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for attacks on women and children they’ve imprisoned in a country that has virtually no rule of law, and whose aid has been revoked by the New Zealand government precisely because of its lack of an adequate justice system.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.