Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue: Against All Odds

We need to take the time to reflect on the heroism of Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue who passed away on 4 February aged 91.

Consider the odds against her.

She was stolen from her Aboriginal mother when she was only two years old in 1932.

Lowitja was stolen from her siblings and her extended family.

Her identity was stolen from her when she was forcibly placed in a mission home, her name anglicised.

Her heritage and her culture were stolen from her as she was prohibited from speaking her own language and removed from contact with her mother or with any Indigenous community.

Her agency was stolen from her as she was left alone and powerless.

Her education and prospects were stolen from her as she was trained for a life of servitude.

Her sense of self worth was stolen from her as she was repeatedly told by the matron of the home that she would never amount to anything.

And yet.

With extraordinary courage, she reclaimed her identity and her family, even though it was over 30 years before she could meet her mother and learn that she had named her Lowitja.

With extraordinary courage, she challenged racial discrimination to become, in her early twenties, the first Aboriginal trainee nurse at Royal Adelaide Hospital.

With extraordinary courage she fought not only for a better life for herself. This Yankunytjatjara woman spent the next 60 years fearlessly advocating for justice and equity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Dr. Lowitja O’Donoghue became a formidable leader in the fight to achieve Indigenous rights and recognition, including the success of the 1967 Referendum. Former Prime Minister Paul Keating recalls that in 1993 Dr. O’Donoghue played a key role in drafting the Native Title legislation that arose from the High Court’s historic Mabo decision. As the founding chairperson of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission (ATSIC) she assembled Aboriginal representatives to act as an advisory group. “ It was the first and only time the Aboriginal community of Australia was brought into the Commonwealth Cabinet Room for what became a deep and eight-month consultation in the design of the Native Title Act,” says Keating.

Kevin Rudd was another Prime Minister who sought her counsel in preparing his Apology to the Stolen Generation in 2008.

Dr. O’Donoghue kept on setting precedents and winning recognition as an Indigenous leader. She was the first Aboriginal person to address the United Nations General Assembly. She became the first Aboriginal woman to be made a member of the Order of Australia in 1977 and in 1984 she was named Australian of the Year.

Dr O’Donoghue also held two Honorary Fellows, nine Honorary Doctorates and a Professorial Fellow from various universities. 

In 1998 Dr O’Donoghue was declared a National Living Treasure.

Against impossible odds, Lowitja O’Donoghue took her place as a truly great Australian woman.

 

 

Why Is The Israel-Hamas War Different From Other Wars?

The Israel-Hamas war that began on October 7, 2023 is a war different from other wars in the modern era. It is a war in which women are a strategic target.  It is a war spearheaded by sexual violence. Female casualties are not ‘collateral damage’, the unintended consequences of war. They were designated by Hamas as military and political objectives.

Since Hamas launched its assault on Israel on October 7, it has succeeded in winning multiple victories despite not winning any military victory.

Its victories stem from its use and abuse of women.

Israel’s losses stem in part from its failure to listen to women.

When Hamas, the Government of Gaza, launched its surprise attack on Israel, it did not intend to engage Israeli soldiers in combat. Instead, as Hamas documents at the scene of the massacre of 1200 Israelis reveal, there were detailed plans of where to attack Israeli civilians in their homes and at a music festival. Specific plans of attack for each village included the intentional targeting of women and children.

The objective of Hamas was not only to kill the maximum number of civilians, but also to unleash bestial sexual brutality against them. This mission can best be described as – ‘to dishonour and to provoke’. The well-disciplined and well-equiped army of the Hamas Government carried out premeditated and systematic mass rape, sexual atrocities, mutilation and murder of Israeli girls, young women and old women. 

Mick Ryan, a retired Australian general described some of the actual footage of the Hamas assault:

“Some smartphone clips came from the perpetrators of the October 7 attacks in Israel, who delighted in the footage, and others from victims documenting their last moments. It is the most horrifying thing I have ever watched. It includes subtitles but no commentary on scenes of murder, mutilation, and bestial cruelty.”

This type of warfare harks back to basic tribalism throughout history whereby one of the most compelling ways to defeat your enemy was to dishonour him by defiling and capturing his women. Still today in the Middle East, a man’s honour is fundamentally tied to his ability to protect and control his women. Honour killings are still a widespread occurrence. In Gaza under Hamas, Palestinian women have no legal protection against honour killings, as noted in a 2018 UN report.

Hamas celebrated its sexual victory over Israel and did not cover it up, as was the case with the sexual violence recently committed by Russians in Ukraine. For Hamas, sexual violence against Israeli women was not a shameful by-product of war, but instead, it was an integral part of their military and political strategy.

Victories on International Level

The assault on Israel on October 7 gave Hamas a victory on the international level in public opinion by establishing Hamas as the leader of the Palestinian people and by propelling the Palestinian issue into the headlines. 

Hamas correctly calculated that its attack on Israeli women would be hailed as a victory and not as a war crime. That is why Hamas used bodycams and phones to record their sexual atrocities as they performed them and uploaded them in real time to Telegram and other social media. Immediately, thousands of Gazans and tens of thousands of pro-Palestinian supporters around the world marched in celebration of the Hamas assault. The savagery of mass rape and sexual atrocities against Israeli women were ‘contextualized’ and lauded as acts of resistance. This was the case even before Israel launched its counter-attack. It was also before the back-pedalling and denial of the sexual violence by Hamas and its supporters. And despite it being one of the most documented mass atrocities in history, neither U.N. Women nor any other U.N. body has condemned the sexual violence against Israeli women as it is mandated to do in conflict-related sexual violence. Nor have the major international women’s rights organisations issued condemnations.

Hamas also correctly calculated that its assault would trigger a major Israeli military counter offensive against Hamas. And Hamas was fully prepared for the war it had provoked. It quickly retreated into the safety of its massive network of underground tunnels in Gaza, with the added protection of 250 Israeli hostages. Here too Hamas ensured that there were plenty of female hostages. They included mothers, one with a 10 month-old baby, little girls aged 2 and 5, and many old women in their eighties. Another unprecedented war crime. There are still 17 young women being held in the tunnels since October 7.  “Many girls experienced severe sexual abuse, they are injured – very, very serious and complex injuries that are not being treated,” said 17-year-old Agam Goldstein-Almog, who was released after 51 days in captivity. 

Hamas preparations for war

For over a decade, Hamas had spent billions of dollars building more than 500 kilometres of these underground tunnels. Much of this money was from Qatar and delivered regularly in suitcases with the full knowledge of PM Netanyahu. Netanyahu thought this would stymie Hamas as a military and political threat. But instead Hamas used this money and its vast financial empire to execute its long term plan for war. It built a sophisticated underground infrastructure that included its headquarters and weapons factories concealed below hospitals, schools and mosques. Most importantly, the tunnels were designed to provide protection for Hamas leaders and operatives.

Such lavish spending and meticulous preparation for war and the inevitable Israeli counteroffensive, could not have overlooked the danger to the Palestinian population in Gaza. But it would appear that Hamas, despite being the Government of Gaza since 2007, chose not to provide protection for Palestinian civilians.

It did not spend any of its billions to build bomb shelters or any other defence structures to protect them. And when the war started, Palestinian civilians were denied entry to the safety of the tunnels and left exposed, defenceless in the face of Israeli bombing and the crossfire of battle. 

When questioned about its failure to provide bomb shelters for the people in Gaza, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas deputy political leader acknowledged in an interview that “ the tunnels in Gaza were built to protect Hamas fighters and not civilians. Protecting Gaza civilians is the responsibility of the U.N. and Israel.” 

The vast majority of over 23,000 Palestinians killed so far in the war are women and children. 

It would not have been hard to predict that Hamas would seek to translate this terrible toll to its political advantage. Images of dead and injured Palestinian women and children flashed around the world and spurred protests. 

Another Hamas victory was achieved with the international condemnation of Israel and the world-wide upsurge in anti-Semitism.

These protests were then translated into political pressure on governments to call for a ceasefire at the U.N. A ceasefire would certainly save lives, and it would also rescue the Hamas leadership in Gaza.

Now Hamas has achieved another extraordinary victory as a consequence of its October 7 assault. It has succeeded in having Israel brought before the International Court of Justice accused of genocide. And yet it is the Hamas attack that has been described as a pogrom against the Jewish people, and over 200 legal experts argue that it meets the criteria of genocide.

The Spotters

Is there any basis for arguing that this sequence of developments could have been otherwise? 

Nothing would have deterred Hamas from executing its long planned attack. But perhaps Israel might have been better prepared had it listened to women.

There were 24 young Israeli women called the ‘Spotters’.

Spotters are the young female conscripts whose task it was to sit all day in front of their computers in their base on the Israel-Gaza border monitoring surveillance cameras in order to spot any unusual activity on the other side of the border. They were unarmed. They were amongst the first to be sexually abused and massacred by Hamas as it burst across the border on October 7. Of the 24 spotters at the base on that day, 15 of them were killed and 7 abducted as hostages. Only 2 escaped.

For months prior to October 7, these young women had been doing their job meticulously. They noticed military style preparations by Hamas near the border. They warned that an attack was being prepared and even surmised that it would be carried out on a Jewish holiday. They repeatedly sent the detailed information and warnings up the chain to their IDF superiors. But their information and warnings were dismissed with consummate male chauvinism. They were made to feel that they and their observations and opinions as young women in the army hierarchy were worthless. They were even told that unless they stopped bothering their superiors with these reports they would be court martialed.

The terrible tragedy is that had the IDF listened to these young women, the scale and the devastation of the Hamas assault might have been mitigated. And so too the consequences.

Press Conference of Families of Israeli Hostages on Day 59 of the War. "Time has run out for the hostages - they have no time left, no food and no air".

The Power of the People

October 7th had a transformative impact on Israeli society. But it was probably not the impact that Hamas had intended when it launched its meticulously planned massacre of 1200 Israeli civilians and the taking of 240 hostages. A key element of the Hamas plan was the assault on Israeli women and girls. “The torture of women was weaponized to destroy communities, to destroy a people, to destroy a nation,” said Dr. Cochav Elkayam-Levy, the head of a nongovernmental commission investigating crimes of murder, rape, sexual atrocities, beheading and mutilation perpetrated by Hamas. 

But instead of destroying a nation, it unleashed a dramatic upsurge in ‘the power of the people’ civic activism and an intensification of solidarity amongst Israelis. 

In the immediate aftermath of the massacre, Israelis spoke out against the Government, the IDF and the intelligence agencies for abandoning them and not upholding their social contract to protect the people. They had failed to prevent the worst pogrom against Jews since the Holocaust. In the following weeks, the Government ministries seemed frozen and incapable of meeting the immediate challenges of the situation. 

In the vacuum left by the Israeli Government, civic groups, local government and tens of thousands of volunteers sprang up around the nation to take on the basic functions normally conducted by the central government, particularly in war time.

Ironically, it was those whom Hamas had calculated to be fragmenting Israeli society who were actually amongst the most effective in strengthening its solidarity. For example, the Brothers and Sisters in Arms and the women’s movement Bonot Alternativa (Building an Alternative). They had been the main organisers of demonstrations of over 250,000 Israelis each week for the 10 months prior to the war against the Netanyahu Government’s attempts to undermine Israel’s judiciary and democracy. 

After the Hamas massacre, these groups quickly pivoted and used their exceptional organisational skills and connections to set up the community services, supplies and support for Israelis whose lives and livelihoods were threatened and disrupted by the conflict. This included the hundreds of thousands of Israelis internally displaced from the northern and southern border regions under fire from Hamas and Hezbollah rockets and artillery. Civic groups even coalesced around soldiers in order to supply the logistics of the mobilisation.

#BRINGTHEMHOMENOW campaign

At same time, the survivors of October 7th and their families came together and forged themselves into a force to support each other and to campaign to free the hostages. They included Palestinian, Bedouin and Druze Israelis who had family members killed, taken hostage or both.

The surge in public support for these families grew into a phenomenon of ‘the power of the people’. This became evident in their ability to change the priorities of the Israeli Government. Following the Hamas assault, the Government had announced that it had two objectives in its counter-attack in Gaza: First, to remove Hamas as a military and political force from Gaza;  Second, to return the hostages. In that order.

But the relatives of the hostages knew very well, that the Government’s priorities could leave their family members captive interminably. And given that 18 of the hostages were aged over 65, and 22 under the age of 18, without access to medication, they might not survive. So the families launched the #BRINGTHEMHOMENOW campaign to reverse the order of the Israeli Government’s priorities. 

However, the deeply unpopular Netanyahu Government was not listening to them. It was preoccupied with its own survival.

So the families of the hostages tirelessly and heroically campaigned in Israel and around the world to raise awareness of the hostages. They set up ‘Hostage Square’ in central Tel Aviv as the focus of the #BringThem HomeNow campaign, held countless press appearances and rallied Israelis in long marches. Their campaign engaged the empathy and respect of most Israelis. Remarkably, the mounting public pressure forced Netanyahu to finally agree to meet with them and to announce that returning the hostages would now become the Government’s first priority. 

During the seven day truce, 110 Israeli hostages were released. However 17 women and children and 119 men remain in captivity. The truce agreement stipulated that all women and children would be freed first. Hamas denied that it was still holding civilian women and children hostage, despite the evidence, and refused to release them. When Israel insisted on their release, Hamas responded by firing missiles from Gaza thereby ending the truce. President Joe Biden blamed Hamas’ refusal to release civilian female hostages for the end of the temporary cease-fire.

The end of the truce is a terrible blow to the families of the 136 hostages still being held by Hamas. But even those who have had their family members freed have nevertheless publicly committed themselves to continuing to pressure the Government to keep the release of hostages as its foremost priority.

 

  • Translation of the text in Hebrew in image above: Press Conference of the Families of the Hostages on Day 59 of the War.   ” Time has run out for the hostages – they have no time left, no food and no air.”

 

 

 

The Moral Clarity of Marcia Langton

Indigenous leader, Professor Marcia Langton, has expressed once again the moral clarity at the core of courageous leadership in her article on the Hamas-Israeli war. Published in The Australian on Wednesday November 15, she made some of the following points:

“ The loss of thousands of lives in Gaza is unjustifiable. I condemn Hamas. I am horrified and deeply saddened by the loss of lives in the Levant, the Israelis who were murdered and kidnapped by Hamas and the innocent Palestinians who are being used as human shields by Hamas.

As an Indigenous Australian, I can have little effect in stopping these horrors but it is necessary to be clear about a few matters.

“Blak sovereignty” advocates have entwined two extraordinary propositions – one that is simply untrue and one that is a moral outrage. First, they claim that “ Indigenous Australians feel solidarity with Palestinians.”

This is false; it is the view of a tiny few, if put in those words. Most of us are aware of the complexity and that there is very little comparable in our respective situations, other than our humanity.

Second, they refuse to condemn Hamas. I am aghast and embarrassed. They do not speak for me. I fear and loathe the possibility of further loss of life in this terrible crisis. I also fear that our multicultural society is being torn apart by people deluded about terrorism who have used their protests as a cover for anti-Semitism.

Our Jewish and Palestinian communities deserve respect and compassion. I do not support the violence we have seen In Australia recently as a result of this conflict.

Hamas are terrorists; Palestinian islamic Jihad are terrorists. The slogan “ Not all Palestinians are Hamas” denies the fact that innocent Palestinians are being used as human shields by these terrorists.

No legitimate Aboriginal leader will permit our movement to be associated with terrorists.

I grieve for the largest loss of Jewish life in a day since the Holocaust. I grieve for every Palestinian who has died since the conflict. I grieve for the Israeli families whose loved ones are held hostage by Hamas. I grieve for the displaced, starving and terrified Palestinians who have been displaced in Gaza. Let us not lose our humanity.”

Marcia Langton is chair of Australian Indigenous Studies, Redmond Barry Distinguished Professor at the University of Melbourne.

The Sophisticated Strategy of Barbarism

The Hamas attack on Israel on October 7th, had been meticulously planned for over a year. It was the expression of a sophisticated strategy designed to implement barbarism as a means of achieving Hamas’ political goals. The primary goal of Hamas, as part of  the regional alliance led by Iran and its other proxies Hezbollah and the Houthis, is to bring permanent war to all Israel’s borders in order to ” annihilate Israel “.   The timing was targeted to shatter a trilateral deal between the U.S, Saudi Arabia and Israel to normalise relations and change the face of the Middle East. 

The key elements of Hamas strategy were:

First: Kill as many Israeli civilians as possible in the most heinous way imaginable.  NBC  verified “Top Secret” documents” found on the bodies of Hamas terrorists with instructions to target civilians. Instructions even showed detailed surveillance of how many children were in each house and whether they had a dog. Hamas did not launch the attack to battle Israeli soldiers. They went to unleash barbarism without bounds as they tortured and massacred 1,400 babies, children, families and old people, using Iranian and Russian weapons.

Second: Video and stream this carnage. Hamas terrorists had cameras attached to their heads filming themselves slaughtering civilians. Their purpose was to gloat and to goad Israel into revenge. The greater the atrocity, the more ferocious the Israeli response would predictably be. Telegram immediately streamed these videos and images reaching 800 million viewers.

Third: Take as many hostages as possible including babies and the old. Close to 250 Israelis were abducted to serve both as bargaining chips, and also to provide physical security for Hamas when Israel would launch its counterattack.

Fourth: Mobilise international support. Even before Israel launched its counter attack, those justifying or ‘contextualising’ the massacre flooded social media, the mainstream media and the streets. In mobilising international support for Palestinians, Hamas was reaping endorsement for its own organisation and its actions.

 

Fifth: Leave the Palestinian people in Gaza out in the open, defenceless against the Israeli counter-attack. Hamas is deliberately allowing the death toll amongst Palestinians to escalate by denying them protection.  Hamas has built over 500 kilometres of underground tunnels, including weapons manufacturing and command centres under hospitals, mosques and schools. From these it has so far launched over 7,000 missiles into Israel.

But when Israeli air and land forces responded to Hamas provocation as expected, only Hamas political and military operatives were allowed to shelter in these tunnels. Palestinian civilians were excluded.

When asked in an interview why Hamas as the Government of Gaza since 2005,  did not provide protection for Palestinian civilians, Moussa Abu Marzouk, the Hamas deputy political leader said it was not Hamas’  job, “it’s the responsibility of the U.N. and Israel.”

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the terrible toll on Palestinian lives are an integral part of Hamas’ strategy of barbarism. The more Palestinian babies, children and families killed, the greater the numbers of people who will demonstrate worldwide in protest against Israel and in support of Hamas. And in the Middle East, those Arab leaders who were considering taking part in peace talks with Israel and forming a political relationship will not dare to ignore the public opposition in their own countries.

The Hamas leadership is quite prepared to sacrifice Palestinians to increase its power and political objectives. As Khaled Mashaal, Head of Hamas Political Bureau said: “The Russians sacrificed 30 million people in WW 2. ..the Vietnamese sacrificed  3.5 million…the Algerians sacrificed 6 million martyrs. The Palestinian people are just like any other nation.“

And the Iranians are happy to sacrifice Palestinians in their determination to eliminate Israel, rather than risk their own people or regime.

 

 

 

Older Women – Targets of Hamas

As founder of a social enterprise advocating to improve economic and social conditions for older women, I write a great deal about older women. I tell their stories. But never before have I had to tell the stories of older women designated as targets for terrorism and hostage taking. This is what happened in Israel on October 7th.

Bilha Inon aged 75 and her husband Yakovi 78 were in their small wooden house when Hamas terrorists, who had infiltrated into Israel from Gaza, set fire to their home with them inside. They were burnt to death.

The first Australian to be killed in the Hamas attack was 66 year-old grandmother Galit Carbone. Her body was found on her doorstep. Carmela Dan 80 was missing for two weeks after Hamas attacked Kibbutz Nir Oz. Her burnt body and that of her 13 year-old autistic granddaughter Noya Dan, have now been found and identified.

There were many older Israeli women amongst over 1,200 massacred on that day. There are also many older women amongst the estimated 250 hostages Hamas took to Gaza. Vivian Silver 74, was believed to be one of them. Vivian had spent 40 years working for peace between Israel and the Palestinians and was a founding member of Women Wage Peace.  She was part of an Australian initiative associated with Hadassah hospital in Jerusalem, and regularly drove Palestinian children who needed medical treatment from Gaza to Israeli hospitals. It took 38 days following the Hamas assault to positively identify her remains in her home set alight by Hamas as she tried to shelter there.

Almost 5 weeks after she was abducted from Kibbutz Be’eri by Hamas on October 7th, Yehudit Weiss 65 was found dead in Gaza. Israeli soldiers found her body in a building near al-Shifa hospital. She was taken hostage at the same time Hamas killed her husband Shmulik. She had been undergoing cancer treatment before she was abducted.

Yaffa Adar 85, is a founder of Kibbutz Kfar Azza, the scene of some of the worst atrocities. She was identified as one of the hostages when Hamas triumphantly uploaded footage to the internet of both the massacre and the kidnapping of hostages. In the video, Yaffa can be seen in a golf buggy surrounded by Hamas gunmen jubilantly parading her through Gaza, as if she is some kind of trophy.

There is another photo that Hamas posted. It shows a grey-haired old woman with a masked Hamas gunman standing over her, his machine gun placed in her lap. She has been forced to hold up her fingers in a victory sign. She has been identified as a Holocaust survivor.

And as in the Holocaust, before these Jewish women were selected to be hostages, they had to witness Hamas behead their grandchildren in their cots and execute their children, sometimes their entire family. And as in the Holocaust, many bodies are hard to identify as they have been burnt to ash.

These older women, like many of the hostages are in urgent need of treatment for injuries and lifesaving medication for conditions such as cardiovascular disease, cancer, diabetes and dementia.

Then there are the missing ones. Dafna Shai Heiman has not been able to trace her 84 year-old mother Ditza Heiman. When she frantically called her mother during the attack, a Hamas terrorist answered the phone. Ditza could be one of the group of 80 year-olds, even one in a wheelchair, who were kidnapped from Kibbutz Nahal Oz.

The New York Times reported that Hamas documents at the scenes of the massacres revealed that it was a meticulously planned assault with precisely designated targets. The objective of the heavily armed Hamas militia was not to battle with Israeli soldiers. It was to kill as many civilians as possible, in their homes and at the music festival.

It was the worst mass killing of Jews in a single day since the Holocaust. In an open letter, over 200 international legal scholars accused Hamas of committing genocide during its attack, and stated that the mass-abduction of civilians constituted a war crime.

Older women were not the only target of Hamas, but they were a deliberate target.

 

 

Whose Intergenerational Tragedy?

It is hard to forget the cries of “intergenerational tragedy”  that greeted the latest Intergenerational Report released by Treasurer Jim Chalmers.  The lively reaction to a potential “tragedy” in Australia in 40 years time stands in sharp contrast to the failure to deal with Australia’s present generational tragedy unfolding in real time.

The IGR warned of an ageing population that would put the full and unaffordable burden of work, taxes and care on the young. Fortunately, people like Peter Martin and John Quiggin sought to balance  this “scare mongering”.  They pointed out that it is not only the old who require care, but also children and people with a disability; that living standards, as measured by real GDP per person will be an extraordinary 57% higher in 2042; and that any increase in taxes will be moderate compared to income, an extra 3.9 per cent of GDP in tax, but not the full amount until 2063. 

The problem is not just the alarmist nature of the IGR with regard to the ageing population. It is that the IGR reflects the ageist thinking of governments and society in general. Older generations are seen as a threat to national wellbeing. They are calculated as a national liability and an unbearable burden on future budgets.

Instead of applying this ageist lens, the IGR should have based predictions and plans for the future ageing population on the fundamental question-
“What is the best holistic approach to dealing with an ageing Australia?” Already over a third of Australian women are over 50. So it would be very prudent to ask “How do we stop increasing numbers of them falling off the financial cliff ?”. Had the IGR recognised the magnitude of the current crisis, it could have become the basis for constructive planning for the future.

Women over 40 are the most excluded from workforce

In a country that is short of workers, we are already seeing the wholesale waste of female skills, talent, and professional experience. The Australian population of ‘working age’ isn’t going to start shrinking in the future. For women it begins shrinking when they turn 40. The assumption is that it is women with young children who are excluded from the workforce. But surprisingly, the statistics show that it is in fact women over 40 who are the most excluded. The older women get, the harder it is for them to keep their jobs. And if they lose them, they have little hope of ever returning to the workforce. 

Systemic gendered ageism is squeezing women out of the workforce as they age.

Systemic gendered ageism is depriving the country of a massive reservoir of workplace capability and experience.

Systemic gendered ageism is driving these women into the tragedy of poverty and homelessness. In 2001 most of unemployed were men. Now it’s older women who are the majority on Jobseeker. And if they are the majority on Jobseeker, the distance to homelessness is short. There are more than 300,000 older people, mostly women, already homeless or at risk of homelessness.

This is the predictable path to generational tragedy. 

Addressing generational change

Ageing populations are a worldwide phenomenon, but Australia has jumped the gun by excluding the very people the economy most needs. The list of priority jobs are not heavy lifting jobs and physical labour. Instead, the jobs growth will be highest in service industries and in jobs requiring higher level professional qualifications.  

These are precisely the jobs with the highest female employment. But these jobs are paid half of more ‘male occupied’ jobs. This discrepancy perpetuates the poverty cycle. So if Australia desperately needs more working people, what action is being taken to remove gendered ageist barriers to the employment of women?

Where are the extensive re-skilling programs for older female workers? AHRI & AHRC found in their survey of training and development opportunities, only half the organisations offered them to older workers. This is the lowest rate since this survey began 4 years ago.

The countries that will be the most successful with ‘generational change’ will be the ones that provide the best integration and opportunities for older people. Put that in an Intergenerational Report, Treasurer.

Mutual Obligations & Women

 

‘Mutual obligations’ imposed on jobseekers are a rank misuse of public funds, ineffectual, and crippling in their consequences. The majority of those on Jobseeker are women aged over 50, so ‘mutual obligations’ affect them most. As editor of WomanGoingPlaces, I have written numerous articles advocating an end to this practice under the LNP Government and now continuing under Labor.

Rick Morton, an outstanding journalist at The Saturday Paper, recently revealed the lucrative strategy that employment service providers deploy to maximise their access to taxpayers’ funds.

He disclosed that these employment services providers are funnelling more than $40 million a year “in government funding earmarked for jobseekers through their own companies, related entities and labour-hire outfits, creating paper empires out of their impoverished clients.” 

“In short, a provider can be paid to take on a welfare recipient by the federal government and then be paid to place them into training within their own organisation and then be paid again by placing the person into work somewhere else in that organisation’s network.”

Rick Morton concludes that the system of ‘mutual obligations’ is “damaging and does not lead people to employment.”

Nevertheless, the Government continues to impose ‘mutual obligations’ which force older women to keep up the debilitating charade of applying for jobs that they have no hope of getting precisely because of gendered ageism. This is evident by the fact that older women spend the longest periods on Jobseeker, sometimes seven years or more.

There are 3 reasons why WomanGoingPlaces calls on Tony Burke, Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, and the Labor Government to immediately end the practice of ‘mutual obligations’, and also to stop outsourcing employment services. First, it is a misuse of public funds. Second, it fails to put older women into employment and does not address the barriers faced by this demographic. Third, it does incalculable damage to the mental and physical health of these women, as well as keeping them trapped in poverty.

Professor-Lyn-Slater-Accidental-Icon

999 Names for an Old Woman

Google offers over 999 words to describe an old woman, and they are uniformly pejorative. The top 4 are: “ distressingly ancient; squat and dumpy; dismal and lonesome; insanely suicidal.” 

Some common names for old women are: old bag, granny, biddy, crone, hag, witch, harridan, bedlam, old bat, old boiler. And if that’s not bad enough, you can also resort to descriptions such as: “withered and bitter; almost well-dressed; unnaturally lusty; crazy and uncanny; entirely uninteresting; exceptionally invaluable.” Then of course there is the word ‘ boomer’ which has become a synonym for greed, undeserving wealth and selfishness. 

In a society that values women primarily for their youthful beauty, sexual and reproductive powers, the more we age, the more our currency as women is devalued.

This devaluation is reflected in the language. The appellations for older women denote worthlessness, weakness, ugliness, helplessness and even evil. It’s also not clear at what age you become classified as an old woman.

“Throughout many periods of history in the West there has been a real worry about what you do with women who are past their childbearing years,”  says Mary Beard, Professor of Classics, Cambridge University.

What’s in a name, you may ask. The answer is – a minefield. Language reflects and reinforces prejudice and discrimination and has terrible consequences. Arguably, there is a direct link between this gendered ageism and the social crisis that Australian older women are now experiencing. It is a multi-faceted crisis that is distinctive to this demographic. It negatively affects their employment, housing, livelihood, and mental and physical health.

Older women are ending up on the dust heap of the nation’s economy. Women aged over 50 constitute the majority of unemployed and those on Jobseeker. These are women who for the most part are educated, have skills, professions and careers, and have spent decades in the workforce. And yet, the widespread ageism of employers, documented by the AHRC, now bars them from the workforce.

Nevertheless, the Government continues to impose ‘mutual obligations’ where older women are forced to keep up the debilitating charade of applying for jobs that they have no hope of getting, precisely because of gendered ageism.

Government attitudes and practices also contribute significantly to making older women the fastest growing demographic becoming homeless.The latest report on homelessness recognises that ”older low-income earners, particularly those on fixed government benefits, experience more homelessness.” It reports that at least 270,000 people aged 55+ are already homeless or at risk of homelessness, most of them older women.

In the budget earlier this year, Treasurer Jim Chalmers came the closest he has to acknowledging that older women face the barrier of discrimination. However, all he did was to increase their Jobseeker payment by only a few dollars a day, still keeping them well below the poverty line. The Treasurer and the Labour Government have yet to recognise that there is a distinctive crisis affecting tens of thousands of women in this demographic. They must recognise its scale and importance. And they must recognise that at its core lies the systemic gendered ageism that is so pervasive in both government and society.  Otherwise they will never actually address the crisis as a comprehensive package.

And this crisis is set to rapidly escalate. By 2030, one in three Australians will be over 55. The number of Australians over 65 will double in the next 40 years. The majority will be old women.

The Politics of Wellbeing

We need to discuss the politics of ‘wellbeing’. Australia has a low level of unemployment and yet never before have there been so many Australians hungry and homeless. Each month an additional 1,600 people become homeless. Never before has an unprecedented number of Australians depended on food banks and been unable to afford essentials. Yet research shows Australians are working some of the longest hours of employees anywhere in the world.

At the same time, the Government has a $20 billion plus surplus. 

In this context, the Treasurer Jim Chambers recently produced what he called the Government’s first ‘Wellbeing Budget’. This budget, he claimed was all about ‘Measuring What Matters’. Wellbeing budgets have successfully been adopted by several countries. So did this document signal a new direction the Government would take to address the crisis in the wellbeing and welfare of Australians? Not really. The document contained hastily thrown together outdated statistics. Fundamentally, it did nothing to change the overriding mindset of what the Government values and prioritises and what it considers worthy of taxpayer funding. 

In her extraordinary Robodebt Report, Commissioner Catherine Holmes had the insight to ask not only what happened, by why it happened. She writes of the mindset of government that regards social welfare as “a drag on the national economy” and that “largely, those attitudes are set by politicians, who need to abandon for good (in every sense) the narrative of taxpayer versus welfare recipient”.

Unfortunately, this mindset of ‘lifters’ and ‘leaners’ continues to determine the priorities and spending of the Labour Government.

It is this mindset that supports profligate, open-ended, largely unscrutinised spending of billions of taxpayers dollars on defence projects; e.g. $26b on consultants Defence Ministry consultants; $368b on questionable submarines; $9.8b on vastly overpriced transport aircraft. No fears were expressed by the Government that this unbridled spending could fuel inflation.

But when it comes to protecting not just our borders, but the welfare and wellbeing of the people within those borders, the Government adopts a parsimonious mindset. Funding must be eked out with utmost restraint and scrutiny. Increasing Jobseeker for the most vulnerable by $4 a day keeps people below poverty levels. It keeps them hungry and unable to pay for housing. It is a cruel mindset that legislates to have even this tiny increase go into effect only in late September, leaving the homeless to freeze through the winter sleeping in their cars and tents. 

The latest report on homelessness just released recognises that ”older low-income earners, particularly those on fixed government benefits, experience more homelessness.”

It reports that the scale of housing insecurity amongst older people aged 55+ in Australia is “significant and growing”. At least 270,000 people are already homeless or at risk of homelessness, most of them older women. And yet the Government presents a Housing Australia Future Fund Plan for only 30,000 social and affordable homes over 5 years. It allocates only 4,000 homes to be shared between older women and DV survivors. 

Housing, education, health, all essential components of the wellbeing of the people, are severely underfunded and neglected. If the wellbeing of the people were indeed a priority, Government could create a massive sovereign fund. To this end it could stop lavishing $57.1b of taxpayers funds on fossil fuel subsidises,  tax fossil fuel companies for profiting from our natural resources, remove the zero tax status of multinationals and major corporations, and apply a windfall profits tax, banks not excepted. And not introduce the Stage 3 tax cuts. 

Unless the Government acts to make significant changes, particularly in its mindset, priorities and spending, a so-called ‘Wellbeing Budget’ is merely politically correct window dressing.