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Turnbull: women must be respected but only if they are of our tribe

If you can take away the freedom of one man [sic] you strike at the liberty of all.

I don’t think the truth of that statement has struck me quite as forcefully as it has since I learnt of the young Somali refugee who was raped and left pregnant on Nauru some fourteen weeks ago.

Since her ordeal began, the woman has repeatedly appealed to the Australian government to allow her to travel to this country for termination of the pregnancy. Abortion is illegal in Nauru. A termination can only be performed in Papua New Guinea prior to twelve weeks. There is no option for this young woman, other than being brought to Australia.

While Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull patronisingly assures us that his government is in tune with the Somali refugee’s needs, and while Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has assured us that any asylum seeker in off-shore detention will be brought to Australia for medical treatment if deemed necessary, the reality is that a pregnancy waits for no man, and fourteen weeks is more than enough time for a woman to be flown to this country and receive the treatment she is owed, and so desperately needs.

It’s starkly apparent that Nauru is a most unsafe environment for women and children, in detention and out of it. Both the Labor and LNP governments bear the entire responsibility for attacks on women and children they’ve imprisoned in a country that has virtually no rule of law, and whose aid has been revoked by the New Zealand government precisely because of its lack of an adequate justice system.

Malcolm Turnbull’s politically opportunistic proclamation that women in Australia deserve respect and must be respected is entirely undermined by his government’s attitude towards women in off-shore detention. If you do not respect women other than those who are of your tribe, then you do not respect women at all. Your respect for women is conditional, and the condition is that they are women you consider worthy, (or of calibre) according to your own criteria.

The government’s ongoing willingness to subject women in off-shore detention to abuses, sexual assaults, intimidation, fear, and hopelessness tells me that its respect for me is subject to its approval of me as a member of the accepted tribe. Were I to fall outside those criteria, I would no longer be considered worthy of respect and protection.

This isn’t good enough. If you take away respect from one woman, you take away respect from all of us. Respect for women should have no boundaries, political, geographic, ethnic or national.

In this instance, what Turnbull’s government perpetuates, as has every government since Paul Keating built the first detention centres, is the patriarchy’s favoured myth of the madonna and the whore: there are women you respect, and there are women you rape. Men decide which of us is which. In the case of asylum seekers who arrived here by boat, their very situation has placed them in the latter category as they are perceived by the hegemony as other. Other means not quite as human, because not of our tribe.

What Turnbull is doing to refugee women in off-shore detention is a variation of what men who sexually assault us always do: dehumanising those they consider of less value than themselves, and the women they choose to protect.

No, Mr Turnbull, you do not respect me and you do not respect Australian women, and as long as you permit the ill-treatment of women in your off-shore concentration camps, your proclamations of respect will ring as hollow as a clanging cymbal.

Bring the Somali refugee to Australia for the medical treatment you owe her. She is suffering as you never have and never will suffer. Show her some respect.

This article was first published on No Place For Sheep.



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  1. David

    Where are the voices of the ‘women’ in cabinet? the ‘women’ in the Govt across the board? Why are they not wearing out the carpet to Turnbulls office demanding he bring that woman to an Australian hospital?
    The heartless evil bastards sicken me. The bloody males led by the ignorant stupidity of Dutton are not worth peeing on.

  2. Delia Lord

    That’s the point Neo Liberal Governments don’t care male or female. Caring about other people has been bred out of them for generations.

  3. Kaye Lee

    “While controversy raged about sending unaccompanied teenagers to Nauru, nothing was said about the transfer of approximately 80 unaccompanied women and girls to Nauru. Few knew about their existence at this time because “on water matters” extended secrecy to land, too.

    The women languished without interviews or information about their future for months, until they could stand it no longer. They painted their sheets and hung these as banners on the fence, stood in silence or chanted their distress, day after day.

    Conditions in the camps placed women at risk both day and night. After dark, male security guards roamed; by day the showers and toilets were regulated by guards sitting a metre from the flimsy curtain which was their only privacy.

    As we know from consecutive inquiries, and now disclosures from women who were transferred to Australia, some were raped and most had to contend with daily sexual assaults.”

  4. pudden'head

    How would the upright LNP folk react if their mother, wife, girlfriend or a daughter were raped and mistreated while incarcerated in a foreign land to which they had fled because they wanted to live in what they had mistakenly taken to be a free and fair society? The Duttons,Morrisons et al of this world should put themselves in the shoes of these defenceless waifs.They just might come to a more reasoned response to one girl’s needs.

  5. Don Wreford

    She is not white nor blonde? therefore she is not the same as us, and must have deserved it.

  6. stephengb2014

    Thank you Jennifer for bringing this to my attention.

    I have always believed equality and respect – this article shows me a side of the governments rhetoric that had not sunk in.

    I feel ashamed to say that and am sorry for my shallow thought.

    The way that Australia has become over the last two years has made me feel shame but in fact it has been going on for much longer – Abbott and his cabinet were disgusting but this so called small ‘l’ Liberal seems unable to cut the remaining red necks out of the picture and keeps too many ex Abbott cabinet minister in his cabinet, to keep the evil going.

  7. keerti

    Australians should hang their collective heads in shame that so few voices are raised against the continued abuse of refugees by this government which is aided and abetted by the labor party.

  8. Florence nee Fedup

    We have 100’s doctors saying kids in a Victorian hospital can’t be treated because of Dutton’s asylum policies. They are saying, having guards at their room doesn’t help.

    Are refusing to release these kids. Strong action for any to take.

    All they got from Dutton, too bad. These kids have to suffer, because his mob don’t want to pull any more bodies from the water.

    We have hundred’s of kids, whose health, life is in definite danger because of this government policies.

    They will, are doing nothing, because they just don’t care.

    The question I ask, do we the public share their beliefs, share that the children being treated also do not matter.

    Do we believe this is the only solution available?

  9. diannaart


    There’s your answer:

    Caring about other people has been bred out of them (right-wing conservatives) for generations.

    Sadly true.

  10. win jeavons

    We need a modern Lysistrata then men might take notice!

  11. paul walter

    Mojgan Shamsalipoor is another case in point, but I’ll say no more in case certain souls continue to bag me the more, for suggesting it.

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