Words by Freya Newman
Freya is a member of Students for Wom*n’s-Only Services and the President of the UTS Wom*n’s Collective.
This Friday October 31, around 1000 people will gather at Hyde Park for Reclaim the Night, an annual protest against gendered violence. Before marching through the CBD, various speakers will give speeches around this year’s theme – ‘Stop the Violence, Break the Silence’.
Among the speakers and audience members will be students from the fledgling women’s group Students for Wom*n’s-Only Services (SWOS).SWOS wasestablished in June this year, and is the initiative of a few wom*n’s officers and student activists from UTS, USyd and UNSW. It has grown to include about 50 active members, with a network of supporters more than ten times that.
Like other women’s refuge advocacy groups including the No Shelter Collectiveand SOS Women’s, SWOS was formed to protest the NSW Government’s restructuring of homelessness services across the state, in line with the generalist model outlined in their Going Home, Staying Home(GHSH) reforms. The reforms consolidated 336 individual services into 149 packages, under the governance of 69 organisations. This forced the closure of several independent women’s, Aboriginal and youth service providers, and the absorption of many others by Christian organisations.
SWOS believe that the GHSH reforms are pursuing a ‘one size fits all’ model, which is incompatible with the varied identities and needs of women using these services. Earlier this week, they launched a social media campaign titled #forallwomen to gather support for the organisation amongst students.
Among the supporters of the campaign is Alison Whittaker, a Gomeroi woman who worked at the UTS Students Association between 2011 and 2013 as both an Indigenous and wom*n’s officer, and an employee of the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse.
Alison is concerned that the closure of specialised services will adversely impact Indigenous communities in particular.
‘Gendered violence in Indigenous communities is complicated by the diffuse and networked nature of Indigenous relationships. Specialised Aboriginal services account for the networked nature of Indigenous communities… [they] must be adaptive and capable of revision.’
She says management should be deferred to Elders, and should ‘highlight relationships to land, culture and kin.’
Also supporting the campaign is Drew Henderson, a UTS communications student and the current president of UTS reproductive rights club RU4MyChoice?. As a woman from a low socio-economic background who suffers from chronic and mental illnesses, Drew worries that the specialised services that were available to her mother in the past would not be available to her should she need them today.
‘When I heard that multiple services my mum and her friends used when she was young were being consolidated or transferred to other management my whole family [was] quite emotional…Without the specialised nature of the services [my mum] went to… I would not have the resilient, strong and loving woman I do as a mother.’
At Reclaim the Night on Friday, a young woman named Summer will give a speech on the importance of specialist homelessness services. She is a member of Students for Wom*n’s-Only Refuges, and also a former resident of various homelessness refuges around Sydney.
I spoke to Summer a few days ago to talk about SWOS.
‘I’ve been to all types of refuges… I guess at the women’s only refuges I felt safer. The workers were particularly good… they would help me with living skills, they would help me to find longer-term education and housing…They inspired me to be fierce, not afraid, to feel loved, to feel like I had someone else in the world.’
You can support Students for Wom*n’s-Only Services by liking the Facebook page at www.facebook.com/swossydney, and following them on twitter at www.twitter.com/swosnsw. Join the hashtag campaign by tweeting about why women need access to specialist women’s-only services at #forallwomen.