Recent Resources for Feminists
Australia: Gender pay gap begins in childhood, pay-secrecy widens the gap in the workplace Print E-mail

 Melbourne ~ Tuesday March 8, 2016\

Girls get less pocket money

By Caitlin Fitzsimmons /Money Editor

The gender pay gap starts in childhood.

Boys get more pocket money, even though 10 and 11-year-old girls do more housework than their brothers.

When I was at my children's school this week, a little girl in my son's kindergarten class started chatting to me.

She told me proudly that she had $2 in her pocket and was planning to buy a fruit jelly cup at the canteen.

Our family hasn't started pocket money yet. The currency at our house is Woolworths animal cards, but I suspect we'll graduate to gold coins before long.

About age five or six seems to be typical for starting a regular allowance, though some parents even give pocket money to toddlers.

By late primary school, two out of three Australian children get pocket money, according to the CensusAtSchool study by Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS).

Research by Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) suggests that regular pocket money helps develop financial literacy. Parents also have to track what their children spend it on, and model good behaviour by being responsible with their own finances.

There are different schools of thought on whether to link pocket money to chores. Of course, it's good to teach children that money is something you earn, but children should also do chores simply to be helpful members of a household.

Whatever you decide, it seems that pocket money can be a force for good. The idea is that if children have to budget income and expenditure and save for financial goals, it teaches better life lessons than simply giving them money when they need it, or want it.

This isn't about how much Lego your kids can buy, it's about their future solvency.

Which is why I found it deeply disturbing to discover there's a gender pocket money gap in Australia.

Boys earn $13 a week in pocket money on average, while girls get $9.60, according to a survey done for the Heritage Bank and released in time for International Women's Day this week. The bank made similar findings in 2014.

That's a whopping 35 per cent more dosh for boys – worse even than the 17.9 per cent pay gap for grown-ups identified by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency.

The survey didn't probe the reasons, though it revealed 29 per cent of kids have to complete chores before they get paid.

Perhaps families are dividing housework along gender lines and boys are doing chores with more perceived value. Is washing the car worth more than cleaning the bathroom?

Or perhaps there is a greater expectation that girls will help with the housework without being paid for it. The AIFS has found 10 and 11-year-old girls do more housework than boys.

Or maybe boys just drive a harder bargain, helping them develop the negotiation skills that see them strike better salary deals from graduate level right through to the c-suite.

Whatever the reason, we're selling our girls short.

I don't believe it's a coincidence that young women are so freaked out about money. The annual survey of wellbeing by the National Australia Bank found women under 30 suffer higher levels of anxiety than everyone else, mainly because of financial worries.

In our country, men hold the economic power, dominating lists such as the BRW Rich 200 and Young Rich. Meanwhile, women are more likely to live in poverty, ABS figures show.

Women earn less on average even for full-time work, are less likely to invest the money they do earn, and reach old age with vastly different retirement savings. Women aged 55-64 have just over $180,000 saved in super on average, compared with nearly $322,000 for men, ABS figures show. Yet women over the age of 50 are much more likely to live alone, according to the AIFS.

Given the economic inequality of men and women, parents need to work harder to ensure their daughters have the financial skills they need for life. Pocket money is just the start.

At least I know the pocket money gap won't happen in our house – we have boy-girl twins, which makes questions of fairness and gendered expectations much more obvious.
 Melbourne ~ Tuesday March 8, 2016

Pay secrecy lets employers get away with paying women less

Michelle Brown and Leanne Griffin

Forcing workers to stay quiet about pay keeps women’s wage rates lower than those of men in equivalent jobs

Illustration: Andrew Dyson

It's International Women's Day and again we lament the pay gap between men and women. In Australia, the gender pay gap stands at 18.2 per cent. In other words, women must work an extra 66 days each year to earn the same amount as men. Disturbingly, the gender pay gap is getting worse. Back in 2004, it was 14.9 percent. What's going on?

Occupational choice, part-time employment, and underrepresentation in management are regularly rolled out to explain why women are paid less. An often overlooked cause is pay secrecy.

Pay secrecy is the practice of prohibiting employees from sharing pay information. In Australia, more than half of all employers enforce pay secrecy policies. The Workplace Gender Equality Agency analysis shows the pay gap is largest when pay is secret, in an individual agreement (20.6 per cent) and almost non-existent when pay is transparent via an award (-2.5 per cent). In between awards and individual agreements are collective agreements. Under a collective agreement the gender pay gap is 16.9 per cent.

The gender pay gap is wider than ever. (Jim Pavlidis)

Employers use pay secrecy to compartmentalise pay intelligence: each employee knows what he or she is paid, but not what anyone else in their workplace is paid. Through pay secrecy, employers control pay information and keep employees in the dark.

Pay secrecy allows conscious or unconscious bias and stereotyping when making pay allocation decisions. This means managers are free to apply criteria that disadvantage women, such as using lack of "face time" (that is, arguing men spend more time in the workplace than women), or "perceived similarity" (that is, with most managers being male, they rate other men as having greater value to their organisation than women).

Unequal access to information makes it difficult for women to detect when they are underpaid. Take the famous case of Lilly Ledbetter in the US. For 20 years, Ledbetter was the only female supervisor among 16 male supervisors for Goodyear Tire in Alabama. She earned less than all her male colleagues, including those with less seniority, yet she did not know that she was underpaid because her workplace prohibited employees from discussing their pay. It was only after she received an anonymous note that revealed the earnings of her male colleagues that she realised she was underpaid.

Unfortunately, Ledbetter's case is not unique. Ask most women and they will recount stories of gender pay discrimination. Without relative pay information, women such as Ledbetter cannot identify and challenge illegal practices such as pay discrimination or seek better pay elsewhere.

Pay secrecy also places women in a precarious position whenever they do suspect pay discrimination. They are hamstrung: they cannot present evidence of discrimination to their employer without revealing that they have also breached pay secrecy policy. In Australia, penalties for employees caught breaching these policies range from informal warnings to dismissal.

Unfortunately, it is not simply a case of women negotiating their way to fairer pay. Under pay secrecy, employers control pay information and with it, enjoy an imbalance of power. Without pay data, women occupy a weak bargaining position. They must rely on other negotiating tactics. But pay negotiations can be a minefield for women. Effective negotiating tactics such as self-promotion (widely used by men) are shown to backfire for women.

Women are socialised not to negotiate – they assume they will be recognised and rewarded for good performance. Managers, believing that women will accept less than men, typically make lower opening offers to women.

Pay decisions go unchecked as organisations do not need to justify their decisions. Decision-making quality and ethical behaviour deteriorates when transparency is low. In the absence of accountability, the incentive to correct existing pay inequity also diminishes. Certainly, our research indicates many organisations are aware of pay inequities but lack the urgency to correct them.

So, how do we combat the effects of pay secrecy? Abolish pay secrecy and give employees control over their own pay information. Unless we make employers accountable, we cannot expect gender pay equality to improve. If history is a judge, we cannot rely on employers to self-regulate pay parity.

The law changes behaviour. Right now legislation is before the Senate aimed at ending pay secrecy. It safeguards employees' right to share pay information and prevents employers from punishing those who do.

The legislation marks an important step towards improving gender pay parity. If passed, women will be able to use pay data to negotiate better pay outcomes. Employers will also become more accountable as they relinquish control of the flow of pay information. Greater pay transparency provides the best hope for reducing gender pay inequality driven by bias, discrimination and nepotism.

Opponents of the bill argue that pay secrecy promotes workplace harmony and provides organisations with greater wage flexibility. They forget that performance-based pay is already well established in Australia. It is widely understood that individuals are rewarded differently for good and bad performance. Increasing pay transparency should only enhance organisational productivity, since pay secrecy blocks pay signals that stimulate job performance.

The tide is turning on pay secrecy. Governments in Britain and the United States have recognised the link between pay secrecy and gender pay inequity. Both countries have already legislated against this practice. Pay secrecy laws do make a difference.

Eleven states in the US have legal provisions covering pay secrecy. According to Marlene Kim at the University of Massachusetts, compared women's pay in states that prohibit pay secrecy compared with those that do not. She found that women's wages are higher (between 4 and 12 per cent depending on how the data was analysed) in those states with pay secrecy laws compared to the non-pay secrecy law states.

Pay parity is urgently needed. We all stand to gain. The traditional notion of the male bread winner is folklore as more women return to the workforce or never leave it. All Australians would benefit from earning "a fair day's pay for a fair day's work".

Professor Michelle Brown and Leanne Griffin are researching pay secrecy at the University of Melbourne.
 Melbourne ~ Tuesday  March 8, 2016

ACT has second lowest gender pay gap but it's still unacceptable, advocates say

By  Clare Sibthorpe /Canberra Times reporter

Equality advocates are calling on less talk and more action to reduce the gender pay gap in the ACT and the Australian workforce.

International Women's Day on Tuesday reignited a national discussion over gender inequality. And when it comes to equal wages, Canberra is doing significantly better than the rest of the country – except for South Australia.

The latest Australian Bureau of Statistics figures showed full-time average earnings for ACT men were 11.5 per cent greater than those of full-time working women as of November. The national pay gap was at 17.3 per cent, which equates to a full-time average earning difference of $277.70 a week.

The ACT's gap remained stagnant from the previous year. But during the recent period of November 2014-15, SA overtook the ACT with the lowest gender pay gap, most recently 10.3 per cent.

The figures seem to reflect the large proportion of the city's workforce in the ACT public service, which revealed a gender pay gap of 2 per cent in its last State of the Service Report.

Australian of the Year David Morrison said the public service had paid close attention to pay equality, but said a gender imbalance in both the public and private sector was high.

"You would expect a gender pay gap to be illustrative of that bias towards men holding more positions than women," he said.

"It would seem that across various workplaces, there is a much more significant issue around women just simply being paid less for the same work their male peers are doing.

"And it's not just your fortnightly pay here, but with an average wage across an average lifetime, the difference between superannuation between a man and a woman can be as much as $700,000."

He said two urgent solutions were "relatively simply": Put measures in place that ensure all employees are paid equally for the same work, and improve financial security for women to ensure a manageable work/life balance.

This entrenched gender bias was highlighted by the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, which found that among top tier managers in Australian organisations, men are paid on average $100,000 more a year than women. It also found a $27,000 difference between what male and female employees earn in an average year.

The director of the Workplace Gender Equality Agency, Libby Lyons, is calling for a gender pay gap analysis in every organisation.

"Once they have determined what their gender pay gap is, then they need to really work on developing an action plan to systematically address that pay gap," she said.

Ms Lyons stressed that having biases "doesn't make you a bad person, it just means you're normal" and they can be minimised by consciously noting them when recruiting, promoting and giving bonuses.

Interestingly, research released this week by Australian Council of Trade Unions found that the gender pay gap begins early in life.

They claim that girls receive 11 per cent less pocket money than boys, and female graduates earn 5 per cent less than male graduates – despite females making up 60 per cent of graduates in Australia.

The gap widens with experience, as female post-graduate salaries are 82 per cent of male graduates.

While the ACT's gender wage gap is low when compared nationally, Canberra Business Chamber chief executive officer Robyn Hendry believes 11 per cent is still unacceptable.

"Our numbers have stagnated, so that suggests that we've picked some of the low hanging fruit and done the obvious things such as recruiting from a range of backgrounds, and females are a part of that," she said.

"But then we are so used to discounting – maybe completely subconsciously – that pay negotiation area."

Like Ms Lyons, Ms Hendry agreed tackling cultural attitudes and inbuilt language is crucial for change.

India: Feminised agriculture plagued by women's unfair wages, denial of credit, land rights etc Print E-mail

 Tuesday March 8 2016

Gender bias rampant in farm sector

By K. Venkateshwarlu

  Sixty per cent of all agricultural operations are handled exclusively by women while hourly wage rates vary from 50 to 75 per cent of that of men.­ (File photo)

Even as they keep breaking the proverbial glass ceiling to move up the corporate ladder and make a mark virtually in every field, women in agriculture continue to face discrimination, in terms of owning productive assets like land and payment of wages, accessing credit, technology, market and irrigation facilities.

Such is the gender bias that even when her spouse commits suicide forced by agrarian crisis, the woman farmer is left to fend for herself, often denied her rightful share in the family’s agriculture land and the ex gratia, a study has revealed. Post-suicide, the farmer’s land ownership is transferred to either his father or brother and not his widow owing to deeply entrenched, patriarchal socio-cultural practices both within the households and on agricultural fields.

“Women are hardly recognised as farmers in their own right, though they contribute in a big way to the family’s livelihood by toiling on the farms and performing a majority of the farm-related tasks,” Ms. Usha Seethalakshmi, who is conducting the study on women in agriculture for an UN organisation told The Hindu .

With no support from the government and denial of rights to land, these women are left with a huge burden of debt and children to take care of. Evidence from various macro data systems further indicates the poor status of women’s landownership across different classes and caste groups in India. Figures from the latest Agricultural Census of 2010-2011 indicate that this situation has only improved by a small margin with women’s land holdings accounting for 12.79 percent of all holdings comprising about 10.36 percent of the operated area.

Out of all the rural households which own some land, there are only 11% households where at least one woman owns some land, Ms. Usha says. This means that 89% of rural households in India having some land effectively keep out women from accessing any rights to such property!

The agriculture sector is also characterised by decelerating and differential wages on the basis of gender, she says. Sixty percent of all agricultural operations are handled exclusively by women while hourly wage rates in agriculture vary from 50 to 75% of that of men, too low to overcome absolute poverty.

When it comes to credit, women farmers are denied equal access because the land is not in their name. While there is no gender disaggregated data about how many women exactly access credit for farming related purposes, existing data and a World Bank study of 2014 shows that only 26% of female adults in India have an account with a formal financial institution. Similarly an RBI report shows that women’s credit outstanding from commercial banks accounts for only 5% of all credit outstanding. And despite expansion of self- help groups and micro-credit lending through micro-finance institutions, there has been no discernable impact, Dr. Usha added.

Going by the 2011 Census there has been “increased feminisation of agriculture”, with 24 per cent spike in the number of women agriculture labourers compared to previous 2001 census. But little recognition of their role in land and livestock management meant that women have largely remained invisible to the government in terms of agricultural policies, programmes and budgets, she added. Mahila Kisan Adhikaar Manch (MAKAAM) and Department of Agriculture, Government of Andhra Pradesh are jointly organising a national convention of women farmers at College of Agriculture at Bapatla from March 17 to 19 to discuss all such issues.

Women continue to face discrimination in terms of owning assets like land and payment of wages, accessing credit, technology, market and irrigation facilities

Global: Zed Books Feminist Reading List of Inspiringly Dangerous Women Print E-mail

International Women's Day: A Reading List

Emerging out of the labour movement, #IWD is a moment to stop and reflect on the ongoing struggle for women's liberation across the world, as well as a time to celebrate and commemorate fights and victories for women throughout history. To mark this, Zed has put together a reading list for #IWD.

The books we've selected highlight the huge range of political struggles than women are involved in across the world, from the "leftover women" dealing with gender inequality in China to ongoing debates about the veil in the Muslim world. And as well as dealing with both historic and contemporary campaigns, these books also look ahead, asking important questions about what women's sexuality and reproductive rights might look like in a more emancipated future. They also look at the intersections of race and gender, including, for the first time, the autobiography of legendary Black Panther Assata Shakur available as an ebook.

From Nawal El Saadawi to Ifi Amadiume, from Vandana Shiva to Holly Lewis, this reading list aims to provide an informative and moving introduction to the multiplicity of battles still being fought by the women of the world.
Three incredible books from Egyptian feminist Nawal El-Saadawi:
The story of Firdaus, one of the greatest characters ever created in fiction.
Paperback / £9.99 / $12.95 / 9781783605941

plus God Dies by the Nile and Other Novels

Three classic Saadawi novels in one volume, tackling religion, love and women's emancipation.  
Paperback / £12.99 / $14.95 / 9781783605965

Hidden Face of Eve

Presents an account of brutality against women in the Muslim world. This work explores the causes of the situation through a discussion of the historical role of Arab women in religion and literature. It argues that the veil, polygamy and legal inequality are incompatible with the just and peaceful Islam.  
Paperback / £12.99 / $18.95 / 9781783607471
By Leta Hong-Fincher

After the 1949 revolution in China, Chairman Mao famously proclaimed that €œwomen hold up half the sky.€ In the early years of the People€™s Republic, the Communist Party sought to transform gender relations with expansive initiatives. Yet those gains are being eroded in China€™s post-socialist era.

Contrary to many claims made in the media, women in China have experienced a dramatic rollback of rights and gains relative to men. Leftover Women lays out the structural discrimination against women and speaks to broader problems with China€™s economy, politics, and development.
Paperback / £15.99 / $26.95 / 9781780329215

By Jenny Hawley

Women's empowerment is critical to environmental sustainability, isn't it? When Friends of the Earth asked this question on Facebook half of respondents said yes and half said no, with women as likely to say no as men. This collection of articles and interviews, from some of the leading lights of the environmental and feminist movements, demonstrates that achieving gender equality is vital if we are to protect the environment upon which we all depend. It is a rallying call to environmental campaigning groups and other environmentalists who have, on the whole, neglected women's empowerment in their work.

We hope that the book will encourage the environmental movement and women's movement to join in fighting the twin evils of women's oppression and environmental degradation, because social justice and environmental sustainability are two sides of the same coin.
Paperback / £9.99 / $12.95 / 9781783605798

By Holly Lewis

The Politics of Everybody examines the production and maintenance of the terms 'man', 'woman', and 'other' within the current political moment; the contradictions of these categories and the prospects of a Marxist approach to praxis for queer bodies. Few thinkers have attempted to reconcile queer and Marxist analysis. Those who have propose the key contested site to be that of desire/sexual expression. This emphasis on desire, Lewis argues, is symptomatic of the neoliberal project and has lead to a continued fascination with the politics of identity. By arguing that Marxist analysis is in fact most beneficial to gender politics within the arena of body production, categorization and exclusion Lewis develops a theory of gender and the sexed body that is wedded to the realities of a capitalist political economy.

Boldly calling for a new, materialist queer theory, Lewis defines a politics of liberation that is both intersectional, transnational, and grounded in lived experience.
Paperback / £16.99 / $29.95 / 9781783602872

By Marc Epprecht

The persecution of people in Africa on the basis of their assumed or perceived homosexual orientation has received considerable coverage in the popular media in recent years. Gay-bashing by political and religious figures in Zimbabwe and Gambia; draconian new laws against lesbians and gays and their supporters in Malawi, Nigeria and Uganda; and the imprisonment and extortion of gay men in Senegal and Cameroon have all rightly sparked international condemnation.

However, much of the analysis has been highly critical of African leadership and culture without considering local nuances, historical factors and external influences that are contributing to the problem. Such commentary also overlooks grounds for optimism in the struggle for sexual rights and justice in Africa, not just for sexual minorities but for the majority population as well. Based on pioneering research on the history of homosexualities and engagement with current lgbti and HIV/AIDS activism, Marc Epprecht provides a sympathetic overview of the issues at play and a hopeful outlook on the potential of sexual rights for all.
Paperback / £13.99 / $24.95 / 9781780323817

By Ifi Amadiume

In 1987, more than a decade before the dawn of queer theory, Ifi Amadiume wrote Male Daughters, Female Husbands, to critical acclaim. This compelling and highly original book frees the subject position of 'husband' from its affiliation with men, and goes on to do the same for other masculine attributes, dislocating sex, gender and sexual orientation. Boldly arguing that the notion of gender, as constructed in Western feminist discourse, did not exist in Africa before the colonial imposition of a dichotomous understanding of sexual difference, Male Daughters, Female Husbands examines the structures in African society that enabled people to achieve power, showing that roles were not rigidly masculinized nor feminized. At a time when gender and queer theory are viewed by some as being stuck in an identity-politics rut, this outstanding study not only warns against the danger of projecting a very specific, Western notion of difference onto other cultures, but calls us to question the very concept of gender itself.
Paperback / £12.99 / $18.95 / 9781783603329

By Mimi Marinucci  

Feminism is Queer is an introduction to the intimately related disciplines of gender and queer theory. Whilst guiding the reader through complex theory, the author develops the original position of queer feminism, which presents queer theory as continuous with feminist theory. Whilst there have been significant conceptual tensions between second wave feminism and traditional lesbian and gay studies, queer theory offers a paradigm for understanding gender, sex and sexuality that avoids the conflict in order to develop solidarity among those interested in feminist theory and those interested in lesbian and gay rights.

An essential guide to anyone with an interest in gender or sexuality, this accessible and comprehensive textbook carefully explains nuanced theoretical terminology and provides extensive suggested further reading to provide the reader with full and thorough understanding of both disciplines.
Paperback / £17.99 / $36.95 / 9781848134751

Edited by Srila Roy  

South Asian Feminism is in crisis. Under constant attack from right-wing nationalism and religious fundamentalism and co-opted by 'NGO-ization' and neoliberal state agendas, once autonomous and radical forms of feminist mobilization have been ideologically fragmented and replaced. It is time to rethink the feminist political agenda for the predicaments of the present.

This timely volume provides an original and unprecedented exploration of the current state of South Asian feminist politics. It will map the new sites and expressions of feminism in the region today, addressing issues like disability, Internet technologies, queer subjectivities and violence as everyday life across national boundaries, including India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. Written by young scholars from the region, this book addresses the generational divide of feminism in the region, effectively introducing a new 'wave' of South Asian feminists that resonates with feminist debates everywhere around the globe.
Paperback / £20.99 / $37.95 / 9781780321899

By Laura Agustin

This groundbreaking book explodes several myths: that selling sex is completely different from any other kind of work; that migrants who sell sex are passive victims; and that the multitude of people out to save them are without self-interest. Laura Agustín makes a passionate case against these stereotypes, arguing that the label 'trafficked' does not accurately describe migrants' lives and that the 'rescue industry' disempowers them. Based on extensive research amongst migrants who sell sex and social helpers, Sex at the Margins provides a radically different analysis. Frequently, says Agustín, migrants make rational choices to travel and work in the sex industry. Although they are treated like a marginalised group they form part of the dynamic global economy. Both powerful and controversial, this book is essential reading for all those who want to understand the increasingly important relationship between sex markets, migration and the desire for social justice.
Paperback / £19.99 / $34.95 / 9781842778609

By Kristin Aune and Catherine Redfern

Feminism is so last century. Surely in today's world the idea is irrelevant and unfashionable? Wrong. Since the turn of the millennium a revitalised feminist movement has emerged to challenge these assumptions. Based on a survey of over a thousand feminists, Reclaiming the F Word reveals the what, why and how of today's feminism, from cosmetic surgery to celebrity culture, from sex to singleness and now, in this new edition, the gendered effects of possibly the worst economic crisis ever. This is a generation-defining book demanding nothing less than freedom and equality, for all.
Paperback / £8.99 / $14.95 / 9781780326276

By Vandana Shiva and Maria Mies

This groundbreaking work remains as relevant today as when it was when first published. Two of Zed's best-known authors argue that ecological destruction and industrial catastrophes constitute a direct threat to everyday life, the maintenance of which has been made the particular responsibility of women. In both industrialized societies and the developing countries, the new wars the world is experiencing, violent ethnic chauvinisms and the malfunctioning of the economy also pose urgent questions for ecofeminists. Is there a relationship between patriarchal oppression and the destruction of nature in the name of profit and progress? How can women counter the violence inherent in these processes? Should they look to a link between the women's movement and other social movements? Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva offer a thought-provoking analysis of these and many other issues from a unique North-South perspective. They critique prevailing economic theories, conventional concepts of women's emancipation, the myth of 'catching up' development, the philosophical foundations of modern science and technology, and the omission of ethics when discussing so many questions, including advances in reproductive technology and biotechnology. In constructing their own ecofeminist epistemology and methodology, these two internationally respected feminist environmental activists look to the potential of movements advocating consumer liberation and subsistence production, sustainability and regeneration, and they argue for an acceptance of limits and reciprocity and a rejection of exploitation, the endless commoditization of needs, and violence.
Paperback / £12.99 / $19.95 / 9781780325637

By Assata Shakur
With foreword by Angela Davis

In 2013 Assata Shakur, founding member of the Black Liberation Army, former Black Panther and godmother of Tupac Shakur, became the first ever woman to make the FBI's most wanted terrorist list.

Assata Shakur's trial and conviction for the murder of a white state trooper in the spring of 1973 divided America. Her case quickly became emblematic of race relations and police brutality in the USA. While Assata's detractors continue to label her a ruthless killer, her defenders cite her as the victim of a systematic, racist campaign to criminalize and suppress black nationalist organizations.

This intensely personal and political autobiography reveals a sensitive and gifted woman, far from the fearsome image of her that is projected by the powers that be. With wit and candour Assata recounts the formative experiences that led her to embrace a life of activism. With pained awareness she portrays the strengths, weaknesses and eventual demise of black and white revolutionary groups at the hands of the state.

A major contribution to the history of black liberation, destined to take its place alongside The Autobiography of Malcolm X and the works of Maya Angelou.
Paperback / £8.99 / $14.95 / 9781783601783

By Carol Dyhouse  

Girls behave badly. If they're not obscenity-shouting, pint-swigging ladettes, they're narcissistic, living dolls floating around in a cloud of self-obsession, far too busy twerking to care. And this is news. In this witty and wonderful book, Carol Dyhouse shows that where there's a social scandal or a wave of moral outrage, you can bet a girl is to blame. Whether it be stories of 'brazen flappers' staying out and up all night in the 1920s, inappropriate places for Mars bars in the 1960s or Courtney Love's mere existence in the 1990s, bad girls have been a mass-media staple for more than a century. And yet, despite the continued obsession with their perceived faults and blatant disobedience, girls are infinitely better off today than they were a century ago. This is the story of the challenges and opportunities faced by young women growing up in the swirl of the twentieth century, and the pop-hysteria that continues to accompany their progress.
Paperback / £8.99 / $14.95 / 9781783601608

By Caron Gentry and Laura Sjoberg

Beyond Mothers, Monsters, Whores takes the suggestion in Mothers, Monsters, Whores that it is important to see genderings in characterizations of violent women, and to use critique of those genderings to retheorize individual violence in global politics. It begins by demonstrating the interdependence of the personal and international levels of global politics in violent women's lives, but then shows that this interdependence is inaccurately depicted in gender-subordinating narratives of women's violence. Such narratives, the authors argue, are not only normatively problematic on the surface but also intersect with other identifiers, such as race, religion, and geopolitical location.
Paperback / £18.99 / $29.95 / 9781783602070

Edited by Shahrzad Mojab

Global events, from economic crisis to social unrest and militarization, disproportionately affect women. Yet around the world it is also women who are leading the struggle against oppression and exploitation. In light of renewed interest in Marxist theory among many women activists and academics, Marxism and Feminism presents a contemporary and accessible Marxistfeminist analysis on a host of issues. It reassesses previous debates and seeks to answer pressing questions of how we should understand the relationship between patriarchy and capitalism, and how we can envision a feminist project which emancipates both women and society. With contributions from both renowned scholars and new voices, Marxism and Feminism is set to become the foundational text for modern Marxist-feminist thought.
Paperback / £21.99 / $30.95 / 9781783603244

By Nikki van der Gaag

Feminism has changed the world; it is radically reshaping women€™s lives. But what about men? They still hold most of the power in the economy, in government, in religions, in the media and often in the family too. At the same time, many men are questioning traditional views about what it means to be a man. Others resent the gains women have made and want to turn back the clock. Feminism and Men asks: how might feminism improve the lives of men as well as women? And is there a place for men in the feminist story?
Paperback / £15.99 / $26.95 / 9781780329116

By Robin L. Riley

This powerful book exposes how gendered Orientalism is wielded to justify Western imperialism. Over the last ten years, Western governments and mainstream media have utilized concepts of white masculine supremacy and feminine helplessness, juxtaposed with Orientalist images depicting women of color as mysterious, sinister, and dangerous, to support war. Oscillating between Mrs Anthrax, female suicide bomber and tragic, helpless victim, representations of 'brown women' have spawned both rescue narratives and terrorist alerts. Examining media and pop culture from Sex and the City 2 to Vanity Fair and Time magazine, Robin Riley uses transnational feminist analysis to reveal how this kind of transnational sexism towards Muslim women in general and Afghan and Iraqi women in particular has led to a new form of gender imperialism.
Paperback / £18.99 / $34.95 / 9781780321288

Australia: Girls too abused by infamous paedophile Ridsdale & failed by his support from George Pell Print E-mail

 Saturday February 27 2015

Words: Debi Marshall
Pictures: Paul Harris and Thom Rigney
Australia’s worst paedophile priest, Father Gerald Ridsdale, once lived with a young clergyman who is now Cardinal George Pell. As the Cardinal prepares to give evidence to the child abuse royal commission, two women break decades of silence to tell Debi Marshall about their ordeal in Ridsdale’s care – and their disappointment with Pell.

In 1973, a young Father George Pell, flushed with success from his recent studies in Rome and Oxford, returned to his home town of Ballarat and took up residence in the St Alipius presbytery; a place, it would be publicly revealed more than 20 years later, that was a paedophile’s paradise and a child’s nightmare.

His housemate that year was the tall, rowdy and popular parish priest, Father Gerald Ridsdale. What the parents and parishioners who worshipped God and obeyed the sanctity of the church and its messengers did not know was that from early in his priesthood, Ridsdale was subject to a psychiatric report. He was already a serial child abuser who sodomised children at will, picking them off when and where his desires dictated: in front of a church altar, at the presbytery, or on camping or fishing trips.

When he hurt them, he ignored their cries for him to stop. If they persisted in making a racket, he beat them. Badly.

In May 2015, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse began an investigation into how Catholic Church authorities dealt with paedophile clergy in Ballarat and the impact of abuse. It heard that the diocese was a hotbed of scandal, cover-ups and paedophilia, and that vulnerable children – particularly orphans – had been prey to abusive clergy.

The hulking figure of Fr Ridsdale had given sermons from the pulpit while secretly running an unsophisticated, but terrifyingly effective paedophile ring. All three of Ridsdale’s Christian Brother cohorts - particularly Brother Robert Best - had also enjoyed uninterrupted access to vulnerable children, whom they handed around to each other to abuse.

For Gabbi Short, now 60, growing up at Ballarat’s Nazareth House Girls’ Home, run by the Sisters of Nazareth, was the equivalent of living in hell; a daily battle for survival. The fifth of nine children, Gabbi was placed into care when she was just eight weeks old, at the suggestion of her parents’ local priest.

“Dad was a war veteran who suffered shell-shock and neuroses,” she says. “Mum cared about us, but the way Dad was, she had no choice but to put me and my sister in a home. She had no pension to live on.

“Because I went into care so young and stayed there until I was 12, I was known as a ‘lifer’. Mum made every effort to continue to see me, but the nuns made it clear she wasn’t welcome at Nazareth House and she eventually gave up.”

Gabbi recalls with a shudder the years 1963 and 1964.

“They were just the worst years,” she says. “That was when Father Gerald Ridsdale, who was the chaplain at our school, and Sister Imelda, were there together. It was a nightmare.”

Sr Imelda, a young, attractive nun, was a sadist to children.

“She was in Ridsdale’s thrall,” Gabbi says, ticking off on her fingers some of the brutalities she and other orphans endured.
  Gabbi Short

“She was charming and sycophantic to Ridsdale, but together they brutalised us orphans continually. The sexual and physical assaults that I and the other girls endured between us are too many to list, and they are all graphic and appalling.

“For no apparent reason, Sr Imelda would slam my head up against the wall, which resulted in a hairline fracture of my skull, drag me up the passage by my hair, make me stand in the freezing cold hallway for three hours at a time or get down on my knees and polish the concrete.

“She would belt me for wetting the bed and if we wet ourselves from fear, we had to lick up our own urine.”

“We were his playthings. He’d kick us, belt us, or slam our heads up against walls."

Ridsdale, whom Gabbi describes as an “arrogant and cruel beast of a man,” also delighted in the abuse.

“He just ran amok,” Gabbi says. “We were his playthings. He’d kick us, belt us, or slam our heads up against walls. He used to belt me around the head with his hand. Maybe they hated themselves and their life – who knows? But we were definitely their scapegoats. There was no escaping the brutality.”

Gabbi developed her own defence mechanism to ward off the sure advances of the paedophiles who worked in or visited Nazareth House.

“After all the abuse I’d endured, I developed such a thing about my body that from the age of 12, no-one would dare touch me,” she says. “Paedophiles are experts at knowing which children to pick on and they didn’t come near me. But not all my friends were as lucky.’

Gabbi Short talks about the day she first saw Gerald Ridsdale.

Gabbi recalls that Ridsdale would visit Nazareth House and take girls away as he chose. No-one stopped him.

”One of his favourite girls was Sarah [not her real name], who was in charge of us junior girls,” Gabbi says. “He raped her repeatedly from the age of 10 but when she reported it to a nun, it was ignored.

“Sarah tried to commit suicide by jumping out a second floor window. A nun came in, made all the girls in her dormitory line up at the window so she couldn’t try to jump out again, and belted her within an inch of her life.

“Sarah was so desperate, she just wanted to die. Years later, she accompanied a friend who needed to see a priest for pre-marital counselling. When she entered the room, she found to her horror that the priest was Ridsdale. He recognised her instantly and pulled a photograph of her in her first Communion dress from his top drawer. He had kept it all those years.”

There are other stories, too, of girls who won’t be identified: the 12-year-old virgin who mysteriously became pregnant at the orphanage and was secretly sent to have her baby at St Joseph’s Babies Home in Broadmeadows. When she heard a baby cry after her excruciating labour and asked if it was her child, she was told to be quiet. She was returned to the orphanage, sans baby, and told to say she had been on holiday.

She doesn’t know who the father of her baby was, but suspects she was drugged and raped, probably by a priest; possibly Ridsdale. It would be 50 years before she would reunite with the son taken from her.

Cossetted from the outside world, with the Catholic mantra of guilt and hell, fire and brimstone to keep them on the straight and narrow, the orphans knew that it was a mortal sin to be molested and that if that happened, they would go straight to hell.

“You need to understand just how isolated and cut off we were behind the walls of that imposing, grandiose orphanage,” Gabbi says.

“We were so vulnerable. On one side of the grounds was a nursing home for the elderly; we were on the other side. We had the same teacher for every subject, so we couldn’t get away from the sadism.

“There were about 15 girls in my class. They were all abused.”

At the mercy of the Nazareth nuns who, in turn, did the priests’ bidding, they weren’t taught about sex.

“I didn’t even know the word, let alone what it meant,” Gabbi says.

Gabbi made that special Catholic sacrament, the First Communion, in 1963, aged 7, and saw her mother, very briefly the day before.

“I ran to her and asked her not to go away any more,” she says. “But I never saw her again.” Her mother died in 2003.

Gabbi has a photograph of herself from that day, dressed, as are her fellow students, in a virginal, white, knee-length dress and veil. Standing between them, a vulture amongst his flock, dressed in black robes, his hands piously locked together and wearing an affable smile, is Fr Ridsdale. He had something to smile about: just a week before, he had raped yet another young girl, Julie Braddock. As with the other children he frequently assaulted, he had got away with it.  

Julie, now 60, has carried the scars of Ridsdale and Imelda’s abuse throughout her life.

“He was the parish priest, so we saw him every day,” she recalls. “Both of them were preparing us for our First Communion; we were learning passages from the Bible. They agreed I needed one-on-one tuition, so I was sent to meet Father in the chapel.”

 Julie Braddock

It started innocently enough: a word of encouragement from Ridsdale, a kiss on the cheek, progressing to him putting his hand up her dress and then his fingers into her vagina.

“I cried, because it hurt,” she grimaces. “I was still crying when I went to see Sr Imelda.”

It was the worst decision she could have made. Imelda beat her, savagely, and locked her under the stairs for three days. Released from the dark, foul-smelling cupboard where she was given only a bucket for her excrement, she was again sent to Ridsdale.

“He said that evil was inside me and he needed to get it out.”

The rape that followed was so brutal that when she cried out in pain, Sr Imelda entered the room and dragged Julie to the bathroom, demanding she take a bath before she was sent to get her toilet bag. Forcing her to lie on the cold lino, Imelda inserted Julie’s soapy toothbrush in her vagina and rectum until she bled. Satisfied that she was clean, Imelda then pronounced that Julie was a filthy girl who must remain silent about what had happened.

Julie was seven and a half years old. Ridsdale would rape her again on at least two occasions.

A week before her First Communion, Julie fainted during rehearsals. Enraged, Ridsdale ordered that she stay behind when the other students left.

“He slammed me so hard in the face that I fell over the church pew and was very badly bruised,” she says, absently drawing a figure-eight with her fingers on her kitchen table.

“Then he dragged me out of the church and threw me down the steps.”

“Nobody gets away with that!” he screamed. Lying whimpering on the ground, she quivered to see Sr Imelda advance toward her, to pick her up. She knew what she was in for.

Like other orphans, Julie, the sixth child in her family, desperately needed loving care – not abuse. Abandoned by their mother when Julie was one month shy of her second birthday, she and her two siblings – one marginally older than herself, one three months of age - were taken into police custody.

Sent to St Joseph’s Babies Home, run by the Sisters of Nazareth, Julie was placed into the Nazareth House Girls Home at the age of five. It was an unwelcome induction.

“I was shown to my dormitory and told not to wet the bed. The next morning, very early, I was woken and hit on the legs by the nun because I had wet the bed. She rubbed my face into the wet sheet so hard my nose bled. I was then dragged to the bathroom, told to strip in front of the other girls, and beaten along with others who had wet the bed. Later, our names were called out and we had to stand our naked feet in buckets of boiling water.”

The physical abuse was so horrendous, that on occasions Julie would fall unconscious. Sr Imelda was always the most vicious.

“She broke my fingers,” Julie says. “She made me and the other girls eat our own vomit.”

Gabbi and Julie became friends.

“I once tried, with Gabbi, to crawl through a hole in the fence, but a nun kept dragging me back. The wire was embedded in my leg and I needed 11 stitches. I was locked in a cupboard under the stairs for days and nights as punishment. When I was released, I was so ill I had to stay in the sick room for eight days.”

Julie was never told that her real sister, Gail, was at the orphanage, and imagined that Gabbi was her sister.

Julie left the orphanage in 1963 to live with foster parents. But her foster father, too - a pillar of the Polish church and, she believes, part of Ridsdale’s paedophile ring - also abused her; abuse that was so terrible she still can’t speak of it.

In 1968, she became violently ill. Flummoxed as to the cause of her condition, the doctor would later ascertain it was the result of Ridsdale’s abuse and the injuries she sustained at her First Communion rehearsal. Julie’s spleen, one kidney and her appendix were removed.

To escape the hell of life at home, in 1972, aged 16, Julie left home and later married a boy she liked, but didn’t love. The marriage didn’t last, but depression, which has dogged her all her life, did. Four serious suicide attempts ended with hospitalisation, but she eventually found love, married, had seven children and gained a teachers degree. Her beloved husband died in 2005, as did her foster mother, who had left her husband immediately when Julie finally told her of the abuse.

Gabbi left the orphanage in 1968. Moving through a succession of other Catholic homes, including the Winlaton Youth Training Centre - “virtually a prison” - she slept rough on the streets. The terror and trauma she suffered as a child haunted her in her 20s, when her body turned in on itself.

“I was in shock and went down to 30kg,” Gabbi says. “I was dying inside.”

Determined to get stronger, she found work, married and had three children. The marriage didn’t last, but what has lasted is her commitment to ensuring others did not go through what she experienced.

“In my 40s, I started to talk about what had happened at the orphanage,” Gabbi says. “I started to heal and I haven’t stopped talking about it since.”

Now a spokesperson for Forgotten Australians and a relentlessly outspoken critic of the malevolent evil that was allowed to flourish in Ballarat - and elsewhere Ridsdale and his companions lived and worked - Gabbi says she will not rest until these paedophiles and malicious nuns are fully exposed.

“I could move on with my life and put this behind me,” she says, “but I’ve chosen to speak out for vulnerable children who can’t speak for themselves. We need to look out for kids today because no-one looked after the kids of yesterday. We were just open slather.”
The law eventually caught up with Ridsdale and his paedophile cohorts, but too late to save more than 30 boys, who chose to end their own lives rather than relive the ongoing nightmare of the sadistic sexual, physical and emotional abuses inflicted on them by these so-called men of the cloth.

For Ridsdale, the dominos started falling when, in 1992, one of his male victims contacted a hotline regarding paedophile priests. When the police came calling, he could no longer hide behind his cassock, clerical collar and cross. He went quietly.

Pell welcomed the announcement of the Royal Commission, but his welcome soured in public opinion when he added that priests who hear confessions from people who commit child sex abuse must remain bound by the Seal of Confession (the duty of Catholic priests not to disclose what is heard), which he described as ‘inviolable’.

Later, addressing intense questioning at the Royal Commission about what he knew, Pell (by then a Cardinal in Rome and one of the Vatican’s most powerful figures) said he had noticed nothing.

“[Ridsdale] concealed his crimes from me and other priests in Ballarat, from parishioners and from his own family,” he asserted grimly.

Victims, police and the media, were outraged. Not only had Pell shared a house with Ridsdale in 1973, he had chosen to walk side byside with him into court in 1993, when Ridsdale pleaded guilty to 30 counts of indecent assault against nine boys, aged 12 to 16, between 1974 and 1980, for which he received his first, 12 month sentence.

Both had cut an odd figure: Pell, then an ambitious auxiliary Bishop in colourless priestly robes, and Ridsdale, sporting a garish white suit and hiding behind oversized sunglasses. Pell’s decision to walk with this vilified priest would prove to be a PR disaster.

In 1994, Pell had allegedly responded to child abuse victim Timothy Green that he not be ‘ridiculous’ when Green told him that Ridsdale’s friend, Brother Edward Dowlan, was abusing children at St Patrick’s College. Pell has insisted he has no recollection of such a conversation. He was present at a 1982 meeting of the College of Consultors, which discussed unseating Ridsdale from the Mortlake Parish to a Catholic centre in Sydney.

By 1993, Ridsdale’s days of being protected were numbered and a flood of victims would continue to come forward. Between 1993 and 2013 he was convicted of 54 child sexual abuse and indecent assault charges against children aged as young as four.

“The vast majority of those were boys,” Gabbi says. “But we know there are girls for which he hasn’t been charged and that the figure is higher – much higher – than 54. Hopefully his past will catch up with him before he is eligible for parole again in 2019. Or before he goes to meet his Maker, in whose image he had represented himself.”

A slim, intense woman with a ready smile, who speaks in an urgent torrent of words, Gabbi cannot hide her disgust that Pell consistently claims he did not see or hear anything.

“How could he not have heard the relentless rumours or the parishioners’ complaints?” she asks, incredulous.

“How could he not have seen the stricken faces of the children when they left Ridsdale’s company? Even Ridsdale’s nephew, David, who was sexually abused by him for five years from the age of 11, claimed to have told Pell about the abuse. He says that Pell’s response was to offer him a financial bribe to keep quiet. Pell, of course, dismissed David’s claim by responding that ‘An offer of help is not the same as a bribe.’ It all just beggars belief.”

At the Royal Commission, Pell said that at no time had he attempted to bribe David or his family, nor did he offer any financial inducements for him to be silent.

And throughout the storms, Pell stood resolute. Paedophilia “was always regarded as being totally reprehensible,” he intoned.

In 2007, Gabbi and Julie, who had not seen each other for 44 years, met again at a Nazareth House reunion. They have remained friends. Gabbi exhorted Julie to tell her story, but shame and humiliation linger like shadows. She is now very ill.

“This is probably my last chance to tell my story,” she says. “I was stripped of everything I was and everything I am, just as the other 500,000 Australian orphans were. I didn’t know I had siblings until I was 25.

“It matters that I, and other orphans, called out for help and were ignored. Imelda is dead, Ridsdale in prison, but it still matters. It matters. We need justice.”

Julie, too, questions why Pell supported Ridsdale and not the victims. Like other child abuse victims, she is disgusted and outraged that Pell has cited ill health as his reason for not returning to Australia to face the Royal Commission – offering instead to appear by video link.

“If he’s well enough to run the Vatican’s finances,” she spits, “he’s well enough to come home and be counted.”

Julie, who gave evidence before the Royal Commission, is adamant that history must not repeat.

“We are only weeks away from the next sitting of the Royal Commission in Ballarat,” she says. “I want the church to stop hiding what happened. It needs to stop trying to write its own script to take away who we, as victims, are.”

She has a special message for Ridsdale and others she believes have turned a blind eye: “Stop protecting each other. You need to go to the next life with honesty and give us victims some peace.”

Gabbi agrees.

“The tragic reality is that if Ridsdale had been stopped in the 1960s, when there were so many warnings about his disgusting behaviour, he wouldn’t have gone on to rape so many boys - a slew of whom later took their own lives – or girls,” she says.

“History could be so very different if those men of the church hadn’t lied and covered up for him and others. This story is just the tip of the iceberg. Nazareth House and the Catholic Church need prosecuting, as do any nuns still alive who abused us. Ridsdale needs prosecuting for what he did to us.

“The question is now: who was protecting Ridsdale? Let’s throw the book at those people.”

Sexual Assault Counselling Australia provides counselling for people who want to address their trauma as a result of hearing about the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse. Call 1800 211 028.

The National Sexual Assault, Domestic and Family Violence Counselling Service 1800RESPECT also offers counselling on 1800 737 732 and at

Australia: Brigid Arthur CSB continues to bravely defy Govt's calculated cruelty against refugees Print E-mail
Sunday February 21, 2016

Cricket-mad Sister Brigid Arthur goes into bat for refugee rights

Rachel Kleinman
Feisty Sister Brigid Arthur, 81, is at the forefront of Christian social action.
Sister Brigid Arthur at the Brigidine Order in Albert Park, Mel  Sister Brigid Arthur at the Brigidine Order in Albert Park, Melbourne.(Penny Stephens)

Being a cricket fan, Sister Brigid Arthur was killing time by listening to Test match commentary on her car radio while she waited for friends to return to their North Melbourne home.

It was March 2001, a few months before the watershed Tampa crisis and children-overboard scandal altered the course of the 2001 federal election campaign and Australia's political conscience on refugees.

Arthur had just become involved in asylum-seeker advocacy and was planning to start visiting detainees at Maribyrnong detention centre in Melbourne's west.
Sister Brigid Arthur is not letting up on her activism despite   Sister Brigid Arthur is not letting up on her activism despite being 81 years old. (Penny Stephens)

But what happened next that night put a dent in her plans.

Suddenly, the clunk of willow on ball was interrupted by an unknown man tapping on her passenger-seat window, gesturing to find out the time.

In hindsight, of course, Arthur says she should never have opened the door.
Political activisti Sister Brigid Arthur is a key player in the   Political activist Sister Brigid Arthur is a key player in the Churches Refugee Taskforce, which is co-ordinating the sanctuary campaign for 267 asylum seekers set to return to Nauru. (Penny Stephens)

Next thing she knew, the 66-year-old nun was yanked out of the car and thrown viciously onto the road behind her car. In that moment, her biggest fear was that the man would start the car, reverse and run her over. She knew that if that happened, she would be dead.

Thankfully, before her attacker started the engine, a resident heard her screams and ran out of his house, scaring the man away. Arthur was packed off to the Royal Melbourne Hospital for surgery on a broken hip.

Arthur is sitting in her cramped, airless office in the Brigidine Order's lovely Albert Park headquarters as she remembers the brutal attack.

It's a glorious sunny day in bayside Melbourne but Arthur is oblivious – her desk is literally buried in work.

In retelling the story, Arthur is not focused on the trauma. Rather, she takes great delight in the next, synchronous part of the story.

"I couldn't go and start visiting the asylum seekers because I was laid up, so I started writing letters. A few weeks later, when I was recovering, I decided to stop in at Maribyrnong on my way to Echuca and meet one of the men I'd been writing to. I was on my crutches and out comes this bloke on crutches."

It turned out he had fallen over at the detention centre and broken his hip. He was carrying exactly the same injury as Arthur.

"It was very funny," she says now, in her even but slightly gravelly voice.

Arthur is tenacious and passionate. Since that visit, she has made many hundreds more to detention centres and doggedly fought for the rights of asylum seekers across Australia. At 81, with wrinkles criss-crossing her face and a spark in her eye, she shows no sign of letting up.

Arthur had a long career as a teacher and principal within the Catholic education system before moving into a consulting role, which left more time for campaigning.

She co-founded the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project in 2001, is a board member of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and vice-chairwoman of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce. She is also involved in Love Makes a Way, a religious organisation that organises peaceful sit-ins at the offices of prominent politicians to protest asylum-seeker policies.

That's how she got herself arrested in 2014. Not once but twice.

"I took part in two demonstrations – one at [Opposition Leader] Bill Shorten's office and one at Kelly O'Dwyer's [the Liberal member for Higgins in Melbourne]," Arthur says.

"The police came in and said: 'Do you want be escorted out or do you want to be carried?' I decided being escorted would be enough.'"

Religious organisations hit the headlines this month when church leaders kick-started the controversial "sanctuary" campaign in response to a High Court appeal.

The appeal ruled that the federal government could legally return 267 asylum seekers, who had been receiving medical treatment in Australia, to Nauru. This prompted dozens of church leaders, spearheaded by Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Dr Peter Catt, to declare they would turn their places of worship into sanctuaries to stop the asylum seekers being returned. Catt is chairman of the Churches Refugee Taskforce.

Arthur describes the taskforce as an umbrella organisation, which didn't plan the campaign, but supports the individual churches in their push. Nevertheless, she has been called on by the media to explain and defend the religious response to what she brands as the federal government's "calculated cruelty".

Pamela Curr, a refugee advocate with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, says she has never seen Arthur lose her temper. But Curr quickly dispels any notion of a saintly demeanour. "[Arthur] doesn't roll over. I have seen her in plenty of meetings with immigration officials where she fights like a tiger."

Curr has been glad of Arthur's company on many a long road trip to Canberra, and not just for her determination.

"One time I was going with Brigid and a couple of other nuns," Curr says.

"They stayed in this rundown motel because they didn't want to spend money. So we pulled up at this place and there was nothing around. Brigid opened up the boot and out wafted the smells of this delicious chicken curry with rice she had prepared before we left. She loves to cook."

So how did this cricket-loving, curry-cooking girl from the country end up as an octogenarian human rights advocate, protester and leader?

Unsurprisingly, she is the eldest of eight children, raised in Victoria's Wimmera region, so she knows how to take charge. But she is refreshingly honest about her entry into the order – it wasn't piety that grabbed her and there was certainly no epiphany.

"I was more enthused by the Christian social action group I had been involved with at school, which had the motto: 'See, Judge and Act'. That had a huge impact on me ... and I'd already thought I wanted to teach. So I [entered] but I still thought, 'I probably won't stay but I'll have a go'."

So we could call you the reluctant nun?

"I'm not sure about reluctant," she says after a pause. "I was ambivalent."

Her regard for the Catholic Church has changed significantly in the six decades she has served it.

"I no longer think of the church as having all the answers ... And I believe that clericalism [maintaining the church hierarchy] has done us a great disservice," she says.

Arthur has no intention of stopping her advocacy work any time soon. But she does acknowledge that the worldwide Brigidine Order is coming to the end of its shelf life.

"We've been around for 200 years (founded in Ireland) ... we've satisfied a particular niche and this is the end of an era. Our youngest person is 50 and we're not trying to attract anybody. It's time to pull up stumps."

Ah, the cricket analogy. What about the push for generational change in her beloved game?

"I did get into watching some Big Bash [cricket] over summer and I didn't mind it. I was quite surprised actually," she says.
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