I was hit by a car

Yes, I was hit by a car; a white courier van to be precise. Of all the things I’ve imagined in my life, this was not one of them. It happened two weeks ago to the day. I was crossing Northbourne Ave, Canberra’s main northern arterial, at an intersection beset by roadworks and temporary alterations. I saw the car about to hit me, then it hit me and I was on the road on my back in extreme pain.

Luckily for me, my mobility scooter seems to have acted as a crumple zone, being the most significant thing to break in the crash. I remember being very distressed as I lay there on the road: worried about that mobility scooter that had been kindly donated to me because the NDIS had refused my application for assistance; the driver of the van because I imagined he’d have seen me right up in his windscreen and I thought that would have been terribly traumatic; and the bottle of shampoo I’d just bought with the last of the money in my bank account because I was due to be interviewed the next day and I didn’t want to have greasy hair.

There were so many people at the scene. One lovely lady who’d been waiting in her car when I was hit was a nurse, she pulled a blanket from her car and stayed by my side, making sure I didn’t pass out. I held her hand so tight I think she may have been in pain herself. When I explained how my disability made me incredibly sensitive to sound, the fireman on the scene gave me their (amazing) earmuffs to block out the cacophony. The ambulance arrived in quick time, took good care of me and rushed me to hospital.

I was incredibly impressed by the trauma team at the Canberra hospital who listened to me, and changed their regular routine in response to my sensory sensitivity. I was scanned and x-rayed quick smart, each of my damaged extremities imaged and assessed. Lucy, the trauma nurse, looked after me incredibly well. The whole team made me feel safe, secure and calm, despite the crazy situation. When I asked, for sentimental reasons, if they could not cut off the t-shirt I was wearing, they didn’t even bat an eye. I thought that showed great kindness. I told them it was a shirt I bought when I travelled Africa with one of my high school girlfriends, when my life was better. We did, however, cut off my bra.

‘The T-shirt’ from better days, as seen on my birthday in our friends’ village in Uganda

The only bone that was broken was my right thumb, but everything hurt and the only limb that worked properly was my left arm. I am right handed. While I guessed getting hit by a car would hurt, after a week when my legs still didn’t work and the pain in my thighs woke me screaming in the night, I started to wonder what exactly was wrong in my body. Bones aren’t the only things that can break in the body, but I hadn’t realised the ‘soft tissue’ in my thighs had such depth that it could be the source of such deep pain! A few days later, I thought the pain must surely start to dissipate, but it just kept evolving like some cruel sorcerer.

I suffer from a debilitating condition called ME/CFS. I am sensitive to sound, cognitive overload and too much physical activity. Each of these triggers leaves me unable to walk, talk and even think. I wear noise cancelling headphones to help manage that sensory input, but construction sounds set off an acute physical reaction in my body; reducing my capacity to absorb information and make decisions. That day, riding my scooter down the footpath beside Northbourne Ave, I had passed an angle grinder, a concrete saw and an electric edge trimmer. I knew my body wasn’t functioning well. I had traversed many detours and intersections altered by roadworks. When I approached the intersection at which I needed to cross, I was confused by where I was supposed to cross and where the lights were. I observed the traffic: saw two lanes of stationary cars and the third lane was empty. When a pedestrian crossed ahead of me, I crossed the intersection.

 

I was barely a meter out from the island when I saw the white van was about to hit me. Then it hit me. If the van’s windscreen/bonnet formed an angle like 1 o’clock, I remember hitting it at midday till about 10 o’clock. That time frame is the scene that ran in instant replay in my dreams in the following weeks. I don’t remember much more from that 10 o’clock till I was on the road, I wonder if I bounced, before landing on my back with my knees up. The driver ran out. I remember he asked if I was OK and somehow, possibly sarcastically, I said ‘NO! Call an ambulance!’ he started telling everyone he’d been driving at 60km/h.

Later, I looked up the stats. People who are hit at 60km/h have an eighty five percent chance of dying. I only broke my thumb. Don’t get me wrong, my pain and suffering have been intense. But I also feel incredibly lucky. Wonderful friends, family, feminists and colleagues have all be generous in the support they have shown. A complete stranger even cut my hair in my hospital room so I wouldn’t have to worry about trying to keep the birds nests out of it and wash it when my body was so pained.

But I had diminished capacity when I crossed that intersection and the investigators have recorded the accident as my fault. So I will not be able to claim the government insurance scheme designed to cover pedestrians and other third parties in road accidents. My mobility scooter was donated to me by a small businessman when the one I inherited was flooded earlier in the year. My noise cancelling headphones were destroyed. I have no money and no insurance. In addition to needing to heal from the crash, spending weeks in hospital, and then post hospital treatment (for which I cannot pay), I have lost the key tools that help me exist in the world, exist with a disability and still participate and contribute to society.

I need help to recover. An old friend of mine has started a gofundme page to help get me back on my feet, so to speak. That scooter was worth $6000, new headphones cost $400. Post-hospital osteopathy will cost an average of $140 per session (per week). I need to move out of my third floor flat into a ground floor place with disability access and have no money for removalists or the standard ‘deep clean.’ The gofundme page aims to raise $10000. Please help, donate if you can and spread the word.

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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.

Suicide prevention in an era of diminishing social welfare

When I think about suicide it is for one of two reasons. First, the system that is supposed to help and protect me is so inaccessible and combative that the future is too bleak to go on. The second is that I am just too exhausted to continue. This issue, of course, ties into the nature of the chronic illness from which I suffer. But the first point is more systematic and it is the reason why I cringe at ‘suicide prevention’ funding and programs.

A recent study in the US showed that in states where gay marriage was legalised, suicide rates in young LGTBQI people were substantially lower than states where gay marriage wasn’t legalised. Researchers found that while marriage was not at the forefront of the minds of young LGTBQI people, its legalisation meant it was a possibility. This in turn showed young people there was a possibility for something brighter later in life.

Suicide prevention programs and funding usually focus on two things: raising awareness and asking for help. After a lifetime in the advocacy game, I will quite firmly and confidently tell you that raising awareness is not a legitimate or effective campaign objective. It is not enough. It is virtually impossible to measure. It is a poor substitute for actual action; a poor substitute for actual change.

Asking for help is important to develop coping mechansims and medical assistance. But what about when there is no help? What about when the situation that has led you to these thoughts isn’t solely due to mental illness; when the problem isn’t medical but is multilayered, bureaucratic and socially systemic?

It is poor effort for a government to announce an increase in ‘suicide prevention’ programming when they are cutting the welfare that the most vulberable Australians rely on, when the housing crisis means more and more people are homeless and forced into extreme housing stress. When the disability support pension is so difficult to apply for that the most vulnerable can’t manage the bureaucracy required, when even those trying to do the right thing are penalised when they can’t meet changing criteria for the maintenence of payments. When they live in constant fear that Centrelink will send them a bill for thousands of dollars. When their disability restricts their mobility, preventing their attendance at appointments made just because they need to be.

When employers won’t consider flexibility needed to capitalise on the skills of someone with a disability. When universities are so inflexible that they threaten to cancel the enrollment of intelligent, capable students with special needs. When public spaces and social norms make social engagement virtually impossible and society says that only healthy people are suitable mates for intimate relationships.

When the government defunds the community legal centres that provide assistance to victims of domestic violence that is both a leading cause of disability amoung young women and a high risk factor for victimisation. Those community legal centres also provide the disability discrimination lawyers who work with clients that universities are threatening.

Do you know what it’s like to listen to four consecutive federal budget speeches and know that you are the person the government is talking about when they coin the term ‘leaners’ when they talk of the burden of social security? When your senator undertakes a major survey of their constituents, questioning the very existence of the public health scheme that is supposed to allow you to engage in society in a more holistic way?

I am no psychologist. I am not an expert in public health. I am not a psychiatrist either or a mental health professional of any description. But I know what my experience has shown to be too much to deal with. In my experience public interventions that reduce these structural issues are a far more important intervention than raising awareness about suicide in Australia.

The number of Australians who know that suicide is a problem will not stop me ending my own life. But if there were fewer battles to face to keep a roof over my head and allow me to meaningfully contribute to society in accordance with my own strengths and capabilities, that would stop me wanting to end my own life.

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!

My year without Coles and Woolworths

I don’t much go into New Year’s resolutions, but this time last year a friend of mine suggested I resolve to not spend a single dollar at Coles or Woolworths for the entire year. Given my view of these two monolithic stores, and my food ethics, it was a challenge I wanted to accept. The year is almost done and I’m now taking the time to reflect on how I achieved the challenge.

The greenhouse emissions of the transport system that takes fresh food and other grocery items from their country or place of origin, to a wholesale market, to a warehouse, trucked to a grocery store, and sometimes onto a second or third store are huge. Products criss-cross the country, and sometimes the world. If you try buying a locally grown mango in Darwin, and it will have been shipped to the wholesale market in Brisbane, before being trucked all the way back to Darwin for retail sale. Then there’s the food miles of importing foods like garlic (commonly imported from China), lemons (often from the USA) or asparagus (from Peru) into that system for them to be bought to you in the off season. On top of that, there’s the hydroflurocarbons (HFCs) and hydrochloroflurocarbons (HCFCs) used in the refrigeration of all that food throughout its journey. Many of these chemicals are potent greenhouse gases. HCFCs also deplete the ozone layer. HCFC-22 is the most common refrigerant in Australia. 

I also have social concerns with both businesses. Farmers have been complaining about unfair prices for produce, and unreasonable contract requirements for years. The $2 milk wars were a very visual example of some of these practices, but similar complaints have been made by vegetable producers including those producing potatoes and onions. Indeed, in 2013, the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission undertook an investigation of the major supermarkets. They began with over 160,000 complaints, took a deeper look at over 3,000 of those and commenced about 550 individual investigations. Around 140 of these progressed to in-depth investigations, resulting in more than 30 court proceedings, over 30 court enforceable undertakings, and the payment of numerous infringement notices. Most recently, the watchdog launched major legal action against Woolworths for unconscionable conduct toward suppliers. In November and December last year, it is alleged that Woolworths developed a strategy to demand payments totalling $18.1 million from its suppliers simply to increase the supermarket’s profit margin.

Woolworths is also the largest owner and operator of high loss poker machines in the country. The majority of these machines are located in low-socio-economic neighbourhoods. Responding to recent government calls to reduce harm of poker machines, Woolworths took the opposite approach, facilitating and exacerbating the behaviour of addicts.

Fresh food

Before the challenge began, I already bought the majority of my fresh food from my local farmers market. This resolution meant that I needed to better plan my food needs, so I didn’t need to dash to the shop for just that one thing to make dinner complete. The market is a cash only (pretty much) zone, so I go with my $50 and get all my fresh food for the week. I can also get locally grown dried chickpeas, rain fed rice and rice flour and olive oil. I know the name of the person who produced every item in my market bag each week and that’s a great feeling. It is the polar opposite of the Woolworths/Coles shopping experience. I buy locally produced, gold medal winning, free range eggs; heritage beef; biodynamic lamb straight from the farmer; delicious free range poultry; high quality cheeses; locally produced and bottled Jersey milk from a family business; seafood from people who own the boat, catch the fish, and bring it to market for me to buy. I buy the freshest, tastiest vegetables from organic and ‘conventional’ farms within 200 kilometres of my home.

I recognise how lucky I am to have such a good quality farmers market so close, on such a regular basis. I firmly believe that weekly farmers markets are the way to change people’s shopping behaviour, with this regularity there is a viable shopping alternative that can be relatively easily incorporated into a routine. A fortnightly market may be OK, but a monthly market will only lead to specialty and luxury items that people might buy for a treat. A monthly market does not provide a serious alternative for daily food items. I urge market organisers, and communities considering the beginning of a farmers market to plan for a weekly market, containing as much locally produced food as shoppers would reasonably consume within the seasons.

I would highly recommend upcoming markets look for inspiration from the Capital Region Farmers Market. They take great effort to get good variety of produce so that it is possible for shoppers to buy all their food there each week. This does not mean that everything on offer at the supermarket is available at the farmers market, but with due consideration of seasonality and what actually grows in the region, you can easily buy food for a balanced, healthy diet.

In spring and summer I also do a lot of foraging for wild greens, edible weeds and a variety of fruits that I eat fresh and preserve. There’s not much better than walking downstairs to the nature strip to pick some purslane, wild brassica or sheep sorrel to go in your salad. It’s far tastier than shop bought greens, packed with nutrition, and doesn’t cost a cent. It’s also a wonderful excuse to get into nature and relax outside. It’s certainly a superior experience than a peak hour visit to the supermarket.

Dry goods

I buy my flour, nuts and dried beans from my local food co-op. The prices are very reasonable, the range is quite extensive and there are a lot of organic options. The co-op is on my bike ride from home to my office. I take my clear cubes and reusable tins into the store and weigh the containers before filling them up. If you volunteer your time once a month, you get a reasonable discount on your shopping items. They have a good supply of other local fresh produce including fruit and veg, vegan cheeses, tofu and fermented foods. They also have bulk liquids like honey, vinegars, and molasses that you can pour into your own reusable jars and bottles.

My pantry

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Household products and toiletries

I buy most of my cleaning products, soaps, shampoo, toothpaste and such from my local IGA. I am happy to buy items from them because the store is walking distance from my apartment, the service is friendly and personal, and I prefer to support independent and family owned/operated business. IGA stores are always stocked with items that are reflective of the locals and the owners, providing a community feel that I prefer to the nationwide grocery chains. While IGA still has some power of collective purchasing, stores have more flexibility to buy from local suppliers and don’t have the same power to force unreasonable expectations on suppliers.

I buy my household cleaning products, including soap powder, dish detergent and shower cleaner from IGA. Although, I have just started replacing my shower cleaner with a natural vinegar solution. I often use bi-carbonate of soda for cleaning items such as the stove top, but I buy that from IGA too.

I buy all my laundry products from IGA. I use Aware soap powder to wash my clothes, it comes in a recycled cardboard box, is good to use in a front loader, and is free of the optical brighteners that fade coloured fabrics over time. I have however, discovered that my local food co-op sells bulk laundry detergent, which I may start to use instead of the boxes I buy at IGA. I buy a eucalyptus based wool wash by Earth Choice and the very occasional block of Sard soap for hand washing stubborn stains and grime out of whites.

Shampoo and conditioner were the hardest items for me. I like to buy in large containers, to minimise the packaging I’m responsible for. I like to use a silicon and paraben free shampoo. My IGA doesn’t stock the ‘natural’ version of the brand I like to use. In Canberra, we are lucky have a third supermarket chain, Supabarn. Supabarn does stock my Tresemme shampoo, but the stores are entirely out of my way. This has led me to consider changing brands, to a more ‘natural’ gentler shampoo that is available at my local chemist. The bottles are not available in as large a size as my Tresemme products, but they are organic, made in Australia and smell great.

I buy my shower soap from the farmers market. I love that the market rules only allow food and fresh produce stalls, but several of the olive producers have been allowed to sell olive oil soap alongside their other products. I buy a bar of olive oil soap produced by Homeleigh Grove just on the outskirts of Canberra. It has minimal packaging, is lovely and gently on the skin, and I personally like the people who produce it. I also buy the mini soap bars to put on the towel of my AirBnB guests, as a personal little, local touch.

I recently watched a great little video about how much change you can bring to the world by changing your own behaviour. It makes such a difference. Not only are you reducing your negative impact on the world, by choosing a better way, buying into better, more ethical and sustainable systems, you are making a constructive difference. You are modelling that positive behaviour to your friends and community, and supporting others who are working and living in similarly positive systems.

Will you give it a go this coming new year? Can you do a year without Coles and Woolworths? I would not be surprised if you find it as enjoyable as I did.

If you’d like to read more about the food portion of this shopping challenge, you can head over to my food blog: Susan’s Sumptuous Suppers.

This post was kindly republished by 1 Million Women.

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.