practice, which is all the more disappointing given that the premier is a woman.

“If this issue were affecting middle-aged white males, then no doubt legislation would be swiftly changed.”

See also:
* Women seeking abortions at public hospitals in Queensland will be advised to seek their own legal advice before receiving a medical termination in a step labelled “frightening” by one of the state’s leading gynaecologists.

The poll of 800 voters, conducted exclusively for The Courier-Mail, found 64 per cent believed abortion should be legalised, while 31 per cent disagreed. Five per cent were uncommitted.

Despite the results, Premier Anna Bligh has consistently refused to decriminalise abortion, saying she does not have enough parliamentary support.

The poll, conducted last week, comes as public hospital abortions in Queensland remain suspended, except in cases where the mother’s life is at risk. Queensland Health obstetricians have been sending women requesting abortions at less than 18 weeks’ gestation to private clinics within the state.

Women seeking late terminations are being referred to centres in Darwin and Melbourne.

At least some of the terminations are being paid for by taxpayers, with Queensland Health agreeing to foot the bill.

Public hospital obstetricians may launch a test case in the Supreme Court as early as this week to force the establishment of a legal precedent regarding abortions which involve severe foetal abnormalities.

But legal advice suggests this could only be done if the doctors are unable to refer a woman elsewhere.

Obstetricians say this is a distinct possibility in the short-term, as private facilities become overloaded with public hospital patients who frequently request terminations late in a pregnancy.

About 300 of the estimated 14,000 abortions performed in Queensland each year are done in public hospitals.

Cairns obstetrician Caroline de Costa said the latest poll results were not surprising.

“Other surveys have shown a majority of Queenslanders believe that women should have access to safe, legal abortion,” Professor de Costa said.

Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists’ president Ted Weaver said the poll should prompt the Bligh Government to legislate to support the wishes of society.

“I think it’s really up to the government to work out a way forward,” Dr Weaver said. “The ball’s firmly in the government’s court.”

Queensland public hospital obstetricians say they are unlikely to resume performing terminations until they receive written assurances from the government that they are “supported and indemnified”.

Queensland Health did not comment.,27574,26072582-3102,00.html