UN readies for another resolution while Australia stands in the way of ending impunity for wartime rape

The UN Security Council is in the process of developing a new resolution on Women, Peace and Security. The resolution has been anticipated for several months and is due to be passed as part of the Council’s annual open debate on conflict related sexual violence which is due to be held in New York on Tuesday. An Arria formula meeting was held earlier in the year to prepare council members for the debate, with a particular focus on ending impunity for conflict related sexual violence. Conflict related sexual violence is the focus of four of the existing eight resolutions on women, peace and security. But even the Council has bemoaned the lack of prosecutions for these crimes.

Nobel Laureate Nadia Murad will address the Council during the Open Debate. She has spoken out time and again for justice for survivors from her community who experienced sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide at the hands of Da’esh in Syria and Iraq. For all the times the international community has shone a spotlight on her tears, we have still failed to do what she asks.

Germany, the current President of the Security Council and chair of this week’s debate is the only country to put a member of Da’esh on trial for any of these gendered crimes. But tens of thousands of foreign fighters travelled from countries around the world and committed these crimes. Many of those foreign fighters come from countries that are States Parties to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and are therefore obliged to investigate and prosecute these crimes in their own court systems.

Both houses of Australia’s Federal Parliament passed multi-party motions calling for the investigation and prosecution of Australians who may have perpetrated sexual violence as war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Several federal ministers have reinforced this obligation. These ministers have included Julie Bishop as Foreign Minister, Peter Dutton as Minister for Home Affairs and Linda Reynolds as Assistant Minister for Home Affairs.

Despite this, the government has failed to implement the strategies required to make such investigations and prosecutions are reality and they have invested energy into policies and legislation which prevent such action. Chapter eight of the Commonwealth Criminal Code clearly articulates the crimes that are laid out in the Rome Statute and ensures that Australian authorities have jurisdiction over such offences even when they are perpetrated overseas, against victims from another country. But this legislation has never been tested in court. The Australian Federal Police require the funding and other resources to stand up unit dedicated to such investigations. No such funding was made available in the latest federal budget.

In order for these prosecutions to occur, the perpetrator must be in federal custody. But the government has pursued a range of legislative and policy processes removing this probability. Given the parliament passed legislation allowing the government to revoke the citizenship of anyone who travelled to Iraq or Syria to join Da’esh, the government was obliged to include an administrative step determining if such individuals perpetrated war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide before making a determination about citizenship revocation. The citizenship review board that advices the Minister for Home Affairs on such matters has apparently continued to fail to account for such obligations. Now, over a dozen individuals, some of whom are known to have perpetrated heinous crimes against women have had their citizenship revoked, further reducing the likelihood that their victims will see the justice they so rightly deserve.

There is a group of Yazidi women who are fighting for access to support services under Australia’s victims of human trafficking schemes. These women were purchased by an Australian man, for the purpose of sexual slavery, and repeatedly sexually and violently abused. Under Australia’s own criminal laws, those women count as victims of human trafficking, modern slavery, war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. But rather than allow them justice, the government revoked the citizenship of their abuser. If they so choose, they could bring a case against the Commonwealth for failure to uphold their obligations under the Rome Statute. Their country of residence, or any other country of interest could take Australia to the International Court of Justice for failing to fulfil our obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Early in the new year, the government tried to go even further, seeking legislative changes that would allow them to revoke the citizenship of even more people, and enforcing Temporary Exclusion Orders to delay Australians of counter-terrorism interest from re-entering Australia. This is yet another policy that would prevent the arrest or detention of individuals responsible for conflict related sexual violence.

At the Arria formula meeting earlier in the year, civil society presenter Akila Radhakrishnan from the Global Justice Centre said achieving accountability for conflict related sexual violence “requires more than just eloquent rhetoric; it will require Council members to take concrete action and display considerable political will. Sexual and gender-based violence is, at its core, an expression of discrimination, patriarchy and inequality.” Countries like Australia must stop getting in the way of justice and follow up the global rhetoric with the actual action required to end impunity for conflict related sexual violence. We must investigate and prosecute these crimes now!

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Greens policy on ME/CFS

The Australian Greens have launched a policy on the debilitating neurological disease myalgic encephalomyelitis, a type of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome known in Australia as ME/CFS. Senator Jordan Steele-John has campaigned passionately for patients with ME since coming to parliament in 2017. This is the first ever political policy to be released on ME/CFS and is well timed with a Federal election due in May.

The Senator was kind enough to call me today to discuss the new policy. After years of campaigning with the hashtag #millionsmissing from their normal lives, the Senator explained this policy was an important way to show the patient community that they were no longer invisible. “When the evidence shows that a disease like this is real, it doesn’t mean that people automatically stop experiencing stigma.” He went on to say this policy was designed to show that it was not just his words that the Greens had to offer ME/CFS patients, but the whole Green movement now had a plan for action to help make their lives better.

The Greens’ policy has four parts. The first is to increase funding for biomedical research to $15 million dollars that would be administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council. This would allow funding for a range of innovative work being done across Australia by a range of different organisations. It would be enough to cover the gap in funding to scale up the sample size of calcium ion channel research being undertaken by the National Centre for Neuroimmunology and Emerging Diseases, as well as a range of other significant biomedical research projects. Since the release of the Greens’ policy, the Coalition Government has announced $3 million dollars in ME/CFS research funding.

Secondly, they propose a national ME/CFS summit to bring together patient advocates, biomedical researchers, clinicians, the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Department of Human Services, and Department of Social Services. Such an event could be facilitated in such a way that it would catalyse policy alignment between all these groups, with a particular focus on government departments, service providers and medical practitioners. At present, the discrepancies between current research, medical practice, the NDIA and other government departments pose a significant barrier to the health and wellbeing of the hundreds of thousands of Australians who suffer from ME/CFS.

In many cases, patient advocacy groups have been the only source of support and guidance through these frought bureaucratic processes that combine to discriminate against people with ME/CFS. These groups have run on the smell of an oily rag for decades but take a leading role in coordinating communication and advocacy to improve the standard of care for ME/CFS patients. Funding and support of these groups is the third component of the Greens’ policy and it is long overdue.

The fourth component of the policy is a promise to provide participant pathways for people with ME/CFS to access the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS). The NDIS was established with the explicit purpose of supporting Australians with disabilities to access social, economic and community life. Senator Steele-John was infuriated by the revelations that the NDIS had vastly underspent this financial year, but was still failing so many Australians in need of support.

There are a range of reasons given to the scores of people with ME/CFS who are rejected from the scheme. Some reasons relate to outdated research that suggested Cognitive Behaviour Therapy and Graduated Exercise Therapy would make them better; making them ineligible under the criteria of ‘permanence’. Others find themselves caught up in the stigma and misconception of medical professionals who misdiagnose them with Conversion Disorder or Somatic Symptom Disorder. If all the symptoms experienced by a person with ME/CFS are described in either the International Consensus Primer or the Canadian Consensus Criteria, then they will not meet the criteria for Conversion. But approximately 80% of people with ME/CFS are women, who for centuries have had their physical symptoms disregarded as mental illness. In addition to advocacy efforts to have ME/CFS added to List B of the NDIS, Senator Steele-John spoke about aims to continue working with his colleague Senator Rachel Siewert to reform the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to improve its fairness and reasonableness in NDIS appeals. He also spoke about the relationship between the AAT and abusive behaviour towards people with ME/CFS, which may mean it falls in the remit of the Royal Commission into violence and abuse of people with disabilities, the terms of reference for which are due to be finalised before the election.

Senator Steele-John’s efforts to support the ME/CFS community are commendable. It is a source of great hope that he has been able to expand on the good work undertaken by his predecessor Senator Ludlam and bring his entire party on board to work for the improvement of the lives of people living with this debilitating commission. He is facing a tough re-election campaign, facing off against candidates from the One Nation party. We can only hope that the good people of Western Australia get out to support his campaign and vote him back into the Senate in May so he can continue his invaluable work for Australians with disabilities, including those living with ME/CFS.

Pass the snuff and loosen the corsets – they’re back to researching hysteria

Professor Andrew Lloyd is the only advisor to the National Disability Insurance Agency regarding the debilitating neurological disease Myalgic Encephalomyelitis, a type of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (ME/CFS). A poster for a study being undertaken by his ‘Fatigue Clinic’ at the University of New South Wales asks the sexist question “are women with CFS ovary-reacting?”

ME/CFS is a life altering disease that affects not just the nervous system, but the gastrointestinal, cardiovascular, endocrine, immune and other systems in the body. Up to 240,000 Australians have ME/CFS. It is estimated that a quarter of those are bed or house bound. Others may be able to work but all will have severely affected quality of life. There is currently no known cause or cure for the disease.

Across the country thousands of people with this disease are being refused access to much needed supports through the NDIS, and many more refused access to the Disability Support Pension. These policy decisions are a direct result of Prof Lloyd’s outdated recommendations for patients to undergo Graded Exercise Therapy and Cognitive Behaviour Therapy as curative treatments, or methods of reducing the symptoms of their disease.

However, Graded Exercise Therapy has been shown to be unsafe for people with ME/CFS. Cognitive Behaviour Therapy is a psychological treatment that was first recommended before biological evidence of the disease was discovered. While a very small number of patients has improved with Graded Exercise Therapy, neither treatment has been shown to be statistically effective treatments for the disease defined by the leading international criteria.

ME/CFS effects four times as many women as men. This ratio is the same as autoimmune diseases. The disease has a history (and, all too often, current reality) of sufferers not being believed, misdiagnoses, conflation with psychosomatic diseases and mental illness, and labelling with terms such as hysteria.

Historically, hysteria was a diagnosis given exclusively to women originally described as having wandering wombs, but later to describe high levels of sexual desire, emotional outbursts or nervousness. Not only is hysteria not an actual disease, it’s history as a label men placed on women for exhibiting natural behaviour makes it a touchy subject for modern women who’s health concerns have been disbelieved or downplayed. Even in modern times, the term hysteric is used to describe overly emotional people.

While the relationship between patients menstrual cycle and the severity of their symptoms is an under-researched area, it would be incredibly problematic if the sentiment in the title of the poster for this project permeated the research design. There is a huge amount of poorly designed, unethical, and poorly executed research on this disease and a dire need for high quality biological research. It would be terrible if the University of New South Wales was spending scarce research funding to rekindle outdated views of women’s health.

Research poster at UNSW ‘Fatigue Clinic’

Nadia Murad: small town girl, reluctant hero, Nobel Laureate

Over the years, the Nobel Peace Prize has chosen some doozy candidates, but it remains one of the world’s most preeminent honours. Last weekend, the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced this year’s award would be shared by Nadia Murad and Dr Denis Mukwege. Both these people have fought for years to end sexual violence in armed conflict.

Nadia Murad grew up in a small town in northern Iraq. She dreamed of becoming a teacher or a beautician. But in 2014, her life was torn apart when ISIS forces swept through her village in an effort to kill the men in her community, enslave the women and girls, and convert the boys. Nadia is a member of a small religious and ethnic community. Although they believe in one heavenly God, ISIS believe they are devil worshippers. That day, Nadia was kidnapped, trafficked to Mosul and sold into sexual slavery. She was beaten and brutally gang raped for a month before finally escaping.

As in so many communities, Nadia and women like her who were so brutally assaulted feared the shame of their community. But she bravely stood up and told her story. What happened to Nadia was not her fault. The only person to blame for rape is the rapist. But what Nadia experienced was not just rape, it was part of a campaign to eradicate her community. It was genocide.

As difficult as it can be for survivors to tell their stories, Nadia sat before the United Nations Security Council and told the world what had happened to her. She told them of the pain and suffering she experienced at the hands of ISIS. She told them what they’d done to her whole community.

Since then, she has continued to campaign for justice. She feels her survival obliged her to fight for the rights of persecuted minorities and victims of sexual violence. In a statement after the Nobel announcement, she reiterated that she wanted to see perpetrators of sexual violence in a courtroom, not executed.

But in many ways, she is still beholden to the experience forced upon her. She is still a relatively ordinary young women, wanting to train to be a beautician; but is thrust into the spotlight because of her bravery, and the heinous acts of men from around the world.

After the announcement was made, in a nod to the #metoo movement and the topical Kavanaugh hearings, Nadia said “my hope is that all women who speak about their experience of sexual violence are heard and accepted.”

Nadia Murad at the National Press Club in Washington DC

Nadia is currently working to help rebuild villages that were destroyed in the battle with ISIS. Villages were burned to the ground, there is no medicine or food, and no crops in fields. While the Nobel Prize money, her share will be about half a million US dollars, will be very much appreciated, it won’t go far in the face of such great need. She explained that it costs about $US 20-30,000 to buy back a Yazidi sex slave and estimated there are about 3000 women and girls still held in captivity.

She has now called “on governments to join me in fighting genocide and sexual violence.” The Australian parliament has committed to investigate and prosecute these crimes, but so far has not acted to do so. To do so, they would need to establish and fund a dedicated team to investigate and prosecute our nationals who perpetrated these crimes as well as gather testimony from Yazidis who now call Australia home.

“A single prize and a single person cannot accomplish these goals. We need an international effort.” If all governments undertook such efforts, then, perhaps Nadia will have the prize she truly seeks, justice for her and her community, and a serious step toward ending impunity for conflict related sexual violence.

 

If you’d like to help Nadia’s cause, you can donate to Nadia’s Initiative via squarespace at https://nadiasinitiative.org/donate/

Ford v Kavanaugh

The following is a guest blog post from my friend and human rights campaigner, Daniel Yeow

Yesterday’s hearings have never been a clearer message that women’s opinions are worth less than men’s. Ford’s memory was continually questioned, while Kavanaugh’s was not. His belligerence was never called out. Her character was constantly attacked.

A thorough FBI investigation would have, while time-consuming, resolved this in a manner respectful of the truth. The choice by the GOP to turn this into political theatre has turned it into an extremely undignified race to the bottom. What little chance remained that Kavanaugh could credibly claim to be an appropriate candidate for the supreme court has now vanished.

They accuse her of politically motivated false accusations, when statistically it is more likely for a man to be sexually assaulted than to be falsely accused of it. Rushing the confirmation of the candidate, after yesterday’s farce, proves that it is in fact the republicans who are acting out of political motivation – putting party and ideology ahead of country and due process.

Pragmatically, the judiciary committee is pushing to vote to recommend the candidate, which will probably happen. Then the senate has to confirm.

What the GOP needs to realise is that, even though they can ‘win’ with their 51-49 majority, yesterday’s political theatre, paired with Trump’s low approval ratings mean that putting Kavanaugh on the supreme court could spell long-term electoral disaster (and in the short-term, even the possibility for a filibuster-proof 2/3 majority for democrats). Confirming the candidate would be the end of the political careers of many GOP senators. On the other hand, crossing the aisle and voting against the party will, in this insane-mobster political environment, result in similar career-ending repercussions.

So for a decent number of senate republicans, they have to make a decision on what will likely be the last thing they do in their political careers. I can’t predict what they will do, but I hope they at least have a conscience which includes women as equals, despite the strong messaging from others in their party.

P.S. I should probably also add that I believe her and not him. Not that that matters. What people are forgetting is that this isn’t a criminal case. This is essentially a job interview. The question isn’t “did Kav try to rape?”, it is “is this guy appropriate material for the supreme court”, and he clearly isn’t.

Gendered insecurity in the Rohingya crisis

Last month, Human Rights Watch released a report confirming that the Burmese security forces “have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State” since 25 August 2017. The report found that the actions of the military, border police and ethnic Rakhine militias amount to crimes against humanity under international law.

Although there is no legally agreed definition of ethnic cleansing, the description developed by a UN Commission of Experts holds significant sway. They described ethnic cleansing as ‘a purposeful policy designed by one ethnic or religious group to remove by violent and terror-inspiring means the civilian population of another ethnic or religious group from certain geographic areas.’ The events of September and October have certainly served to remove Rohingyas from northern Rakhine State.

In early December, the International Committee of the Red Cross, one of the very few international organisations with access to effected areas inside Myanmar, reported that “formerly energetic communities and village tracts are suddenly empty. Life continues for those that remain, but in certain parts of Maungdaw and Sittwe, there is a pervasive sense of absence.”

MSF have now also released extensive testimonies from survivors on the killing, arson and sexual violence they have experienced. Ninety percent of the survivors of sexual violence treated by MSF were attacked after 25 August. Fifty per cent of survivors are under the age of 18, including several under the age of ten.

Early reports of the number of pregnant women and new mothers in the refugee population could have been used as an indicator of increased conflict related sexual violence and ethnic cleansing. While the accuracy of the data and a heightened tendency for pregnant women to flee may both affect the analysis, the matrix of indicators of conflict-related sexual violence developed in response to UN Security Council Resolution 1888 identifies an increase in cases of unwanted pregnancy as an indicator of ongoing sexual violence. International non-governmental organisation Ipas, began increasing its response to the crisis, providing trainers to ‘provide on-site training for health workers in postabortion care’.

That same matrix also reminds us that the increasing ‘statements from doctors, war surgeons, gynaecologists and/or medical NGOs that they are increasingly seeing rape-related injuries’ are an indicator of ongoing sexual violence. As early as September, doctors from the International Organization for Migration, as well as a range of UN agencies and non-governmental organisations, reported high numbers of patients with physical injuries that are consistent with violent sexual attacks, including forced penetration and lacerations to the vagina.

In the two weeks immediately proceeding the crisis, the lead UN agency on sexual and gender based violence (UNFPA), provided services to 3500 Rohingya refugee women who had been sexually assaulted. It is incredibly difficult to gather large-scale data on sexual violence in emergencies, but we do know that only 7 percent of women subjected to sexual violence during the conflict in East Timor reported it, and only 6 percent of rape victims during the Rwandan genocide sought medical treatment. If the women and girls who have reported to those health clinics represent 6 percent of victims, they would be the tip of just one iceberg comprising 58,300 women and girls.

If we had used a gendered lens to analyse the unfolding crisis from the outset, we would have had a better comprehension of the ethnic cleansing that was occurring from the outset. This could have better informed humanitarian and international legal responses. A new comment in the Australian Journal of International Affairs unpacks reported figures of pregnant women who are seeking refuge in Bangladesh in an attempt to understand some of the gendered dimensions of the conflict. It proposes possible reasons for the presence of a high proportion of pregnant and lactating women in the refugee population, and goes on to reflect on indications of increased conflict-related sexual violence and ethnic cleansing. It shows that, while failings in the quality of data in emergencies mean it cannot be relied on as the basis for rigorous conclusions about the gendered nature of conflict, when taken with qualitative reports, and compared with other emergencies, gendered data can be used to build a better understanding of the conflict.

In the first two weeks of the Rohingya crisis, UNICEF reported that an unprecedented portion of the refugees fleeing to Bangladesh were children. The Chief of Child Protection for UNICEF in Bangladesh, Jean Lieby announced that preliminary data showed that 60 percent of the arriving refugees were children, who were often unaccompanied. Such extreme family separation can be an indicator of the degree of chaos and of rate of adult deaths. This second indication is reinforced by the fact the next largest age group of refugees are the elderly. UNICEF also reported that 67 percent of the refugees are female. Combined, this could indicate fighting age males had been targeted in Myanmar.

In mid-September, the Bangladesh Ministry of Health reported that approximately 70,000 of the Rohingya refugees who have arrived since August were pregnant or new mothers. This would represent a staggering 20.8 percent of the female population. Despite the high birth rates among Rohingya communities, we know that Rohingya women have an average of 3.8 children in their lifetime, we would expect only 6.9 percent of the female Rohingya refugee population to be pregnant or breastfeeding. The Bangladesh home minister has said that 90 percent of the refugee women have been raped. That would equate to over 335,600 people.

Peter Bouckaert, emergencies director at Human Rights Watch, said that “the level of hatred and extreme violence—especially towards women and children” is driven by dehumanisation and racism. Because the Rohingya have been described as “too dirty” for soldiers to rape, he believes there is no doubt that “the majority of the women who were raped were killed.” The organisation has drawn connections between what is happening to the Rohingya in Rakhine State and what occurred during the genocide in Rwanda.

Indeed, a comparison of the above data on the Rohingya refugees to that which we saw in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide provided an early indicator of ethnic cleansing in Rakhine State. UN reporting in the aftermath of the Rwandan genocide indicated that the genocide had so rapidly altered the demographics that 60–70 percent of the population was female. It was estimated that the Rwandan refugee population exceeded pre-war fertility. In the immediate aftermath, this was presumed to be the case because of the high number of men who were killed during the genocide. Adolescent and adult males under the age of 45 were the primary targets in the early stages of the Rwandan genocide. There were also “indications that attempts to exterminate women, girls and the elderly eventually encountered significant popular opposition”. But sexual violence was a key feature of the Rwandan genocide. Although, as in the Rohingya case, the majority of rape victims were then killed, most recent estimates indicate that in excess of 20,000 Rwandan children were born from genocidal rape.

It is hoped that the new comment in the Australian Journal of International Affairs, and the general analysis described here, will serve as a reminder of the importance of gendered, cross-disciplinary research to accurately understand forces of peace and conflict in the world, and to inform appropriate policy responses such as humanitarian assistance and international legal action.

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.