Feminist analysis of Australia’s emerging security architecture

This post was originally published on 23 August, on the blog of BroadAgenda 50/50

Despite an emerging international movement for feminist foreign policies, it’s not often we publicly discuss feminist views of national security. Over the past five years, the Australian Government has been grappling with the implementation of a whole-of-government policy on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). That policy, the National Action Plan on WPS, is currently due for renewal. But last week, the Australian government announced a major change to Australia’s national security architecture which aligns a range of problematic policy and practice decisions that ignore the views and experiences of women nationally, in the region, and internationally.

Now is the time for a feminist analysis of Australia’s emerging security architecture including a gendered approach to counter terrorism, dealing with foreign fighters and the new home affairs arrangements including women in immigration detention and gendered police support programs in the Pacific.

Australia’s National Action Plan on WPS was developed to integrate Australia’s obligations under a suite of Security Council resolutions on the topic of WPS. The WPS resolutions recognise that men and women experience conflict differently, and that accounting for women’s experiences of conflict and insecurity is vital to achieving sustainable peace and security.

Most recently, the Security Council passed resolution 2242, calling on member states to better integrate WPS into their strategies for countering violent extremism and counter-terrorism. That resolution also urged member states to “strengthen access to justice for women in conflict and post-conflict situations, including through the prompt investigation, prosecution and punishment of perpetrators of sexual and gender-based violence.”

Gendered war crimes have been the hallmark of Da’esh who have kidnapped women, published entire doctrines on the use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. Rape has been perpetrated as war crimes and has been so widespread that it constitutes a crime against humanity. Furthermore, sexual violence has been used as constituent of genocide against the Yazidis. Of the tens of thousands of foreign fighters who fight with Da’esh in Iraq and Syria, many come from countries like Australia that criminalise sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

One such fighter is Khaled Sharrouf who is known to have purchased Yazidi women at a slave market, held them captive, and forced them into sexual slavery. However, rather than meeting Australia’s international obligation to investigate and prosecute him for these crimes, the Minister for Immigration revoked his citizenship, abdicating our obligation for non-recurrence and supporting impunity for conflict related sexual violence.

Recent updates to data laws in Australia give intelligence and law enforcement agencies an unprecedented volume of information to prevent terrorist activity. However, the system continues to fail to adequately analyse the information at hand. Dr Anne Aly MP, noted that ahead of the Lindt café siege, Man Haron Monis exhibited the three behavioural traits that indicate a serious terrorist threat. Fixation: a pathological preoccupation with a person or cause; identification: a warrior mentality that includes narcissistic fantasies; and leakage: communication either to a third party or to the public of intent to commit violence.

There is a strong correlation between perpetration of domestic violence and modern terrorist activity. Sociological research has shown domestic terrorist groups are now more likely to show behaviours to reassert male dominance. This is a common pattern of behaviour in perpetrators of domestic violence. We know that Man Haron Monis has been charged with the murder of his former wife. Many other cases exist including one of the London Bridge terrorists abuse of his wife. But the Australian government continues to underfund the domestic violence services that make victims feel safe enough to report their abusers. Similarly, since 2015, the government has spent a mere three percent of what it did on counterterrorism, on the community sector programs that counter or prevent violent extremism.

In 2015, the Australian Senate heard that thirty-three asylum seekers alleged they had been raped or sexually assaulted at the immigration detention centre on Nauru. Given the centre on Nauru was only host to a hundred or so women and children, this figure is staggeringly high. Policy and government responses to the safety, health and wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers in detention remain inadequate. The most shocking case was the refusal to provide sexual and reproductive health care to a Somali woman who fell pregnant when she was raped in detention.

The head of ASIO recently explained that he saw no relationship between refugees and asylum seekers coming to Australia and incidents of terrorism. But the government has decided to bring the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, that has overseen these gross breaches of women’s security, into a mega Department of Home Affairs designed to ‘improve’ Australia’s security.

Meanwhile, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) undertake a range of operations beyond merely securing our borders and counterterrorism.  The AFP are a key national tool in supporting the rules based global order. They participate in UN peacekeeping operations and undertake significant police support programs in the Pacific. Some of these programs are aimed at improving women’s participation in the police force as well as better responding to and reducing incidence of violence against women. Will these programs be reduced under a new strategic direction based on the concept of a ‘Home Office’?

In short, the merging of departments and agencies into the mega Department of Home Affairs, as well as the ministerial leadership chosen to run the new department, show scant regard for gender justice, women’s rights and the rule of law and admonishes women’s agency and expertise.

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A woeful year for women

Let’s face it; 2016 has been a pretty shitty year for women at home and internationally. We have come so close, but are still so far from equality and sometimes, the closer you are, the more painful the absence feels. Then sometimes the gross violence is just sickening.

It started on shaky ground when three of finalists for Australian of the Year were all champions of gender equality: Liz Broderick, Cate McGregor and David Morrison. Then there was bitter disappointments when the Federal Government slashed funding for domestic violence services. Internationally, we have seen ongoing impunity for gross sexual violence in terrorism and armed conflict in the Middle East. The UN Security Council failed to select any one of a fine range of qualified and politically suitable female candidates for Secretary General, and voters in the US elected a misogynist rather than a women for president.

As we know, the Australian of the Year award was given to David Morrison whose primary efforts for gender equality were when he was the senior leader of a large, mixed gender workforce; the Australian Army. While militaries continue to be largely hyper-masculine organisations primarily made up of men (the Australian Defence Force comprises fifteen percent women and the Army twelve percent) he was none the less, employed and appropriately remunerated to lead the Army through the strategic challenges of the day. That leadership should most definitely include an organisational culture that treated women not just as equals worthy of respect, but as valuable contributors to the team.

So Australia’s most public civic recognition was not given to the trans woman who wrote the speech David Morrison is most famous for, nor the woman who developed and implemented the necessary change regime to bring about the required organisational culture for women in defence, but a very privileged, white, middle aged, military man who was already well paid and recognised for his work in the area.

David Morrison is a wonderful individual: a wonderful human being and a wonderful man. I have met him on several occasions and been impressed by his critical insight into gender issues and military culture. However, his recognition came at the cost of recognising a woman who has worked tirelessly on these issues her whole life, bringing about the most comprehensive and effective change regime needed to develop a respectful, just workplace rooted in equality. His recognition came at the expense of a ground-breaking trans woman who has struggled with a wide range of prejudices and spoken with a clear and articulate voice not just on issues of gender equality, but also in her chosen professional field: strategy and defence (and cricket, but that’s a separate issue).

These issues go to the key feminist criticism of the He For She movement. While men’s support for gender equality is vital and appreciated, it cannot come in the form of taking space and recognition from women. Male allies must champion gender equality side by side with women. Often that means they need to cede space to competent, clever and articulate women. They need to use their privilege, their agency, their platform to amplify the voice of those with less privilege.

After a year of Rosie Batty’s indefatigable campaigning on domestic violence, the Federal Government slashed funding to the community legal centres which largely help victims of family violence. These funding cuts came despite a report by the Productivity Commission showing every dollar invested in community legal centres saved the community $18 further down the line. Then, in repeated insults to community sector workers, campaigners and affected women, the government boasted about insufficient piecemeal funding rounds as ‘evidence’ to their support for “ending the scourge of domestic and family violence and sexual assault”.

It is thought that by the end of the year, 71 women died violently in Australia.  The most recent of those was a woman in her 30s, stabbed in the neck by a 40 year old man in the mediation room of a West Australian courthouse; a place where women and their children should be safe. Additional pressures this year mean that women are often staying or returning to unsafe situations, even if they have reported violence. Moo Baluch, chief executive of Domestic Violence NSW noted that “there are more people living one pay packet away from homelessness. Poverty and homelessness is growing – we know those things contribute to family violence.”

Internationally, we have seen the rise of a terrorist organisation that has used sexual violence in war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, with seeming impunity. Gendered war crimes have been the hallmark of Da’esh who have kidnapped women, published entire doctrines on the use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. Even as western backed forces battled to retake Mosul, no consideration was given to the thousands of Yazidi women kidnapped and held captive by Da’esh as sex slaves. Activists believe more than 3000 Yazidi women remain captive today and demand justice, including operations to free those held captive. But so far, no one is responding to their pleas.

In October, the United Nations appointed its ninth Secretary General. Fifty-two nations had joined a campaign to ensure a woman was appointed to the position. Known as the #She4SG campaign, it kicked off in earnest in March 2015. Even the current Secretary General, Ban Ki-Moon, had said it was “high time” a woman was appointed to the role. A total of seven highly competent and qualified women were candidates at various points in a race that was unprecedented in its openness. But none of those women was appointed to the UN’s top job.

The position was given to a white man from Western Europe, exactly what the appointee was not supposed to be. Western Europe has more Secretary Generals than any other regional group. Eastern Europe has had none. Two exceptionally qualified and competent female candidates were nominated from that region. Much to the consternation of many, they were unsuccessful. If the position could have been filled by someone from outside Eastern Europe, there were a range of valuable female candidates from Latin America and it has been a long time since a Secretary General came from that region. If the post could be filled by someone from Western Europe, there a valuable candidate from our own region (still classified in the Western Europe grouping). Former Prime Minister of New Zealand, and current head of the UN’s development program, Helen Clarke, was the most popular candidate among UN staff.

The Security Council, who recommends the successful candidate for the General Assembly to approve, said that Antonio Guterres was the candidate who they felt most confident and familiar with. As head of the UN refugee agency, Guterres has often appeared before the Council. But the issues dealt with by other candidates, female candidates, who head different parts of the UN or international organisations, do not come before the Council. Which begs the question, is Guterres’ appointment any more than a very public product of the patriarchal ‘boys club’?

He will likely make an exceptional Secretary General, and has already taken great strides to fill his senior leadership team with strong, capable and diverse women. But we remain sorely overdue for a woman to lead the United Nations.

Last, but not least of course, is the presidential election in the US. Electoral data continues to trickle in, shedding light on who voted for whom. But a vast number of women in the US, and internationally, remain flabbergasted that rather than electing a women president, US voters chose to elect a man with pending fraud and rape charges who had publicly degraded women so often, so grossly and so broadly that it is thought his behaviour has been normalised.

Of course, the election was not run or decided solely on gender grounds. Arguments remain that Americans wanted a candidate who spoke to domestic economic issues. In a system of voluntary voting, people really only turn up to vote when they feel passionately about one candidate or the other. So, had the Democratic National Convention chosen Bernie Sanders as their candidate, the result may have been very different. While many campaigners were excited at the prospects of their first woman president, many of Bernie’s policies and speeches were far more progressive and supportive of women than Hillary’s. But in patriarchal system such as politics, it is because of her sex, that Hillary would have been unable to say many of the pro-women things that Bernie did.

And so, while 2016 was a terrible year for women, we now face 2017 with a US President who sexually objectifies his own daughter, has called for women to be punished for having abortions, shows scant regard for legal or respectful behaviour of men towards women, and has already sought advice on who works on global women’s issues in the State Department.

At home, we see backwards steps in paid parental leave, the key policy that can effectively shape the gender pay gap by encouraging men to take on more care work, and allowing women the flexibility of early child care without having to too much financial burden or to leave the workforce entirely and continue their drop down the career and pay ladder.

Good riddance to 2016, but we have our work cut out for us in the year ahead!

It’s time to prosecute – sexual violence by Da’esh in Iraq and Syria

Last month, the United Nations Security Council met for its annual open debate on Women, Peace and Security (WPS). In their statement to the Security Council, the Permanent Representative from Iraq called for assistance strengthening their capacity to address sexual violence perpetrated against women and children by Da’esh.

This year marks the sixteenth anniversary of the first WPS resolution, United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. UNSCR 1325 emphasised “the responsibility of all States to put an end to impunity and to prosecute those responsible for genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes including those relating to sexual and other violence against women and girls”.

There are now a total of eight WPS resolutions, many of which focus on prevention of, protection from and ending impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. The most recent, UNSCR 2242 reiterated the need for the “implementation of relevant obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law.” It also affirmed “the primary role of Member States to implement fully the relevant provisions of Security Council resolutions on women, peace and security”.

International campaigns such as Stop Rape Now have sought to bring attention to sexual violence in armed conflict. But these gendered crimes are often being perpetrated outside the jurisdiction of institutions willing and able to bring the perpetrators to justice. In 2014, Angelina Jolie and William Hague launched the Preventing Sexual Violence Initiative with projects to aid in the documentation and investigation of sexual violence in conflict. Despite advances at the International Criminal Court, these crimes are often still overlooked.

In Iraq and Syria, there’s an unprecedented opportunity to end impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. Da’esh have used sexual violence as a weapon of war, constituent of genocide and in crimes against humanity. Since 2011, over 30 000 people have travelled from 89 countries to fight with Da’esh and other extremist organisations. Many of those people come from countries where war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide are outlawed under domestic legislation.

If countries prosecuted their own nationals for these crimes we would finally go some way to achieving justice for the victims, ending impunity for sexual violence in conflict, and implementing the WPS agenda. In countries such as France, Germany, and the United Kingdom, war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity are outlawed in domestic legislation.  Finland and Sweden have already bought cases against their nationals.

Sexual violence can be prosecuted as a violation of the laws or customs of war, Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions, the Fourth Geneva Convention, or both Additional Protocols I and II to the Geneva Conventions.  In Australia, war crimes and violations of the laws and customs of war are criminalised in the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 (last updated in 2009) and the War Crimes Act 1945 (last updated in 2010). These two acts have been incorporated in Division 268 of the Criminal Code Act 1995.

The Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court recognises rape, sexual slavery, forced prostitution, forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation and other forms of sexual violence as crimes against humanity if the action is part of a widespread or systemic practice.

Da’esh has indeed developed a widespread and systemic practice of sexual slavery and rape. There is dedicated infrastructure for the enslavement, trafficking and rape of women and girls. Investigations have uncovered a network of warehouses where the victims are held, viewing rooms where they are inspected and marketed, and a dedicated fleet of buses used to transport them. Da’esh has developed a detailed bureaucracy of sex slavery, including sales contracts notarized by their own court system. They have published an entire doctrine codifying their practices. In order to comply with this doctrine, women are forced to take oral contraceptives to ensure they are not pregnant while being raped.

yazidi-protest

The principle of complementarity of the International Criminal Court obliges States Parties to investigate and prosecute the crimes outlined in the Rome Statute. The Rome Statute is integrated into Australian law with the International Criminal Court Act 2002  and the International Criminal Court (Consequential Ammendments) Act 2002.

For sexual violence to be considered “a constitutive act with respect to genocide,” it needs to have been committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. The United Nations Human Rights Council has published a damning report, outlining Da’esh’s ongoing genocide of the Yazidis. Genocide has been a crime under Australian domestic law since 2002, when the federal government finally passed the Genocide Convention Act 1949.

Friday 25 November marks the beginning of the annual 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Violence campaign. It will be marked by the launch of the ‘prosecute; don’t perpetrate‘ campaign, calling on the Australian government to investigate and prosecute Australians who have perpetrated these crimes. It is high time we used our own laws, to investigate and prosecute our own citizens for sexual violence perpetrated by Da’esh in Iraq and Syria. Today is the most pertinent day to turn our minds to ending impunity for sexual violence in armed conflict. These laws exist; we know the crimes have been perpetrated. Now we need to develop the political will to allocate the resources, investigate individual cases and prosecute them.

An Open Letter to Hillary Clinton

Dear Hillary,

When I was 11, I told my father I wanted to be president of the United States. He told me, without hesitation, that I could be whatever I wanted to be if I worked hard. I never doubted that. Yet, life soon showed me just how hard women often have to fight to simply be whatever they want or feel led to be.

While we’ve certainly made strides, society still compels women to somehow justify our choices or actions in a way that men don’t have to. You’ve broken a lot of ceilings throughout your career, and I don’t need to tell you how intense, dirty, and thankless the world of politics can be; how washing your hands of the whole thing and hiding in a cave somewhere would be an easy and welcome respite.

But you didn’t hide. You never shied away from adversity. You’re not perfect, but no one is. You were brave enough to keep going, keep fighting, and keep putting yourself out there, because you believed in something bigger and better. And even though it means a lot to us women, you didn’t just do it for us: you did it for everyone.

So, thank you. Thank you for your stamina and grace. Thank you for giving our generation and all future generations an example of what is important and great in this already-great country. And thank you from an 11 year old girl, who 22 years later remains committed to the causes of justice and equality and will continue down this path you and others before you have lit for us.

We are indeed stronger together.

Onward,
Brittany Persinger

Brittany is an international security professional who lives in Arlington, VA. Follow her on Twitter at @BrittForPeace.

Mosul offensive mustn’t stop justice for war crimes

This post was kindly republished on the Huffington Post blog.

As the battle for Mosul rages, we need to remember that war crimes have driven this conflict.  Gendered war crimes have been the hallmark of Da’esh who have kidnapped women, published entire doctrines on the use of sex slaves, and thrown LGBTQI people off rooftops for their sexuality. There needs to be justice for those crimes. Their evidence needs to not be destroyed by the current offensive.

Rape has been used as a weapon of war; a war crime. It has been so widespread that it constitutes a crime against humanity. Furthermore, sexual violence has been used as constituent of genocide against the Yazidis. These crimes have been reported by the United Nations and many local and international activists.

The international nature of this conflict means there is the greatest scope for international justice for victims of these crimes. It has been reported that France is going to take Russia to the International Court of Justice for war crimes in the siege of Aleppo and the French prosecutor has been investigating Assad for war crimes since last September.

There have been repeated calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate and prosecute. However, neither Iraq nor Syria is signatory to the Rome Statute. The ICC may still be able to prosecute if it was referred by the Security Council, but both Russia and China have so far vetoed any efforts to pass such a resolution. As such, the ICC does not have the jurisdiction.

Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Credit: Radio Free Europe)

Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Credit: Radio Free Europe)

At the peak of Da’esh’s power some 30 000 foreign fighters filled their ranks. Many of these fighters came from places where war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide are outlawed in domestic legislation. The principle of complementarity of the International Criminal Court means that countries who have signed the Rome Statue and have the willingness and ability, must investigate and prosecute these crimes. Finland and Sweden have already bought cases against their nationals. It is time countries like Australia, the United Kingdom and Belgium do so too.

However, investigation and prosecution of international crimes is incredibly difficult. Even when a competent authority has jurisdiction, gathering of evidence is problematic in a war zone, thousands of miles from home.

In 2014, Angelina Jolie and William Hague launched the International Protocol on the Investigation and Documentation of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Since then, the Foreign Office has developed training for the implementation of best practice for documenting sexual violence as a crime in conflict.

Yazidi activist, Ameena Saeed Hasan has called on planners of the Mosul offensive to consider Da’esh’s 1400 captives in their operational planning. US Ambassador to the United Nations, Sarah Mendelson has said the announcement of the Mosul offensive ahead of time allowed Da’esh to hide its captives. As such, it is all the more important to ensure considerations of investigation and evidence are integrated into the planning and conduct of military operations currently underway in Iraq.

Australia, the US and other nations supporting the Iraqi military have national action plans on women, peace and security. These action plans are based on the suite of UN Security Council resolutions that oblige member states to protect women from the effects of armed conflict (particularly sexual violence) and ensure their participation in conflict prevention, mitigation and recovery.

These resolutions identify sexual violence not only as a crime against humanity or constituent of genocide, but also a threat to international peace and security. Security Council Resolution 2106

affirms that sexual violence, when used or commissioned as a method or tactic of war or as part of a widespread or systemic attack against civilian populations, can significantly exacerbate and prolong situations of armed conflict and may impede the restoration of international peace and security

This time last year, the Security Council passed resolution 2242, reiterating the need for “implementation of relevant obligations under international humanitarian law and international human rights law”. That resolution also

called for the greater integration by member states and the United Nations of their agendas on women, peace and security, counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism

As such, it is absolutely imperative that the documentation and investigation of international crimes be fully considered in the planning, conduct and transition activities undertaken by security forces in Mosul. It is necessary for us to meet our obligations under international law, within the Security Council resolutions and within our own policy documents.

Beijing +20

In 1995, people from around the world gathered in Beijing for the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women. Over 17,000 delegates and 30,000 activists attended. By the end of the conference, 189 participating countries had developed the most progressive blue print for women’s rights ever. The Beijing Platform for Action remains the gold standard for implementing women’s rights around the world. It comprises commitments under 12 critical areas of concern:

A. Women and poverty
B. Education and training of women
C. Women and health
D. Violence against women
E. Women and armed conflict
F. Women and the economy
G. Women in power and decision-making
H. Institutional mechanisms for the advancement of women
I.  Human rights of women
J.  Women and the media
K. Women and the environment
L. The girl child

This year, at the United Nations’ 59th Commission on the Status of Women, we are celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action. It was hoped that the Ministers in the General Assembly would release a Political Declaration on accelerated action on the Beijing Platform for Action, prioritising human rights and women’s empowerment, calling for irreversible progress on women’s rights by 2030. I would have liked to see references to violence against women and girls as a key issue for equality and development, and a reinforcement of the women peace and security agenda. Other important issues in the women’s movement include the protection of sexual and reproductive health rights, climate change, and indigenous rights.

Released in the opening session of the Commission on the Status of Women, the Political Declaration was none of these things. It was merely a bland statement of support for the Beijing Platform for Action. During negotiations, specific needs and issues were shut out for fear of creating an unwieldy and unhelpful list of specificities. So there is no mention of disability; intersectionality; or women, peace and security. The Holy See, Russia and Member States in the G77 including China and Iran pushed to remove all references to human rights. Only three such references remain. There has certainly been discussion among civil society of the men in frocks wanting to take away women’s control of their own bodies.

The final document did maintain a reference to the specific goal on gender equality expected from the new development framework, the Sustainable Development Goals, which will replace the soon to expire Millennium Development Goals. Some of our Pacific neighbours fought hard to maintain references to the valuable work of non-government organisations and civil society in attaining gender equality. The Political Declaration also outlined the important role of UN Women in this process, which did not exist when the Beijing Platform for Action was developed, but now has the mandate to lead and coordinate the UN system’s work on gender equality.

Many people have been disappointed by the Political Declaration, and there is much hope that the General Assembly resolution on the working methods of the Commission on the Status of Women will keep the space open for non-government organisations to participate and advocate on women’s issues. Governments and civil society both need to be proactive to ensure the voices of young women and indigenous women are heard in these fora. It all goes to show what can be done when political and social movements seize the moment, as was done in Beijing. Now, the women’s movement needs to coalesce around what we do have, the Beijing Platform for Action and continue to push for its implementation. Rather than necessarily seeking new commitments, we need to see the implementation of the existing ones.

For ongoing updates from #CSW59, follow me on Twitter @SusansOpine.

I am participating in CSW59 as a member of the delegation from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, of which I am a member of the Australian Section and convenor of the ACT Branch.

I have been able to travel to New York to participate in CSW59 thanks to a grant from the Australian National University Gender Institute as well as funding from my College of Arts and Social Science.

Australia Day awards

I could not be prouder to have Rosie Batty selected as the 2015 Australian of the Year. Last year, Rosie’s son, Luke Batty was playing in the cricket nets with his father. Without warning, his father smashed Luke on the back of the head with the cricket bat. When he fell to the ground, the father attacked him with a knife. Luke died in hospital the next day. Australia has watched Rosie Batty rise from this tragedy, at the press conference after Luke’s death, she said

Family violence happens to everybody. No matter how nice your house is, how intelligent you are. It can happen to anyone, and everyone.

She has tirelessly campaigned for greater awareness, and institutional responses to domestic violence. I’m certain I am not the only one who cries when she speaks about the issues; she has a profound voice. Now she is being recognised for her herculean efforts. I haven’t been this proud of our national awardees since Patrick McGorry was awarded the honour for his work on mental health.

Ben Roberts-Smith should be proud to have chaired a committee that selected, for the first time ever, four women for the Australian of the Year awards. It’s been a tough year for the recognition of women in Australia. We’ve seen cuts in funding to domestic violence and homelessness programs.We still have fewer women in federal cabinet than there are in Afghanistan. We’ve seen policies proposed that would lead to an increase in the real cost of a university degree for women. There’s been an increase in the gender pay gap and moves to force a reduction in the gender equity reporting requirements for employers. But Ben Roberts-Smith spoke a great truth at the awards ceremony

Rosie, Jackie, Drisana and Juliette remind us of the many ways in which women contribute to our nation — that women are a force for change, a voice for rights, influencers, educators and the heart of our communities.

It brings me great hope and joy that these four women have been recognised for their contribution to Australian society; their contribution and their leadership. Jackie French was awarded Senior Australian of the Year for her services to literacy; Drisana Levitzke-Gray was awarded Young Australian of the Year for campaigning for the rights of deaf people; and Juliette Wright was awarded Australia’s Local Hero for establishing a website that facilitates community members donating quality items to those in need, especially after a disaster.

Last year, the Prime Minister made the decision to revive part of the imperial honour system, appointing dames and knights, titles traditionally awarded for service to Queen and country. The first two awardees were the outgoing and incoming Governors General. Today he made an interesting announcement; awarding one of these knighthoods to none other than the Prince Philip, the Queen’s husband. There has been a great deal of discussion about the decision. Some people have protested based on personal attributes of the Prince, others have protested because he isn’t Australian. Today I read a very valid gender analysis of the decision. But I cannot think of a more bizarre choice merely on grounds of process. Giving Prince Philip an Australian knighthood seems to me to be a bit like choosing the principle as the pupil of the week, or perhaps the principle’s husband. It just doesn’t compute.

I was however heartened to read the list of OAM recipients from Far North Queensland recognised for their service to the indigenous community. The Medal of the Order of Australia is the category we see most people who have served the community, those who are recognised for voluntary service; not military service, or public service for which they have been otherwise recompensed, but the kind of service that truly comes from the heart, and gives in the best way possible. It is for this reason I love to see who has been awarded the OAM in communities around the nation. We hear so many dire stories from indigenous communities and so rarely hear of positive achievements, so it was especially good to hear indigenous people recognised for their service the community.