Australian leaders must listen to calls by UN expert to protect the rights and safety of women and girls

Australian leaders must listen to calls by UN expert to protect the rights and safety of women and girls

The UN Special Rapporteur on Violence Against Women and Girls has issued a powerful statement on the need to ‘allow women and girls to speak on sex, gender and gender identity without intimidation or fear’.

The statement follows the vilification and recent expulsion of Victorian Liberal politician Moira Deeming after she spoke at a ‘Let Women Speak’ rally in Melbourne, organised to enable women to speak about their concerns regarding the harms of allowing men to self-identify as women, including the threat to female-only spaces, services and sports. The rally was gate-crashed by neo-Nazis, which was used by Victorian Liberal Leader John Pesutto to accuse Moira of associating with Nazis and eventually expel her from the Victorian parliamentary liberal party.

In her statement, independent UN expert Reem Alsalem strongly condemns the threats and intimidation against women who speak out about their sex-based needs and rights in developed regions like North America, Europe, New Zealand and Australia.  

Ms Alsalem specifically raises concerns about:

  • The inability of women to express themselves on this issue peacefully in public without verbal and physical abuse, which is intended to sabotage women’s events and silence them.
  • The failure of law enforcement to protect women’s safety and right to free speech and assembly at gatherings about women’s sex-based needs and rights.
  • The frequent tactic of smear campaigns against women who speak out, calling them “Nazis” or “extremists”, as a means of attack and intimidation with the purpose of deterring women from speaking and expressing their views. She notes that “such actions are deeply troubling, as they are intended to instil fear in [women] shame them into silence, and incite violence and hatred against them. Such acts severely affect the dignified participation of women and girls in society.” 
  • The way in which provisions that criminalise hate speech have been interpreted in some countries to silence women who express views on sex and gender identity.
  • The various forms of reprisals against women, including censorship, legal harassment, employment loss, loss of income, removal from social media platforms, speaking engagements, the refusal to publish research conclusions and articles, and the sanctioning of female politicians by their political parties, including through the threat of dismissal or actual dismissal.

She states that sweeping restrictions on the ability of women to raise concerns about the conflict of rights based on gender identity and sex are in violation of rights to free thought, belief and expression and amount to unjustified or blanket censorship.

In an interview with Peta Credlin, Women's Forum Australia CEO Rachael Wong commended Ms Alsalem on her statement, saying it “is a fantastic step in calling out the silencing and bullying of women who speak out to defend their sex-based needs and rights”.

Rachael said she “had no doubt” Ms Alsalem’s statement was “very pointed and speaking to the events that have happened in Australia” with the attacks against women like Moira, as well as against other Australian women who have spoken out to the sex-based rights of women and girls.

Indeed, The Australian reports that “Ms Alsalem made contact with Ms Deeming following the March expulsion attempt, offering to help the MP make a human rights complaint against the Liberal Party.”

The ABC also highlighted Ms Alsalem’s engagement with one of Women’s Forum Australia’s LinkedIn posts about attempts to expel Moira in March:

In March, Ms Alsalem commented on a LinkedIn post by the Women's Forum Australia criticising the Liberal Party's initial move to expel Ms Deeming.

"On what basis is Moira Deeming being punished if the rally was attacked by neo-Nazis?" Ms Alsalem wrote.

"I do not understand the argument used by the Liberal Party of Australia, unless I am missing something."

And, in a later interview with Peta Credlin, Ms Alsalem specifically condemned the treatment of Moira.

She noted that she is aware of Moira's situation and that her statement can be interpreted as relevant to what Moira has experienced.

“What really stood out for me is that she appears to have been unfairly called and Nazi precisely for expressing her views and her concerns regarding the rights of women associated with gender, sex and gender identity. And has also been, on those allegations or grounds, expelled from the Victorian Liberal Party.”

“I haven't seen that there has been a proper investigation into these allegations before she was dismissed – so there are concerns about due process.”

"It's very convenient to brush everybody with the stroke of Nazi, bigot, or genocidaire. It's a convenient tactic. We've seen it used in other situations. It serves as a green light to say that you should hate the group that is being smeared, or the individuals. You should despise them, they have nothing to contribute, their issues are trivial, and therefore that closes the door on any meaningful engagement".

In her interview with Peta Credlin, Rachael also highlighted other current high-profile examples of women being attacked for speaking out, including:

  • Sall Grover who is defending against a human rights lawsuit for refusing to allow a man who identifies as a woman to use her female-only networking app;
  • Hobart City Councillor Louise Elliot who is facing a complaint to Tasmania’s anti-discrimination commissioner for saying transwomen are men;
  • Kirralie Smith who is currently being investigated for hate crimes after speaking out about a trans-identified male football player who is playing in a NSW women’s team;
  • Melbourne University Academic Dr Holly Lawford-Smith who has been subject to a relentless cancellation campaign against her on campus after she attended the Let Women Speak rally.

Let Women Speak co-organisers Angela Jones and Katherine Deves have also been vilified and called a Nazis for their part in the rally and there are many more examples of Australian women (and men) who have faced a range of reprisals for speaking out about the conflict between sex and gender identity.

Rachael emphasised that “it’s incredibly important Australian leaders actually heed the calls of this UN expert...and protect the rights and safety of women who want to speak out about their needs and rights.”

She explained that some countries in the UK have actually taken note of concerns like those of Ms Alsalem around the housing of trans-identified male sex offenders in women’s prisons, and have started to reform their policies accordingly. Her comments regarding the risks to women in Scotland’s gender self-identification bill, which could open up loopholes for predatory men to abuse women and girls, were also instrumental in the UK Government’s recent decision to block the law.

This is in contrast to the response of Queensland’s Minister for Women Shannon Fentiman, who has continued to ignore such comments in the bid to pass her own self-identification bill, as well as Victorian Liberal leader John Pesutto who shrugged off Ms Alsalem’s comments when asked about them by reporters.

It is time Australian politicians like John Pesutto and Shannon Fentiman take seriously the comments of this UN expert and her calls to protect the rights and safety of women and girls. Australian politicians are not above international and domestic human rights laws. They are not exempt from respecting and protecting the human rights of women and girls.

Women’s Forum Australia is an independent think tank that undertakes research, education and public policy advocacy on issues affecting women and girls, with a particular focus on addressing behaviours and practices that are harmful and abusive to them. We are a non-partisan, non-religious, tax-deductible charity. We do not receive any government funding and rely solely on donations to make an impact. Support our work today.

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